Cupid's dart puts a stop to Vinny's supermarket dash


AGAINST THE ODDS: Locking horns with the other reindeer, Vinny has his eyes on the top prize, writes RODDY L'ESTRANGE

It wasn’t the musty brown pantomime uniform which irritated Vinny Fitzpatrick most, nor was it the mock pair of antlers attached to his potato-shaped bonce, not even the false green nose. No, it was the name: Ralph.

He didn’t want to be Ralph the reindeer. Ideally, he wanted to be Rudolph, or failing that, either Donner or Blitzen. At a pinch, he’d have taken Comet. Instead, he was Ralph. Plain, unlovable Ralph, and it gave him the hump.

Not that many of the folk crammed into Dolan’s Supermarket on Vernon Avenue on Tuesday morning would have known the green-nosed reindeer in the midst of the 10-strong herd was feeling sorry for himself.

All they could see was a cluster of reindeer, stamping and snorting; eager to be on their way in the annual Clontarf Christmas Charity Canter.

The charity gig was open to local businesses and Vinny had agreed, after a vat of excellent stout the previous Friday, to represent Foley’s public house.

“Sure, it’s only a bit of gas and all for a good cause,” insisted Dial A Smile, the head barman, who had been in suspiciously chirpy form since word of a major local Lotto win had got around.

The format of the Canter, an annual fund-raiser in aid of the Central Remedial Clinic, varied. This year, some bright spark had decided to recreate the Supermarket Sweep, last seen on ITV in the 1990s with Dale Winton as the sugary host – Vinny had recollections of demented housewives doing impressions of the Wacky Racers trying to win a few bob and a cheesy grin from Dale.

Today’s MC was a short, squat chap whom Vinny recognised as Neville Ormondroyd, a baritone in the Clontarf Warblers, the local choral society. He tapped the microphone with his fudge-like fingers and climbed a small stair ladder like a starter at the races.

“Right, here are the rules,” intoned Mr Ormondroyd. “All 10 reindeers have five minutes each to run up and down the aisles and gather as many goods in their trolleys as they can, one of each item is the maximum permitted.

“Whoever has the highest value at the end will be deemed the winner. That amount will be kindly doubled by Dolan’s and will be donated to the CRC along with a dozen hampers.”

As the reindeer, complete with names pinned on their backs, circled at the start of the six-aisle race, Vinny looked about. With the antlers and false noses, it was hard to make out exactly who he was up against.

Just then, he felt someone pinch his ample backside. He wheeled around angrily and recognised the willowy figure of Jackie, one of Angie’s old school buddies from Santa Sabina. Their paths had crossed over the years but this was the first time they’d locked horns.

“Hi, Vinny. Or should I say Ralphie?” drawled Jackie. “Lovely to bump into you again. By the way, I’m Cupid and I’m looking to shoot my arrows. If you play your cards right, you never know your luck. After all, it’s a small supermarket.”

Vinny felt himself blush. With his green nose and red cheeks, he briefly looked like a stick of rhubarb. Jackie had that effect on him. She was brash, busty and wasn’t backward about coming forward.

Vinny had been drawn last of the eight reindeer, which suited as he’d have an idea of what to beat – Brennie was in the reindeer unsaddling enclosure and would tic tac the latest information.

Mr Ormondroyd called everyone to attention. “Remember reindeers, you have five minutes to complete the course, or else you’ll be disqualified. Rudolph is up first. Right, on my whistle. One, two, three.”

With that, there was a loud peep and Rudolph galloped off at a fierce lick, with the shoppers offering encouragement. One by one, the reindeer raced up and down the aisles, loading here, discarding there, pushing onwards.

As he pawed at the start line, Vinny was given an update from a breathless Brennie. “It’s unofficial but you’ve €147 to beat, Rudolph still leads.”

Vinny nodded. He had a fair idea of what was needed. As Mr Ormondroyd peeped for the final time, Vinny scampered down the fruit and veg aisle, ignoring the heavy spuds, which would have slowed him down.

Vinny’s trolley was almost empty until he got to the meat and poultry section, where he grabbed a pack of fillet steaks, and an organic chicken.

He then held off until the cereals section where he tossed in a large box of cornflakes – always over-priced – and jars of premium compotes and preserves.

Turning into aisle four, a sweating Vinny licked his lips. He had reached the detergents and was in front on the clock. Quickly, he lobbed in a pack of washing powder, some dishwasher tablets and a bottle of fabric conditioner – all expensive.

There was one aisle left, hygiene, and Vinny had his eye on a pricey electric toothbrush, fancy after-shave and the high-end men’s razor blades.

The timer in his head told him he’d about 30 seconds left. “Come on Ralph, we can do this,” he said aloud.

With quick hands, Vinny loaded up the final items and began his push for the tape. He could see Mr Ormondroyd at the finishing line, surrounded by roaring shoppers and could hear them counting down “10, 9, 8, 7.” He was almost there.

And then, out of nowhere, something sharp, antler-like, speared him in the mid-riff. He called out in pain, reached for his ribs with one hand and lost control of his trolley which skidded into layers of confectionary by the check-outs. As Vinny tumbled to the floor, the cornflake box went skywards and came down hard on his bonce, breaking apart and scattering flakes all over the shop. Instinctively, Vinny scrambled to his feet and tried to shove his precious cargo back into the trolley but it was too late. He was counted down, and out, by Neville Ormondroyd.

Some 20 minutes later, Vinny was back in his civvies and crossing the car park in Dolan’s with Brennie. “I was nobbled Brennie, nobbled I tell you,” he said angrily.

Just then, a gold Jaguar pulled up alongside and a window rolled down. “You okay, there Ralphie?” said a honeyed voice Vinny recognised. “It was you, you little vixen,” he hissed. Jackie feigned innocence. “Me? Oh, come on. I’m no vixen. I was Cupid remember?”

With that she pulled away, leaving a sensual fragrance hanging in the Clontarf air.

Bets of the week

2pts Quevega to win World Hurdle (5/1, William Hill)

2pts West Brom to beat Norwich in Premier League (Evens, general)

Vinny's Bismark

1pt Lay Ulster to win Heineken Cup (15/2, Paddy Power, liability 7.5pts)

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