“ Shelbourne Park Greyhound Stadium”, a shimmering neon proclaimed, as he went through the turnstile. Mick Early was here only once before; selling smuggled watches in 1972. Working for a builder at the time he had just sat the Garda exam. Something he didn’t tell the Guard who stopped him thinking his merchandise was purloined and who, on receiving a satisfactory explanation, quipped, “ you have too much time on your hands”.
He could count, on one hand, the number of bets he had placed in his life. A couple of sixpenny wagers in Punchestown, then here was the time when, as a fourteen-year old, he put the ten shillings, his father had given him to pay a grocery bill, on “Final Move”.
“Final Move” didn’t move fast enough, exposing Mick’s attempt at speculating to accumulate.
Thirty years later he had put thirty pounds on a “dead cert” given to him by a trainer that he let away with an untaxed Rolls Royce. This time he backed each way but it fared worse than “Final Move”. More recently in the station had info “straight from the horse’s mouth” for Cheltenham. It lost. And tonight . . .
On Easter Monday night 1997, after eighteen fallow months, he went “chasing” to the adult dance in Brannigan’s hotel. There would be no shortage of “grab-a-granny” comments in the station tomorrow. Brendan Shine, a man older than himself, was belting out “Do You Want Your Oul Lobby Washed Down” from the stage for the dancers, many of whom Mick recognised from his early days in Dublin. They, like himself, were still on the circuit.
Then he saw her. He wouldn’t allow himself to even think of a cliché about eyes meeting across a crowded room but . . .
Her name was Mary O’ Flaherty, a nurse who was married to a male nurse. They lived in Leixlip and had no kids. “I didn’t know you were a gambling man, Mick”. It was Sergeant Joe Burke off the other shift.
“I’m . . .I’m not. I . . .I got a tip from one of the lads in Traffic for a dog in the second race”.
“I’ll bet you it’s ‘The Small Man’ “. Mick’s head oscillated as if checking rear-view mirrors. Then a mixture of police training and rural Sligo cunning prompted a hurried backward glance before cautiously whispering the dog’s name.
“ I don’t think he’s in with a chance. I’m here to back “Martin’s Pet” in the fourth race”.
Mick scarcely heard him.
Back in his flat on the North Circular Road he couldn’t make it. That only happened him once before . . . with an American schoolteacher in her flat in Rathmines. But that was different. He was under stress, had driven from the west of Ireland that morning, and then worked a double shift. What was wrong now? Age? He was only 47. Mocking is catching he thought as he remembered his favourite quip, used when doing MC at retirement dinner-dances and other functions.; “What’s the difference between concern and panic? Concern is the first time you can’t do it the second time and panic is the second time you can’t do it the first time”.
She was understanding. It happens everyone from time to time. They would meet tomorrow night.
The race card was foreign language to him; but there was the dog at number 2, in the second race.
Her husband was on nights all week. They met the next night. And the next, the next and the next.. The result was the same. He appreciated her tolerance, concern and caring. There was no trace of ridicule even when she jokingly suggested that what he needed was “practice”, or remarked, “ it’s just as well you’re not married”. In the following days he felt he was as close to depression as he head ever been even though he had no knowledge of that condition. One day when driving to the west he was chased by a Squad-car, having gone through a red light in Athlone.
He didn’t even identify himself or use the “one of your own”. What did it matter? A prosecution would take his mind off his inadequacy as a man.
Viagra jokes were no longer funny. It was now a serious subject; available in the USA and on the continent but how would you get it here? One didn’t discuss erectile dysfunction in the canteen. Well, someone else’sl maybe . . . in his absence.
Mick fancied himself as a researcher but Libraries were no longer necessary.
The first time he heard the Internet described as an “information super-highway” he couldn’t agree more.
A Jiffy bag addressed to Mr Michael Early arrived at the station. The sender had filled in the Customs CN 22 label. The “Detailed Description of Contents” line bore an illegible scrawl, which had been overwritten with a different pen in a different hand. The word “Viagra” was the handiwork of Detective Jim O’Reilly from Cavan. If only he knew.
Mary’s husband was on “lates” every four weeks.
On the Monday night Mick met her in a café in Dorset Street. A quick cup of coffee, a mouthful of Ballygowan with a diamond-shaped blue tablet and it was back to the flat.
Yes . . . yes . . . medical science had got it right this time. It’s a pity her husband is not permanently on lates.
Meticulous in all things (well almost all things) he read up on the Misuse of Drugs act 1977 before taking a Finglas teenager to court on a charge of possession of cannabis resin. Section three jumped out at him.
Restriction on possession of controlled drugs.3.—(1) Subject to subsection
(3) of this section and section 4 (3) of this Act, a person shall not have
a controlled drug in his possession.
(2) A person who has a controlled drug in his possession in
contravention of subsection (1) of this section shall be guilty of an
No more mail order but as luck would have it there were only three more days to go before Viagra was available in Ireland.
