Cruiskeen Lawn December 4th, 1944


There’s not much funny about the effects of alcohol on Brian O'Nolan’s life. Still, drunkenness was a subject on which he was an undoubted expert and he could write about it as brilliantly as about anything else. This in fact is an early Cruiskeen Lawn column, before drinking ravaged the real-life Myles. So the references to “yellowing hands”, “growing old”, and to the event having happened “many years ago” are all spurious. O’Nolan was 33 at the time - FRANK McNALLY

I HAPPENED to glance at my hands the other day and noticed they were yellow. Conclusion: I am growing old (though I claim I am not yet too old to dream). Further conclusion: I should set about writing my memoirs. Be assured that such a book would be remarkable, for to the extraordinary adventures which have been my lot there is no end. (Nor will there be.) Here is one little adventure that will give you some idea.

Many years ago a Dublin friend asked me to spend an evening with him. Assuming that the man was interested in philosophy and knew that immutable truth can sometimes be acquired through the kinesis of disputation, I consented. How wrong I was may be judged from the fact that my friend arrived at the rendezvous in a taxi and whisked me away to a licensed premises in the vicinity of Lucan.

Here I was induced to consume a large measure of intoxicating whiskey.

My friend would not hear of another drink in the same place, drawing my attention by nudges to a very sinister-looking character who was drinking stout in the shadows some distance from us.

He was a tall cadaverous person, dressed wholly in black, with a face of deathly grey. We left and drove many miles to the village of Stepaside, where a further drink was ordered. Scarcely to the lip had it been applied when both us noticed – with what feelings I dare not describe – the same tall creature in black, residing in a distant shadow and apparently drinking the same glass of stout.

We finished our own drinks quickly and left at once, taking in this case the Enniskerry road and entering a hostelry in the purlieus of that village.

Here more drinks were ordered but had hardly appeared on the counter when, to the horror of myself and friend, the sinister stranger was discerned some distance away, still patiently dealing with his stout.

We swallowed our drinks raw and hurried out. My friend was now thoroughly scared, and could not be dissuaded from making for the far-away hamlet Celbridge; his idea was that, while another drink was absolutely essential, it was equally essential to put many miles as possible between ourselves and the sinister presence we had just left.

Need I say what happened? We noticed with relief that the public house we entered in Celbridge was deserted, but as our eyes became more accustomed to the poor light, we saw him again; he was standing in the gloom, a more terrible apparition than ever before, ever more menacing with each meeting. My friend had purchased a bottle of whiskey and was now dealing with the stuff in large gulps.

I saw at once that a crisis had been reached and that desperate action was called for.

“No matter where we go,” I said, “this being will be there unless we can now assert a superior will and confound evil machinations that are on foot. I do not know whence comes this apparition, but certainly of this world it is not. It is my intention to challenge him.”

My friend gazed at me in horror, made some gesture of remonstrance, but apparently could not speak.

My own mind was made up. It was me or this diabolical adversary: there could be no evading the clash of wills, only one of us could survive. I finished my drink with an assurance I was far from feeling and marched straight up to the presence.

A nearer sight of him almost stopped the action of my heart; here undoubtedly was no man but some spectral emanation from the tomb, the undead come on some task of inhuman vengeance.

“I do not like the look of you,” I said, somewhat lamely.

“I don’t think so much of you either,” the thing replied; the voice was cracked, low and terrible.

“I demand to know,” I said sternly, “why you persist in following myself and my friend everywhere we go.”

“I cannot go home until you first go home,” the thing replied. There was an ominous undertone in this that almost paralysed me.

“Why not?” I managed to say.

“Because I am the taxi-driver!”

Out of such strange incidents is woven the pattern of what I am pleased to call my life.