Where are all
the men who used to be seen cycling into town on Saturday afternoons?
a long black coat and wore an old cap on their head. They were always tall and
thin, with somber features. They always had a two-day growth of grey stubble on
their chin and a ragged haircut that a punk or a convict would have been proud
bicycles were big black heavy machines, with a carrier on the back. When they
got to their destination, they would drag a heavy booted foot along the ground.
These men worked with horses all week and as they applied the brakes would
shout, “WHOA, WHOA!”
Just before the bike stopped, they would throw their leg over the seat
in a slow languid motion. The men would then remove a pair of bicycle clips from
their trousers and put them away carefully in their coat pocket. After leaning
the bicycle carefully against a wall they would walk slowly away, --then
suddenly stop, return to the bike and shake it to make sure it would not fall.
Then, in a slow and deliberate manner, they would enter a public house. At
closing time, usually about nine or
swarms of black coated figures would emerge from the pubs, like a cloud of giant
bats. The bicycle clips would be replaced. Sometimes the men would dance
gracefully on one leg while they did this. Once again, the leg would be thrown
slowly over the bicycle and off they would go.
As the men
slowly cycled home the only difference in their stern stony features, was a
brown ring of Guinness around their mouth. On the carrier of the bicycle,
secured by a stout piece of binder twine would be a large parcel of “shin”
butcher meat. There was always a large bloodstain seeping through the paper. As
they cycled through the dark, they looked like serial killers disposing of their
No bicycle had two working lights. If the front light worked, then the
taillight did not. The men pedaled sedately and conserved their strength for two
fast sprints, the local haunted house and the graveyard. As the men neared these
two feared places, they lay over the handlebars and pedaled furiously. sometimes
reaching speeds that would have done credit to a competitor taking part in, “The
beam was regulated by how fast the rider pedaled. Usually it was just a
faint dim glow, but when passing graveyards, it could increase to the
brilliance of a lighthouse. Many a man burst his bulb passing a
graveyard, due to the sudden increase of electricity. These men would never say
hello if spoken to. All the bicycles creaked and needed oiling. They NEVER
travelled in pairs. These men never fell off, never had accidents. They
travelled in all weathers. Once they were common but like the corncrake, have
disappeared. Where did they go?
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Where are all
the women gone, who used to lean over the half doors on country roads? You would
round a corner---and there she would be. A mile or more up the road, leaning out
of the half door of a small white cottage. It was too late to retrace your
steps---she had seen you. As you neared the cottage you could see her. And for
some reason, they all looked alike. A big, fat, red face and always dressed
in an old flowery print dress.
Before you reached her, she would start to speak. This was a ploy. She was like
a great big spider and had thrown out a fine silken thread to draw you in. Her
first remarks were always about the weather. This was her opening gambit, before
she got down to the serious business of drawing out the news.
News. That was what she wanted. All the local gossip and tittle-tattle. That was
her staple diet and she thrived on it.
She might start by saying, “I don’t suppose you were at old Jimmy Smith’s
funeral? ------ You were. Was there a big crowd? How much offerings was there?
Did the widow cry? Who did he leave the farm to?
He’s got four sons you know. I’d say the solicitors will have to be called in. I
always say, you’re better to die poor. At least no one will be fighting over
your coffin. How’s auld Nellie Bogle doing? I hear she’s awaiting on. Getting
better? Ah, it’s always a bad sign when the doctors say that.
I hear, Mollie, your second cousin on your mother’s side had a wee girl. How
long is she married now?” And you could see her mentally counting the weeks and
months in her head. If the total came to a day less than nine months, a quick
flash of pleasure would light up her big vacant eyes.
