Turn for the worst leaves Vinny down in the dumps
But he soon regains a sense of perspective on the receipt of some really sad news
The silence in the tiny back bar in Foley’s was shattered by the unmistakable sound of an excitable punter. “Go on, go on,” he roared.
A cluster of heads looked up slowly from their glasses, like cows in the byre, glanced at the tiny telly, where the final stages of a big handicap from Galway was unfolding before resuming their taciturn sipping and contemplation.
Down here, in the darkest recess of the pub, a corner known by the regulars as The Hermitage, things were quiet; deliberately so.
It was where the filter feeders, as Vinny Fitzpatrick called them, drifted in for their time-outs, always alone.
Invariably, they were burdened by life’s woes; of broken marriages, loss of work, poor health, financial problems and depression.
They rarely, if ever, opened up on their problems, preferring the solace of a pint of plain and the sound of silence. On this Tuesday evening, Vinny Fitzpatrick was ensconced among them.
As he wrapped a fleshy paw around a pint, Vinny wanted no one’s company but his own. He had no desire to chase winners in Galway, no desire to follow the action. No desire, full stop.
The portly Dublin Bus driver was feeling utterly miserable, lower than a serpent’s belly, in fact.
On the face of it, he had no reason to be so miserable. He had his health, a loving wife, three smashing kids and a darling grandson . Unlike most folk these days, he owed nothing to anyone, and yet he rarely felt as gloomy.
The reason for his melancholy followed events of the previous weekend, where Vinny’s bus, on a social outing with the lads, had been involved in a prang with a car on the Clontarf Road. After the initial shock, and numbness, came recrimination.
In 34 years behind the wheel Vinny had an unblemished record. Not so much as a fender had been scraped such was his sense of care to the noble steeds of the road.
That fine reputation was now in ruins even though a subsequent investigation into events, chaired by the garage controller Socket Twomey, had cleared Vinny of any wrongdoing.
The driver of the car, a callow youth later found to be high on alcohol, was charged with dangerous driving while CCTV footage confirmed Vinny had indicated in good time and was entitled to turn towards the garage forecourt when a gap in the oncoming traffic presented itself.
That no one was hurt was a blessing but the boy racer’s sporty Golf lost a chunk of its port side while the flank of Vinny’s veteran Volvo AV137 was badly scraped.
The gardaí exonerated Vinny of blame and Socket had all but wrapped up his report for the Dublin Bus big wigs when a hang-dog Vinny had thrown in a curve ball.
“Socket, I can’t be sure I checked my wing mirror before making that turn,” he said. “It’s eating away at me because if I had, I’d have jammed on the brakes and the chap might have missed me altogether. It’s also possible I was distracted by the presence of the lads on the bus.”
Socket studied Vinny over his pince-nez glasses. “You realise Vinny, that I’ll have to include these comments in my report?”
The consequences of Vinny’s candour had rammed home Tuesday lunch-time when Socket summoned Vinny to his office and said he had news – ‘Some good, and some not so good’.
While no action was being taken against the veteran driver, Dublin Bus HR chiefs felt that approving a redundancy package – and a juicy one at that – for a driver involved in an accident would ‘send out the wrong message’.
“They told me they would review your application for redundancy in 12 months, perhaps sooner, once this blows over,” intoned Socket.
The news had hit Vinny like a punch in the solar plexus. Instantly, his dream of driving off into the sunset of early retirement with nearly 100 grand in his pocket was shelved. Worse, like those racehorses which were regarded as unreliable, Vinny now had the equivalent of a squiggle after his name.
Shaken, Vinny headed off for a long walk, across the wooden bridge and along the length of Bull Island before returning to Clontarf via the Causeway. His meandering ended when he pushed open the door of Foley’s and made for the dark, cool, recess of The Hermitage for contemplation, and a pint.
As Vinny ordered a refill, he was shaken from his misery by a reference to Colm Murray on the telly. His ears sharpened for Colm was a Clontarf neighbour, whose courageous fight against the crippling Motor Neurone Disease was well known.
“Turn it up,” be barked at Dial-A-Smile. Seeing pictures of Colm he instantly twigged the worst – Colm’s brave battle had run its course.
“Lads, all of youse, check that out,” said Vinny, jabbing a finger at the telly.
Every man Jack in the corner of the pub stirred from their contemplation and as the TV tribute was played, a sense of loss rippled through The Hermitage. Several of their numbers blessed themselves, including Vinny.
Colm had been a Foley’s regular for years, a Midlands man who became immersed in the ways of this quirky coastal Northside enclave.
He was always engaging company, loved a pint as much as he loved a punt, and was held in high esteem, even by the crusty crabs who crawled into Foley’s corners.
When news of his illness first became public, Colm had often come into Foley’s on crutches and later was seen on Mount Prospect Avenue, buzzing about on his motorized wheelchair, unfailingly positive and good-natured.
Colm had been handicapped with a terrible burden, one which he’d borne with courage and an absence of self-pity. Who did Vinny think he was – feeling sorry for himself just because he’d had a minor bump on a bus?
“Lads, apologies for the intrusion,” he said, rising and raising a pint of stout. “To Colm Murray, a gentleman and a gentle man.”