FAS KEEPS FORCING JOB BRIDGE INTERNS ON US, SO WE GOT OURS GEE EYED ON COMMUNION WINE AND SENT THEM OFF TO REPORT ON CATHOLICISM’S GLASTONBURY.
The stench of rotten eggs and fish filtered through my consciousness. I couldn’t understand why whatever bar I was in would smell so bad but I wasn’t curious enough to open my eyes against the blinding light. I could feel the ice cold comfort against my temple, the whiskey and coke would help me make sense of all this. I turned to the glass and touched my lips to the condensation. The glass was flat and the more I licked the taller it got. ‘Tea, coffee, snacks. Tea, coffee, snacks’, what the hell?
The offending blurter appeared before my squinting, window-licking self. A drinks trolley jockey in what appeared to be an Irish Rail uniform. Christ, that’s it! The train from Dun Laoghaire to Connolly. The seaweed stench was overpowering. I hadn’t been here for many years. Through this internal morning fog I was piecing together the hows and wherefores that had me here once more. I should have been covering the Euros for the magazine but due to some long-forgotten misunderstanding involving a horse, two ‘dancers’ and a video camera in a Kiev hotel room my application for travel was declined. Herr editor took a snap decision and substituted our religious correspondent for my sweet spot by the Black Sea and dropped me back to Dublin for the Eucharistic Congress. Most of the last 24 hours were hazy at best. My distaste for the neo-modernism of air travel with the benevolent fascism of check-in smiles and have a nice day security scans as well as the association of a fondness for alcohol with ‘terrorism’ has me a firm rail and sea man. My last clear memory was sitting at the bar in Euston Station complaining about the tiny bag of nuts I’d just received with my 2nd Pernod. I was belligerent before I’d started drinking which never bodes well for the night ahead. The train was leaving early evening and I had convinced myself that this weekend was punishment for a catalogue of missed deadlines and over-egged expense sheets that my editor had to deal with on the magazine. I grabbed a coffee and turned out my jacket pockets looking for physical clues to my immediate past and future. Crumpled tickets for train and rail. An assortment of sticky coins and crumpled notes in both currencies, my notebook and a handful of Ladbroke’s pencils. A small selection of pill boxes, nothing too risqué, prescription medicines although admittedly not all in my name, some pharmaceutical speed for those late, late nights but they’ve given me some bad times when mixed with the wrong alcohol and mood. A moment from the overnight ferry came flashing back, sharing a joint with a disgruntled young ferryman. Our conversation led to my assignment. He held forth on the Bermuda triangle of politicians, bankers and priests that crippled the country we were approaching at a rate of knots. But, he opined, things are changing. My weekend was about navigating into that particular heart of darkness. By the time I tumbled from the taxi at Jury’s most of my wits were about me or at least packed in my small carry-all. I held the bag in front of the large stain caked down the leg of my trousers and pushed the shades tight against my face as I walked to the reception desk. The orange-skinned reptile that looked down her nose at me changed her tune when I announced I was with the archbishop’s party and running late. “Archbishop….?” She intoned in that bloody acquired Australian inflection that’s infected everyone under 30. “Brown, dammit, Brown”. Getting her on the back foot I raged about my position as the chief Travel Correspondent with the NY Times and, as special guest of Archbishop Brown, I’d presumed that the executive service would be better. Her apologies ringing in my ears, I found myself being rushed to an impressive suite by a bowing, scraping porter. After a hefty sleep and a heftier room-service, including a cracking Chablis, I strode across to Croke Park in my relatively clean check suit and Bermuda hat. Blustered my way past security with a confusion of press passes and faux-outrage in my best Noo Yoik accent. Finding myself in the executive section, what we could call ‘backstage’ at a gig like this, the bar was free although spectacularly unattended. I drank myself into the late evening while the bread and circus stuff went on below. Conversations with men in dresses usually didn’t remain this asexual in my previous experience. The smell of baby powder and want was only broken by my trips outside for a drag of herb from time to time. I tried to keep up with my enquiries. Brown, was he really Ratzinger’s lapdog or is he determined to be America’s first Pope? The Vatican Bank, what truth in the rumours of a merger with Goldman Sachs? Archbishop Martin, a chosen son or is the Irish clergy written off by the powers that be? Looking back at my notes, they got crazier and more disjointed with each half-arsed, dead-drunk interview. Finally, I was brought arm-in-arm by two nuns from Milan to the lift. I can’t write what I thought was about to occur but never did I expect what really came next. We stepped out at -2 while I had visions of grainy CCTV footage appearing on porntube. But we were hit by the most amazing display of lights, bassy speakers pumping out Haydn’s ‘Creation’. A 6ft nymph strode towards us in an outfit reminiscent of Naomi Campbell re-enacting the Sound of Music. I threw my arms up and cowered before it all became clear. The Italians led me to the bar behind the seated ranks as the most incredible fashion show played out before my eyes. Chiffons, silks and see-through LED encrusted surplices, cottas and tunics; heavy wool cassocks and linen, lace and lycra habits and scapulars. The crowd ooed and aahed, clapped and cheered with each new costume. The music pumped and the lights pulsed while I lurched from shock to awe between each icy anesthetic dispensed to me and my new friends by the experienced looking altar boys behind the bar. I woke stuck to the bedsheets, mouth as dry as a dead camel and some kind of exorcism taking place behind my eyes. I could barely focus but could just make out a white habit and rosary beads on the floor by the bed.