Abigail Markham is losing her house. It's the old, old story. Could happen to any one of us. She and her husband, Don, borrowed €96 million from the bank and the bank is very much of the view that they should pay it back at some point. So the former golden couple who soldiered alongside my old pair on campaigns such as Redesignate Ringsend 'Dublin 4e' and David Drumm: Amnesty Now are about to be turfed out onto Westminster Road.
But, as is the way of things in this part of the world, it's not going to happen without a fight. Inspired by recent events in Killiney, the old dear has set up a Foxrock Chapter of the New Land League, to block the eviction and to campaign for a series of demands, known as the Four Fs: a Free House, Fixtures and Fittings and for the banks to Fock Off.
I swing by there on Wednesday morning and it ends up being quite a sight. The old dear and 30 or 40 other locals have linked orms to form a human chain across the front gate of the property. They're wearing t-shirts saying Je Suis Brian O'Donnell and they're singing A Change is Gonna Come.
The old dear sees me coming and she straight away jumps to the wrong conclusion. “Now, Ross,” she goes, “if you’ve come here to mock our efforts…”
Talk about giving a dog a bad name.
I'm like, "I haven't come here to mock. I mean, I could say that all of that silicone you've had injected into your forehead over the years has made you look like a demented halibut. But I'm not going to."
She goes, "So why are you here then?"
“In a word? Support.”
“Abigail was a massive port of my childhood. She used to let me water her orchids, bear in mind. And she was a massive support to you and the old man when those Lotto winners bought the house next door. I remember her lying down in front of the truck that delivered the pigeon loft.”
This seems to persuade her that I'm actually being genuine here?
“Well, thank you,” she goes. “It was very nice of you to come.”
And I'm there, "I'm a people person. Always have been. As a matter of fact, I'd like to offer Abigail my support – as in, like, face to face?"
"I'm not sure she's up to visitors, Ross. She had an awful time of it in the High Court yesterday. The barrister representing the bank called her delusional."
“That’s horsh. But it’s also why I think it’d be nice for her to hear someone like me going, ‘Who the fock do these banks think they are – expecting people to pay them back?’”
She considers this for, like, 10 seconds, then she goes, “Okay – but just five minutes, Ross. Emotionally, she’s very, very brittle right now.”
She hands me one of the Je Suis Brian O'Donnell t-shirts. I pull it on, then we walk past the cordon, through the front gate and into the actual gaff.
“Abigail!” the old dear shouts. “My son, Ross, has come to lend you his solidarity. He has some very interesting things to say about these so-called banks as well.”
I’m not listening, though. I’m counting my steps through the entrance hallway. It’s about 35 feet, give or take – and it’s pretty much square, so it must be the same the other way as well. I key it into my phone.
Abigail is lying on a chaise in the drawing room, holding the back of her hand to her forehead, which is exactly how I remember her. “It’s too much,” she used to always say and that was in response to pretty much everything. “It’s too, too much.”
She goes, “Did your mother tell you what that fearful barrister chap called me?”
I’m like, “Delusional, yeah. God, if I could get my hands on some of these bank people – they’d be decked… Is this room south-facing?”
“Yes, it is”, she goes. “In the summer months, we get the sun on it from early morning until late evening. As Don told the judge, this room is the absolute centre of our universe – and the children, of course.”
“Well, Abigail, I just want you to know that I’m very much on you side,” and, as I’m saying it, I’m clocking the various features of the room – the mock Jacobean cornice and coving, the faux-gold Venetian-style ceiling, the 18th century-effect longcase clock. “You backed us up in our time of need. I’ll never forget you stopping them delivering that pigeon loft. I thought that truck was going to run over your head.”
“I said to Fionnuala – didn’t I, Fionnuala? – the threat now is the same as it was then. If this house is sold at one of these so-called distressed property auctions, well, who knows what calibre of people are going to end up living on Wesminster Road?”
“It doesn’t bear thinking about. Is that fireplace an original feature?”
“Yes, it is. It’s worth about 15,000.”
"Why do the banks have to be such dicks? That's what I'd be interested in knowing. And how many bedrooms there are – upstairs, I mean?"
“There are eight.”
“Eight. Yeah, no, like I said, I’m fully behind you, Abigail. Can I grab a drink of water, by the way?”
“Yes, of course,” she goes. “You know where the kitchen is.”
Out to the kitchen I go. It’s very spacious – my guess is, like, 900 square feet. I count out the steps and that’s exactly what it ends up being. JP’s old man was right. I have a genuine gift.
“What the hell is going on?” the old dear goes – she’s been standing at the door watching me the entire time.
“I notice she still has the orchids out there,” I go. “I think I’m going to call that an orangerie rather than a greenhouse. Add another 20 Ks to the value.”
She goes, “You’re not here to support Abigail at all,” the penny having finally dropped. “That estate agent you’re working for. Hook, Lyon and Sinker. You’re selling it – on the bank’s behalf.”
“That’s right. And with the commission, I’m probably going to buy a new Lambo.”
“Don’t do it, Ross. I implore you. Do not do this thing.”
I just look her straight in the eye and I go, "Je suis Ross O'Carroll-Kelly." ILLUSTRATION: ALAN CLARKE