Making a fool of the force


This weekend brings with it an important anniversary for all of us here in Emissions Towers. Forty years ago this Saturday, Brian O'Nolan - aka Flann O'Brien, aka Myles na Gopaleen aka a rake of other pseudonyms - drew his last great gasp of air and went off to an eternity of slurping pints of plain in the Great Free Bar In The Sky, writes Kilian Doyle

Joyce I can leave. Beckett I can take. But O'Nolan, I can't do without. He was, as The Brother himself might have said, the genuine article. He was The Master. Try as I might, I cannot disenthrall myself from his genius. In addition to writing five of the most surreal, absurd and hilarious novels of all time, he spent 30 years delivering withering diatribes in his Cruiskeen Lawn column against pomposity, pettiness, bourgeoisie and anything else that merited his opprobrium.

In real life - writing columns isn't real life, don't let anyone tell you otherwise - he was a senior civil servant in the Department of Local Government, although I understand he was "civil" largely in title alone.

Believe it or believe it not, but one of his many bureaucratic achievements was drafting this State's original road traffic regulations. The idea that we are all driving around under laws devised by the greatest absurdist who ever lived fills me with an unending glee. Not that he lived by his own rules, mind. Sadly, O'Nolan was a terrible man for the gargle, his drunken antics meaning he found himself on the wrong side of the law on a regular basis.

On one occasion, he was pulled over by a Garda who spied him driving erratically. Down goes O'Nolan's window. "I'll have you know, Guard, I'm the man who wrote the road traffic regulations," boasts our bladdered pal. "Well," retorts the unimpressed copper. "You made a right hames of them too."

He was also responsible for starting a pernicious trend among Dubliners. While waiting in a Garda station after yet another arrest for a doctor to arrive to test his blood alcohol level, O'Nolan convinced the desk sergeant - who had just come on duty and didn't realise the articulate and erudite gentleman before him was under suspicion of drunk driving - that his companion be allowed out to fetch him a drink.

The naggin of whiskey that was subsequently handed to O'Nolan and quaffed theatrically in full view of the sergeant made the doctor's visit pointless. Once word of this deception got out, many motorists apparently took to secreting naggins about their persons which they'd skull if stopped by the boys in blue. Such insalubrious behaviour inevitably backfired on O'Nolan and he was eventually banned from driving. Soon afterwards, another drunk driver knocked the final nail into the coffin of his driving career by crashing into his parked car, destroying it. I like to imagine O'Nolan had a giggle at the irony.

Anyway, come Saturday I will be found in Deansgrange Cemetery administering libations in the form of balls of malt onto the parched grave of The Master, as is my wont. I am considering making a few quid by digging up the plot he shares with his wife and parents to get him to posthumously sign my first edition of The Third Policeman, now that it's enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity due to some stupid TV show. I'm a tad reticent because, knowing my luck, I'll scribble the name using the wrong one of the six hands therein and render my precious book worthless.

Whatever I decide, I'll be ultra-careful not to break any traffic laws, for, as luck would have it, Saturday is the day the extension of the penalty points system comes into force. Methinks O'Nolan may still have some admirers in the civil service. In case you haven't twigged it yet, Saturday is April Fools' Day.