O’Leary’s research


A senior pupil is seated in the anti-room to the headmasters office. Mrs. Trip returning from the headmasters office sees young O’Leary and greets him.

“Good morning Timothy”.

“Good morning Mrs.Trip and how are you this fine morning,well I hope?”

‘Yes, thank you. Headmaster is expecting you. He is having morning tea so I expect he will be with you shortly.”

“Oh good, I’m sure he’ll enjoy his morning tea.”

A short time later Headmaster calls young O’Leary into his Office.

“Well O’Leary you have been escorted back to school by the local constabulary. They say they found you on your hands and knees on the 5th fairway of the local golf course, of which, I may add, I am a member. And this was during school hours. Can you please explain yourself.”

“Well sir, I was carrying out some ground work.”

“Ground work O’Leary….?”

“Aye sir, for my biology project.”

“Who takes you for biology?”

“Dr.Transplant, oh I mean Mr.Hart, sir.”

“Ah old Transplant,eh. And what exactly is the nature of this project, lad?”

“That’s right, sir.”

“What’s right, O’Leary?”

“Nature, sir”

“Be more specific boy, expound, expound.”

“Well sir, I chose fungi as the topic for the project and this being the time of year for fungi I have been doing field work. This, of course, being the explanation for my presence on the golf course, a well known location for ground mushrooms.”


“Well sir, I have been collecting samples.”

“Is this research fungi in general O’Leary, or edible fungi, poisonous fungi, bracket fungi?”

“Yes sir, though I have been concentrating my study on a particular genus which, incidentally, has a bearing on my sociology studies.”

“Fascinating O’Leary. And on which genus have you focused your combined study?”

“Psylocybin sir, aka the ‘magic mushroom’ which is known to have hallucinogenic properties, sir. A dose of one hundred can induce a state of euphoria, a mystical experience.”

“And you have been collecting these things, O’Leary?”

“Yes sir.”

“How many have you collected?”

“Over the last week about one hundred thousand, sir.”

“My God, lad. Have you eaten any?”

“No sir, not me sir.”

“Thank God for that, lad. What exactly have you done with them?”

“Well sir, that’s exactly where the sociology and biology projects merge.”

“Where exactly, O’Really, you’re not making myself very clear, am I?”

“I chose a closed community of nine hundred and fifty to conduct my experiment…”

“Jesus O’Leary, that’s the entire population of this school!”

“Exactly sir, well minus one. Enjoying your tea, sir?”


Flying in the face of reason.


Pushing back into my seat as the aircraft hurtles down the runway and lifts into the air is a thrill, the lingering spectre of Paranoia International Airport, Belfast an irritation.

It begins at the bag drop, the first step into the moral maze, a visceral reaction reminiscent of end of term exam nerves.

“Did you pack this bag yourself? Are you carrying any of the prohibited items listed e.g. a gun, a knife, golf balls, water?”

Jesus! What do these people think I am, a terrorist? I’m going to Spain for a bit of winter sunshine not to join the International Brigade. But that’s entry level to what comes next. People who have not received counselling for sexual dysfunction or have had any hint of humour surgically removed can be found at this stage of your journey,

“ Passport and Boarding Pass. Please have any permitted liquids or cosmetics in sealable plastic bags before entering the security area.”

Right, that will be the Congo Line for penned animals, all shuffling along fidgeting with pockets and bags while trying to maintain some sense of dignity.

“ Place items in the trays provided. Remove your coat, belt, and your shoes too, sir”

Don’t be fooled by that moment of apparent civility, the Crack Squad are on standby with stun guns to take you down if you step out of line.

So all my earthly possessions are on the way to be incinerated, ok scanned for WMD, and I step, unshod, through the Pearly Gates. The scanner bleeps. Fucking ‘Bleeps!’. Eyes turn on me, fellow passengers in sympathy and relief, the securocrats in glee at the opportunity to demonstrate the efficiency of airport security in the ‘War on Terror’. In this instance that would be the infamous ‘Grey Zone’ headed to the Costa del Sol to spend their pension and save on the heating bills back home.

I’m ushered into the controversial Full Body Scanner.

‘Stand with your feet on the marks, and raise your arms above your head” Reichsfuhrer von Po-Face instructs.

Now I am a fucking criminal, the real deal, how proud my parents would be. I step from the Tardis after 3 seconds of high-octane x-ray to be confronted once again by Po-Face. For the benefit of his apprentice he indicates the ciphers on the body map betraying the WMD secreted on my person.

