I’ve been thinking about Paddy Englishman, Paddy Irishman and Paddy Scotsman. What crazy adventures they’ve had together! How they’ve thrilled and delighted legions of children and unimaginative adults! We owe them a great debt of gratitude. But times are hard and we must face an unpleasant truth that we’ve been avoiding for decades: one of the boys is redundant and will have to be let go. Every three Paddys routine works in the same way. Paddys one and two assess their situation – stranded on a desert island, say, or lounging in a brothel – and between them establish a pattern of appropriate behaviour. Then Paddy number three comes along and makes a fundamental error of judgement, frequently fatal. It makes no difference which Paddy performs which role. That’s a matter of taste and personal prejudice. But I think you’ll agree that Paddy number two contributes nothing, regardless of his nationality. As soon as we hear how Paddy number one reacts, we can assume that Paddy number two will follow suit. We skip over him in our minds, eager to see how Paddy number three makes out. This is clearly wasteful. Henry Ford wouldn’t have put up with it, you can be sure. To drop a Paddy is a drastic step, I know, but think of the savings in breath, in time, in effort. Future generations will thank us. And if it works out, maybe we could streamline some other comedy staples. Knock, knock jokes, for example, are carrying dead weight of their own. Come on now – do we really need that second knock?
A few years ago, whilst in the grip of one of my occasional health kicks, I went for a long walk in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. I eventually found myself in a remote corner, threading my way through a small glade. On mature reflection, this was asking for trouble. Small glades in remote corners of the Phoenix Park are notorious cruising hotspots. I knew that, of course, but didn’t think it applied at 10 o’clock on a Sunday morning. On this score, I was dead wrong. Trudging gamely along, I heard someone clearing their throat and spun around to my right. There, leaning casually against a tree, was a middle-aged gentleman with frizzy hair and wild eyes; at first glance, he put me in mind of Jasper Carrott. His trousers were around his ankles and his shorts were around his knees. His right hand, I am sorry to inform the sensitive reader, was around his … y’know … his unit. He nodded down at said appendage, as if offering me a wine gum. A great many options were open to me at this point. I could have run off. I could have given him a lengthy dressing-down – if that’s the phrase I want – about the desecration of public spaces. I could have taken grave offence and thumped him. But I did none of these things. I shook my head, adopted a regretful expression, and chirped, ‘No, thanks!’ Bear in mind that it was not a flat, movie-cool ‘No, thanks!’ These were not the terse words of a sophisticated city-dweller who had seen it all and was essentially unshockable. No, this was the common-or-garden ‘No, thanks!’ of the type you might deliver to a door-to-door carpet salesman or charity mugger. My voice was tinged with mild embarrassment at not taking him up on his offer and hinted that he had simply caught me at the wrong moment. I might as well have added ‘Sure, I’ll get you the next time’. The man shrugged fatalistically and I went on my way, congratulating myself on having remembered that no matter what the circumstances, it costs nothing to be polite. Barely a week has gone by since when I haven’t thought of this moment and cringed. It has utterly ruined the humble ‘No, thanks!’ for me. If you ever hear me saying it, however innocent the scenario, rest assured that somewhere at the back of my mind, the Jasper Carrott look-alike is stirring.
Late one evening (i.e. at two o’clock one morning), a friend of mine found himself standing (i.e. swaying) before the wall-mounted menu in a Chinese take-away, stroking his chin and occasionally releasing a small ‘Hmmm’ of indecision. In truth, he had known what he was having from the moment they swept him out of the bar. But he was becoming a regular at this particular establishment and didn’t want to create the impression that his culinary tastes might be in any way limited. And so, even though he’d had Sausage, Peas, Onion, Gravy and Chips on his eleven previous visits and fully intended to make it an even dozen, he stood there mulling his options for a good five minutes (standard drunk time). You never know, his demeanour fought to suggest, I might just go for squid tonight. Or oyster sauce maybe. Hmmm. When he felt that he’d dragged it out for long enough, he turned to deliver his carefully considered verdict. But the man behind the counter merely shushed him, grinned, and held up a notepad upon which he had already scribbled the damning legend ‘S. P. O. G. C. x 1’ … A quick survey of other pals – I rang one and guessed what two others would say – reveals that this is a common problem in the Ireland of today and late yesterday. It seems that very few of us can consistently order the same old thing from our local take-aways without feeling small about it. What does this say about the national character? I mean, come on. Is this the country Parnell had in mind when he defeated the British at the Boyne in 1916? Surely not. It’s time we put this silly shame behind us. If you want a sausage supper – as the aforementioned dish is styled – then you just go ahead and ask for one, and to hell with everyone else. To thine own self be true, as Polonius said before he ordered chicken curry and chips for the forty-third time in a row.
Did you ever have one of those periods in your life when you find yourself seriously contemplating a course of action even though you are absolutely confident that it will end in humiliation and impoverishment? No? Well, I have them all the time and I’m having another one now. One word: poker. Not the yoke you harass your fire with, now, the card game. I’ve only ever played once, years ago, and although I remember losing all my matches and then my car, it was a great laugh. I think what I loved about it most was the fact that it had a language of its own. ‘Too rich for my blood’, ‘Let’s see ‘em, boys’, ‘Read ‘em and weep’, ‘Please don’t take my car’, I just lapped it up. They’re clichés, I know, but that only added to their charm in my eyes. You can’t say these things and not feel electrified, even if your next utterance is the question ‘Which is better, two pair or the one where they’re all the same suit?’ The lengthy gap between that experience and this new-found enthusiasm – ten years, I’m horrified to realise – is not easily explained. I would put it down to common-sense, but an unbroken decade of reason just doesn’t sound like me. Never mind. The fact of the matter is, I’m up for it again. I’ve been practising not moving my face. I’m experimenting with cigars. I’ve got a book on the subject and a new car. For the love of God, somebody stop me!