Roddy L’Estrange: Sporting day out an ideal break for Vinny

Burly busman gets out and about as he puts worries about Angie on hold

Barney's Bus had just tottered through Tulsk on Sunday at noon when Vinny Fitzpatrick tilted his large head against the window pane and began to nod off.

The heater was going full blast and sleep would come soon, he knew.

It had been a helter-skelter 24 hours or so, full of caint, ceol agus craic. “Just what the doctor ordered,” he thought to himself, snuggling down into his seat.

Like many a grand day out with the lads, it had been unscripted.


But when word arrived the morning before that the Soiled And Ancient Golf Society's outing to Royal Sillogue had fallen foul of Storm Imogen, Charlie Vernon mobilised the troops.

“Chaps, we have the bus, so let’s use it, I say,” said Charlie.

“I suggest our first port of call should be Leopardstown, followed by a slightly longer voyage to Castlebar, to cheer on the Dubs. I’ll source a couple of B&Bs on the way down. All those in favour, say aye,” he cried.

The ayes had it, by a landslide.

Just as Vinny loved an off the cuff pint, so he thrived on the unexpected joys of impromptu day trips. And what joys he had on this chilly Saturday.

First, he made a packet at the gee-gees, with a score apiece on two winners, at 11/1 and 14/1.

That they were trained by Willie Mullins only added to his elation.

“How could the bookies be so blind,” he said, as he stuffed his wallet with notes.

Miserable evening

After making for the M50 before the last race, Barney put his pedal to the metal and gunned his old Nissan boneshaker west.

“The AA says it will take us three hours on the button. With no p*** stops, we’ll just about make it. Hold tight,” he said.

It was a miserable evening as the crew funnelled into MacHale Park just in time to see Philly McMahon get a black card.

The game was one of grunts and grind but the lads, who had lumped €500 between them on the Dubs at 2/5 to win, didn’t mind the cold.

Thereafter, the pints and song flowed in The Westerner Arms where Vinny's rendition of The Aul Triangle nearly brought the house down.

His fine baritone voice caught the ear, and eye, of a full-figured Mayo woman who reminded him of the late Hattie Jacques.

But before you could say ‘Oh, Matron,’ Vinny slipped out of her bosomy clutches and made for the chipper next door.

The next morning, after a wash, and a ‘chase-the-egg-around-the -plate’ brekkie, the lads boarded Barney’s Bus for the trek home, armed with bottles of Lucozade and choccie bars.

Charlie, as ever, was game for a laugh and he killed an hour by going around the lads and asking them to say the first thing that came to mind when he mentioned a girl’s name.

“They all begin with the letter “I”, out of respect of Storm Imogen,” he said.

First up was Fran. “Indira,” said Charlie. “Gandhi,” replied Fran.

Next up was Brennie. “Imelda,” called out Charlie. “Marcos,” said Brennie.

When Macker had Isabel thrown at him, he quipped, “‘Necessary on a bike?”

Two-Mile Boris also earned a few cheers when Charlie lobbed Ivory into his lap. “Merchant,” growled the Russian grandmaster.

Vinny was down the back and reckoned Charlie would run out of "I"s when it was his turn, by which time there had been Irene . . . Adler (Kojak), Ivy . . . League (Dial-A-Smile) and India . . . Juliet (The Reverend).

“Right Vinny, you’re the tail-ender,” said Charlie.

As all heads turned towards the portly busman, Vinny felt a tickle of tension: he couldn’t afford to fail.

“‘Isla,” said Charlie aloud.

Quick as a flash, Vinny hit back. "St Clair, I used to fancy her like mad on The Generation Game."

Hypnotic magic

As the laughter subsided, the heat of the bus and rhythmic hum of the engine worked its hypnotic magic and Vinny was one of the first to enter the Land of Nod.

He reckoned he must have slept for nearly two hours because he came to as Barney was turning left at Whitehall Church and heading down Collins Avenue.

A few minutes later, the lads alighted outside Foley’s, agreed it had been a great trip, and split.

With his Gola bag to hand, Vinny was in chipper form as he headed home.

The sight of posters and placards decorating every pole in Clontarf reminded him of his ill-fated dalliance with public office at the previous general election.

According to local pollsters, he had been on track to win the last seat as an Independent until word broke of his association with a house of ill-repute, in the former Fitzpatrick family home.

The trumped up charges were duly thrown out and Vinny’s good name was restored, but the timing scuppered his chances of election to the Dáil, which rankled, as he felt he’d have made a decent fist of things.

“Unlike the lot who got in and made a town halls of it all,” he muttered, turning into the drive, where he collided with a spotty youth on a leaflet drop for the Blueshirt candidates.

After apologies from both parties, the kid, for he was no more than 17, asked Vinny would he considering voting for Fine Gael, 1-2-3, in the election for Dublin Bay North.

“Things are on the mend. If you can give us four more years, we’ll have everyone back on their feet and running,” he said.

Four more years. The thought struck a chord with Vinny, who looked up to the front bedroom, where the curtains were closed.

Angie was probably asleep, with daughter Emma on bedside vigil for the weekend.

Vinny had shelved his wife’s illness for the past 24 hours, but now everything came hurtling back at him.

Four more years.

What would he give for four more years with Angie? He’d give everything. Absolutely everything.