'You're too young to remember the worst of it - the eighties'


The old dear’s sob story is so depressing I’ll have to pour the dog an extra-large Merlot

SO THE OLD DEAR finally bowed to the inevitable this week. I think once Gerry Ryan caved, they had her over a barrel. Deep down, she knows, you could train a monkey to put cubes of cheese and cantaloupe on cocktail sticks and you wouldn’t have to pay it two hundred thousand snots a year either.

In fairness to her, she didn’t go down without a fight. Thursday afternoon she was on the phone, giving out basic yords, presumably to her agent.

“I don’t care about their bloody advertising revenue,” she was going. “That’s not my job. My job is to show people how to prepare Michelin-standard food within the ridiculous budgetary constraints they’ve laid down for me. And, let me tell you, it’s a job I do very well.”

Except she’s been cutting corners recently. I happen to know that the foie gras she used on last week’s show wasn’t ethical. I whipped the empty packet out of the bin, though I’m still trying to decide which newspaper to send it to.

She’s going, “A pay cut? I’ve never heard the like of it in my life. Do you think if advertising revenue was up, they’d be phoning me saying, ‘This is terribly embarrassing, but we’ve suddenly got lots and lots of money – we’re going to give you a ten percent increase’? Of course they wouldn’t! So I don’t want to hear any more of this paycut nonsense.”

Then she just, like, slams down the phone. I laugh in her actual face. “The state of you,” I go, except she doesn’t take the bait?

She picks up Fifi, her little chihuahua, and collapses into her chaise like the drama queen that she is. “It’s like we’re suddenly going backwards in time, not forwards,” she goes.

I still don’t know, roysh, whether she’s talking to me or the dog.

She’s there, “You’re too young to remember the worst of it – the eighties.

That house in Sallynoggin . . .”

I’m like, “You always said it was Glenageary,” but she doesn’t answer me. She’s, like, miles away.

“Living among those people. Too scared to even go outside. There was a knock at the door one night. It was one of the neighbours. They’d never seen doorbells, of course. I looked at him through the little window. I said, ‘Yes?’

“He said, ‘Sorry to bother you, Missus.’ I mean, Missus – can you imagine it? He said, ‘Would you be interested in joining a Christmas Club?’

“I said, ‘A what?’ He said, ‘Ah, you put a few bob by each week, then at the end of the year, you get yisser toorkey, yisser ham, yisser cake, maybe a tin of biscuits, bottle of oul’ whiskey, know what I’m saying?’

“I was literally shaking. ‘Let me get this straight’ I said. ‘You’re saving? For Christmas? God, it’s like something out of a Dickens novel. Get off my property. Stay away from me and my family.’

“That’s how we were living – but I’ll say this, I never asked anyone to share our pain. No one gave up their holidays, stopped driving their fancy cars, took their children out of private school just because we were poor. But now I’m expected to be ashamed of what I earn . . .”

Fifi sort of, like, whimpers. The old dear probably thinks it’s because of her sob story, but I know the real reason.

I might have already mentioned to you that recently I’ve been putting the odd splash of Merlot in her bowl in the afternoons – just when we’ve been, like, watching FO’CK Cooking together? She was, in fairness, getting a bit down in herself, looking at the old dear making dinners that reflect the current economic blahdy blah, and the old vino definitely gave her a lift.

The only downside is, I think the dog might now be an alcoholic.

“Ssshhh,” the old dear goes, sort of, like, stroking her. “Ssshhh, my little princess.”

I’m like, “Sure where else are you going to go? America? I hate to point out the obvious but you’re not exactly Cheryl Cole. Take a look in the mirror.”

She does that thing that she does sometimes does when I’m giving her serious abuse – she just blanks me.

“Anything I have today,” she goes, “I earned it. And I earned it the hard way. Charles and I never asked for anything, even when we were at rock bottom.

“I remember one day I was in the front garden, doing the hedges, and the woman next door stopped by. Said hello. I expect she thought she was being neighbourly. Oh, I was gripping the shears pretty firmly, keeping it where she could see it, just to let her know it was there and I was prepared to use it if necessary.

“She said she was going to the post office to collect the children’s allowance. ‘Children’s allowance?’ I said. ‘Isn’t that something for inner city people?’

“Well, if you could have seen her face. She said, ‘No, sure everyone’s entitled to it.’ I said, ‘Just because you’re entitled to it doesn’t mean you have to collect it.’”

She smiles but not in, like, a happy way?

“And the papers call me a sponger. It’s like poor Ali Hewson’s husband. When people have money, they don’t care what anyone is earning or what they’re doing with it. But now the money’s gone, they want to suck the joy out of everyone else’s life.”

Fifi’s whimpering gets actually worse, to the point where I go over and lift her off the old dear’s lap. We’ve all had the DTs and I, personally, can’t bear to watch anyone go through the agonies.

I stop at the door and look back at the old dear. She’s got the phone to her ear again. “Hello,” she’s going, “is that RTÉ?”

I carry Fifi down to the cellar. I have to put her out of her misery.

It turns out we’ve already had the last of the Merlot but there’s a nice Malbec there and even the sound of me sliding the bottle off the rack perks her up a bit.

I bring it up to the kitchen, uncork it and slap some in her bowl. She’s straight into it, head first. I pour myself a glass and take a sip. And then, after thinking about it for a few minutes, mad and all as it sounds, I pour the old dear one as well.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never seen her so sad. Or lonely.