Jim O’ Flaherty’s family owned several hundred acres close to Mick’s modest home place. Despite social and education differences they had been pals since childhood.
. They were of similar character and more importantly they knew each other’s style. When Jim was a Medical student he worked in Hely’s, a prestigious stationers, in Dame Street. When “Pass-out” tickets changed hands for cash it was mutually beneficent. Jim had extra pocket money and Mick certainly had, after many clandestine, nocturnal transactions with the “blue-suit-and-brogue-shoes-brigade” outside marquees in rural Sligo.
Jim now had a “walk-in” practice in Dublin.
Mick told him what he wanted. This was the first time he had seen Jim “with his Doctor’s hat on”.
Instead of reaching for the prescription pad as Mick expected, his old pal, cold and clinically, produced stethoscope and BP monitor.
“How is your blood-pressure?”
“The Garda Doctor said it was borderline the last time I went to him for a cert”.
“OK . . .don’t move your arm . . .Hmm . . .that’s not borderline, that’s high”.
“Is it . . .? “
“ It could be white-coat syndrome.”
“Christ, Jim, I’m not afraid of you”.
“ Even so . . . it happens. I’d have to take three readings to get an average. I’ll give you the prescription, enjoy the weekend”. (Here the old Jim seemed to break through) “ Come back to me Tuesday”.
On the third visit Doctor Jim stared poker-faced at the dial.
“Not less than 140 over 90 on any of the three readings. I’m going to have to put you on medication. No more recreational tabs for you I’m afraid”
“Do you mean I’ll . . . “
“Viagra and nitrates don’t mix. Both cause the muscles that control the calibre of the blood vessels to relax. The diameter of the blood vessels increases and blood pressure drops. When both are taken together it causes a drastic and more than likely fatal drop in blood pressure. So you will have to go off Viagra”.
“I’d like a second opinion”.
“All right. I’ll give you a second opinion. If you start acting the bollocks with your horn tablets while you are on prescribed medication you’re fucked”.
Mick mentally scanned his long list of friends and acquaintances. Who could help? . . . He had it.
“ Fifty pounds win on horse . . . er . . . dog number two”. The bookie’s expression was a mixture of a smile at Mick’s naivety and a grin of satisfaction at the certainty of the dog not winning.
The next evening found him sitting across the table from Martin Farmer in the D4 Café in Ranelagh.
His old friend was a versatile, intelligent Cork-man man of many parts, who had a photographic memory, had lived I nineteen countries and was now seriously into alternative medicine. He had a habit of prefacing revelations with, “ . . . and the funny thing is . . .”
Mick wasn’t particularly interested in learning that the Mistletoe is a hemi parasite or half parasite but is also capable of growing on its own. and that there are two types of the plant; Phoradendron Flavebcens, which grows in North America, and the European variety Viscum Album. “The funny thing is, the Greeks believed that the Mistletoe had mystical powers. The name is derived from the belief that the plant was propagated from bird droppings. The word means ‘dung-on-a- twig’ from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘Mistle’ for dung and ‘tan’ for twig.
Race Two. The electric hare was buzzing and they were out of the traps.
Several cups of tea later Garda Michael Early was familiar with the myths, folktales, rites, ceremonies and traditions associated with Mistletoe. After a long monologue, delivered (it seemed) without pause for breath, Martin eventually came to the point. If taken in the prescribed manner (and in this he was very specific) Mistletoe teas would regulate one’s blood pressure without the addition of any convential medicine.
It was all over in a matter of seconds and a blue-coated Racetrack-worker dropped a box over the now stationary electric hare as six disinterested dogs slowly scattered.
Barry O’Hanlon was a law abiding citizen who owned ”Health and Happiness”, which stocked herbal remedies and alternative medicine in a fashionable Dublin suburb. A twinge of anxiety hit him when a squad car pulled up and parked on the footpath outside his premises. He felt relieved when the middle-aged culchie cop asked for, “ a box of Mistletoe Herb Teabags, please”.
Twenty pence dropped in the slot of the BP machine in Conyngham Robinson’s Chemis. Mick put his wrist in the cuff. Systolic; 130. Diastolic 85. He went to a different Pharmacy the next day and again the reading showed normal” but being suspicious of the ca liberations of l coin-operated machines, he paid another visit to Jim.
When Mick produced his ticket there was no smile on the Bookies face. He searched every pocket, including his waistcoat. Mick was baffled as to the significance of this gesture. The Bookie paid up, but not gracefully. It was his first time ever to pay out on a forty-to-one shot.
After jokes, reminiscing and small talk the Doctor removed the cuff with a concise” perfect”.
On the next visit it was “OK” and on the third time his old friend informed him that he now had “text-book BP”
As Joe Burke pocketed a roll of fifties he felt he owed an explanation to his companions, “That Mick Early is a dark horse . . . one cute hoor. Although, to tell you the truth the name of the dog nearly put me off. I can see the headlines in the Sporting Press, ‘ Sensation caused at Shelbourne Park by rank outsider, “ Mistle Toe ‘ ”