Roddy L’Estrange: Christmas spirit alive and well as Vinny lends a helping hand

Having entertained his passengers all day, the burly busman has a final trick up his sleeve

 Joan and Aideen Goggin  with passengers on a Cork bus demanding that   a tradition of bus drivers dressing as Santa be reinstated. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

Joan and Aideen Goggin with passengers on a Cork bus demanding that a tradition of bus drivers dressing as Santa be reinstated. Pic Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision

 

With a fitting sense of Festive timing, the 130 was stuck in traffic at Newcomen Bridge the same time as Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney was ringing around the bus, top deck and bottom.

And no one was having a bigger blast on pre-Christmas Tuesday than the burly guy in the driver’s cabin, clad in red and white over-sized garb, bogus beard and a bobble cap.

Vinny Fitzpatrick could have been a ringer for the Santa in the song only he wasn’t quite as ‘roly-poly, fat and round’ as he used to be, thanks to a combination of dietary change, increased exercise and less jar.

There was less of him to go around and boy, did it feel good. He was floating in the moonlit sky, flaunting the Dublin Bus rules, and he didn’t give a fig.

The bus was crammed with shoppers, singing their silvery heads off and enjoying the complimentary mince pies and mulled wine being passed around by shapely elf, Emma. As Vinny glanced in the mirror, it struck him that Trinity student Emma, 21 in January, was as shapely and beguiling as her 40-something mother. “Steady on,” he said to himself.

At the rear of the bottom deck, stuck fast, half-shot and laughing all the way were the Clontarf Warblers, the local choral society.

Vinny had scooped them up at 3.30 from Wynne’s Hotel after Christmas lunch and such was the craic with the carols, the Warblers were now on their third run to Clontarf.

Blue-rinse brigade

Gladys Cadwalader

A typical example was this: “For Tommy and Anne, on their way home to Seafield Road after a day’s shopping in Henry Street… Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.

Vinny mixed his playlist up between popular carols, children’s songs and stylish seasonal recordings from the likes of Crosby, Sinatra, Dean Martin and Nat King Cole. The festive fusion had the bus buzzing and no one minded that things got a tad cramped – Vinny, typically, refused to leave a single passenger stranded.

Passing his alma mater, St Joseph’s, he heard an angry voice he recognised on the crackling intercom: it was Socket Twomey, the Clontarf controller.

“Vinny, I know you can hear me, now pick up,” barked Socket, a decent fella who started with Vinny in the late 70s and worked his way up into management.

“Way to go, Socket. Season’s greetings me ol’ mucker,” chirped Vinny.

Socket’s reply was clipped. “Vinny, you know it’s against company policy for drivers to dress like Santa. Across all State-run bus services, it’s a no-no.

“Look, I could have turned a blind eye to one shimmy into town and back but you’ve been partying for your entire shift. You’re on report. See me in my office first thing tomorrow.”

As Vinny shrugged with indifference, he felt a tug on his elbow. It was Gladys Cadwalader, beady eyes shining on a lined, leathery face.

“Vinny, another request from the top deck. Can you play God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen for a gang of lads from Clontarf Athletic football club heading to Shingles? They say they are merry and intend to get merrier.”

“By the way, ignore your boss. He’s not out watching his flock like the good shepherd driving the 130.”

She patted Vinny on the shoulder, and sashayed back to join her friends, sweeping up a plastic cup of mulled wine from Emma’s tray on the way. The next two hours passed in a yuletide blur of song, smiles and sentiment as every passenger bought into the gig.

Trouble ahead

In that nimble way of his, Vinny darted across Clontarf Road, skipped past the palm trees opposite and plonked down on a bench on a darkened stretch of the promenade. Sniffing the tangy air, Vinny took off his bobble hat, and ran his fingers over the few loose strands of hair he had left.

Then he remembered the envelope pressed into his pocket by Gladys Cadwalader as she disembarked a few minutes earlier.

“This is a token of our gratitude for a brilliant day. You’ve made our Christmas, Vinny. God bless,” she’d said before tottering off.

The envelope

Vinny was taken aback. “‘Well, well,” he said aloud.

As he looked across towards Dublin Port, Vinny saw three ships come sailing in, and he thought of all those folk coming home for Christmas to see family and loved ones. It was, truly, a special time.

Vinny was stirred from his festive musings by the shuffling arrival of a local hobo known as Kit, who kipped in a disused horse-box by the Red Stables in St Anne’s. This bench was a regular haunt of Kit’s as it was hidden from the main road, and away from street lights.

The two men sat in silence for a bit before Kit reached under his shabby great coat and withdrew a bottle of grog. “Do you wanna sip,” he whispered in a phlegmy voice.

Taking care to wipe the top of the bottle, Vinny took a mouthful. It tasted like vinegar, which it possibly was. “Thanks Kit, appreciated,” he said.

With that, Vinny got to his feet, stretched his back and offered Kit not just his hand, but an envelope too. “Happy Christmas,” he said.

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