Cipher 1: location lower jaw; Cipher 2: waist.

I venture to ask what exactly this marvelous piece of modern security technology, costing a number with lots of zeros, has revealed. I am not given a reply but asked if I object to a further search. Now tell me, dear readers, what the answer to that question is as my recourse to consulting the oracle has failed. Po-face uses a hand-held scanner, then a thorough finger and thumb search of the waistband of my jeans.

“Would it be the endosteal implant in the molar of my posterior lower jaw and the copper rivets in the waistband of my jeans that are causing such confusion for your technology?”

A further lack of courtesy indicates that the technology, the operator and the government policy are in dire need of recalibration.

Now let me get this right. I decide my partner and I need a mid-winter break. The ease with which this can be achieved is the boon of technology. Book flights, print boarding passes, book hotels, and all so straight forward you want to congratulate yourself on savoir faire. In possession of the relevant documents you set off for the airport, with pre-paid parking voucher, to make that trip. The world of reason inverts when you step onto airport property. Customer? Customer my arse! Expect implants, fillings, dentures, piercings, and clothes to be added to the list of prohibited items, while issue of an orange boiler suit de rigueur

The Security Industry is ruling our lives. Edward Snowden has been excommunicated from the Church of the NSA for telling us so and the Sus Law now applies to 90% of the population. Airports are strangled with this nonsense and customers have become suspects.

Question: How many flights have been the subject of terrorist attack?

I can think of seven.

Question: How many flights, national and international, transit without incident annually?

The answer to that has lots of zeros.

The Security Industry will assure us that the safety of those flights is a consequence of their vigilance.

Question: Do you know why elephants paint their toenails green?

Answer: So they can hide in apple trees.

Question: Have you ever seen an elephant in an apple tree?

Answer: No, demonstrating how effective that ploy is.

Broken Pane

The Broken Pane

I’m working in the dust and debris of a renovation with little natural light. it’s a netherworld, like being trapped in someone else’s nightmare. Outside its May, the suns shining. Bluebells, hazel woods and the scent of wild garlic fill my imaginings. I have an irresistible urge to burst out into the light, ”Drat spring cleaning”, to hop and skip among the fresh growth of Spring. But its work, a learning curve I tell myself like knitting or flower arranging. There are two of us on site, Billy who has a comprehensive knowledge of building work and myself, the apprentice. We’ve been on-site for a week now. At the end of each day we timetable the following days work with the dregs of the coffee from the flask and a spliff: Tomorrow we’ll replace guttering and downspout. I pray god the sun shines, as that will be a welcome respite from the netherworld.

The day dawns fine and mid morning I am on a ladder some thirty feet of the ground in full sunlight. It’s a solitary task prising and teasing the aged cast iron brackets from the wall. Down below, with one foot on the lower rung for my safety, Billy offers instructions and advice when needed. With the guttering removed we break for coffee, kit kats, and a spliff of a much sought after local produce. Did I mention that horticulture was another of my mentor’s skills? We return to work and the task of removing the downspout. Funny that it doesn’t occur to me how climbing a ladder with a head full of weed while wielding a two-pound hammer may be viewed under the mental heath act. Again I am perched above the populace of a northern seaside town hammering a reluctant bracket when it breaks loose and drops those thirty feet to the street below.It hits the pavement, bounces and disappears through the open front door into the vestibule of the neighbouring house. I watch this play out in slow motion and eventually the succinct clink of metal on glass reaches back up.

“Oh fuck!”

I descend as Billy retreats. Missus neighbour and myself touch base simultaneously. Small, grey haired wearing a floral house coat and polished brown brogues she looks at me askance, not so much seeking explanation as erasure of this imposition to her domestic arrangement.

“Sorry Missus, is there any damage?”

“You’ve cracked the glass pane in my door, son. It’ll have to be fixed.”

I assume the stance of the college educated exuding an assurance of honest intent. I’m hoping she hasn’t noticed Billy’s stoned face and manic grin momentarily peep around the door, then disappear like an apparition half witnessed.

“I’ll go and get a measuring tape so we can pick up a piece of glass in the morning and sort it out. Give me two seconds.”

Minutes later I am rising from my knees clutching the imperial dimensions for the replacement glass written on the flyleaf of a Rizla packet.

Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow. Tomorrows and broken promises come and go. The flyleaf’s become roach material and the cracked pane remains. We start arriving furtively. No flyleaf means no dimensions means no replacement glass. Thursday morning, why I remember that detail I have no idea but it adds to the clarity of the sequence of events that follow. Today we will remove the dividing wall between adjoining rooms and secure the structure with acro props, then install a reinforcing steel joist. With our usual morning break finished we proceed. I discover that demolition is fun, like sanctioned vandalism. Wielding a sledgehammer in someone’s home imparts a sense of forbidden pleasure, innocent or illicit its pleasure nonetheless. The rumble and thud of falling masonry, the rising cloud of dust aver to the destruction. As the dust settles we settle to lunch amidst the devastation to review progress, exchange news and revisit weed, as you do. The clouds of dust have just about settled in the room, but not the cloud in my head as we return to the task in hand. Billy is at one pier and I at the other with the RSJ on our shoulders. We slowly climb the step ladders to place the beam, a performance worthy of  Smarts Circus. Now add to that an insistent knocking on the door and you have drama.

“Ignore it; it’s that oul doll from next door” says Billy.

“How do you know?”

“I saw her pass the window”

Considering the concentration and balancing act involved in the task at hand, his capacity for extra peripheral vision in this light is truly impressive. Must be the weed. We manage to lodge the RSJ in position for fine-tuning as the knocking persists.

“We’ll have to answer that. Ah fuck she’s at the window now.”

I answer the door expecting the third degree on a glass pane. Instead its human pain.

“Oh son I’m awfully worried”

“Why what’s wrong Missus?”

“My husbands not answering the door”

“Maybe he’s gone out”

“No, son. I was out getting a few messages and left him at home. He has a heart condition”

“Oh, how can I help?”

“I have no key so I can’t get into the house. Could you go over the wall at the back and open the yard door?”

“OK, go you round and I’ll let you in.”

I pass back through the house to the yard.

“The old dear’s locked out and her husbands not answering. He’s got a heart condition so the wee woman’s worried.”

“Aye, he’s probably in there with the nurse. Fuck he’s going to be thrilled seeing you peeping through the window. Give me a shout if you need a hand…. with the nurse”

I climb the wall and open the yard door. She’s through the door, like a greyhound released from the trap, and over to the yard window.

“Oh son I can’t see him. What am I going to do?”

“Don’t worry I can get through the kitchen window.”

The upper half of the small sash window is partially open. The inner ledge of the lower window used as a shelf for a miscellany convenient to the sink. I pull the top window down and squeeze through the aperture scattering matches, soap and dentures in a glass on to the tiled floor. The teeth bare at me in a pool of water like a marooned piranha as I cross the kitchen to the door. In the back parlour by the doorway to the kitchen the old guy is sitting bolt upright on a dining chair in his dark pinstripe suit. There’s a cascade of little white pills spilling from a phial into his lap. I open the outside door to his wife. Her apprehension bursts into the room before her. When she sees her husband her anxiety overflows.

“Oh son he’s gone, he’s gone”

“No Missus, He’s still breathing. Call an ambulance.”

I flounder in my attempts to reassure her, marooned like the teeth.

“We have to move him on to the sofa.”

I don’t question her logic but know for certain that between myself and this small old lady this is not going to happen. Her husband is not a small man and, though I think it, I don’t mention dead weight.

“No Missus you phone an ambulance, I’ll get my mate and we’ll move him.”

I rush in next door animated by the immediacy of the moment and find Billy leaning against the wall, spliff in hand, surveying his handy work.

“What’s up with her then?”

“The old guy’s had a heart attack. Come on and give me a hand to move him.”

“What for, are we hiding the body?”

“Fuck you’re a gag. No she wants him on the sofa.”

“Is it not a bit late for that?”

“Just come on and give me a hand.”

When we go next door I notice that I’ve left a trail of footprints through the house and as we enter we add a further layer of dust and debris to the polished tiles and Axminster carpet.

“Oh son, he’s gone. What am I going to do?”

She stands by her husband, who’s still upright in his chair, clearly distraught and confused.

“Did you call the ambulance?”

“Yes I did. We’ll have to move him onto the sofa.”

I still don’t think to ask why as it seems inappropriate to her distress and more prudent to comply. So Billy and I man handle the now evident deadweight of this man with little dignity on to the sofa. The old lady in her agitation and misery flits about the room voicing the inarticulate language of her agony. I am impotent to offer any words on this foreign shore and grateful for the arrival of the medical services uniformed to assure and comfort. I am happy to defer to their experience, so Billy and I depart with a few muttered words. As I leave, a backward glance at the tableau of medical efficiency around the supine corpse presents an improbable snapshot. The husband’s recently pristine pinstripe suit is coated in the dust and debris of demolition.