To strangers, the woman might seem to live in a remote, isolated part of the
country. Little were they to know, that like a spider sits in the centre of the
web, so it was with her. Her house was in the middle of a network of country
roads and lanes. All these byways carried news and gossip and it all passed her
little cottage. After she had drained you of every item of news, she would
dismiss you by saying “Well, I’d better get on with my work. I can’t stand here
all day talking.” And she would retreat back into her dark lair. But when you
walked on a little and looked back. There she was again, leaning out of the half
door, waiting for her next victim. Don’t talk to me about 24 hour news. They
couldn’t hold a candle to the woman leaning over the half door.
I hated that woman. I hated to think she might pass on something that I said. I
would have liked to have told her nothing but lies, but I could not. I was
afraid of her. Peter Boyle wasn’t. Peter was a devil may care rascal. He was
afraid of no-one. One day as Peter was walking up the road, he saw the woman
and decided to teach her a lesson. After the usual remarks about the weather
the woman said. “Any news in the town?”, “Devil a bit” says Peter, “except what
you heard yourself. Wasn’t that a wild handlin’ about yer man, Andy Murray?”
“Why, what happened?” she said, with her mouth open, like a salmon going at a
“Did you not hear?” said Peter, “Sure the whole town’s talking about it.”
“What happened?” she shouted. “What happened?”
“Sure he went mad” said Peter, “Sure I thought you would have heard.”
“Went mad? Andy Murray? Where? How? Why?” she shouted.
“I was talking to his wife, only yesterday,” said Peter, “And she said
Andy went up to his bed as usual, about ten o’clock after saying the
“Aye. Go on,” she shouted. “Go on!”
“Well, by God when he wakened in the morning he was clean mad. Foaming at the
mouth and the eyes staring out of his head. And him grunting and squealing like
“Holy mother of God!” said the woman. “Did they take him away?”
“Oh aye, they sent for the doctor all right, but sure before he got there didn’t
he get worse and eat the two ears off him self.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph” said the woman. “His ears?”
“Aye, both ears eaten down to the stump. He’ll never wear a hat again.”
“And what did the doctor do?”
“Well, he tied him up in a big white waist coat and took him off to the mental.
And he’s tay be guarded night and day, by four armed policemen, with orders to
shoot, if he tries to escape.”
“God, he must be fierce dangerous.” said the woman.
“The doctor said, in his medical opinion, if Andy Murray gets away, he’ll eat
every wean in the parish.”
“Holy mother of God.! He was always such a quite man. What caused it? Did the
“Bacon” said Peter.
“Bacon?” said the woman.
“Aye the doctor said that in his medical opinion, Andy Murray was suffering from
the worst case of Baconitis he’d ever seen!
“Baconitis? What’s that?” said the woman.
“It’s a rare disease of the brain,” said Peter, “Caused by eating too much
bacon. For over 20 years Andy Murray’s wife had been feeding him bacon at least
two times a week.”
“And the bacon did that? It sent him mad?”
“Mad as a March hare. When Andy Murray woke up he was seized by a wild hunger
for bacon. He went clean mad, thought his ears were two rashers and ate then
down to the stump.”
“And bacon did it?”
“Aye, it’s a well known medical fact, that too much bacon will cause, Baconitis.
Do you see me now? I would not let bacon cross my lips.”
“God, that’s awful,” said the woman,” Baconitis? That’s awful.”
“I see you keep a pig, Missus.” says Peter. “Is it for killing and salting
“What? ----No. ---I----I ---He’s a pet. We keep him for a pet. He’s ----he’s
good company for me, when my husband’s not here.”
“He’s putting on a bit of weight Missus. You should put a rope round his neck
and take him for the odd walk.”
“Aye. I must.” said the woman. “I must do that.”
“What do you call him?” said Peter
“The pig. What’s his name?”
“Oh, it’s-----its-----its Henry. Aye, that’s right. It’s Henry.”
“Henry? That’s your husband’s name too isn’t it?”
“What” Oh Aye, that’s right. His name’s Henry too.”
“It must be confusing sometimes when you call your husband in for his dinner.”
“What? Aye. ---- I mean no. The pig’s always locked in”.
There was silence for a moment. Then the woman said, “And you say bacon did
it? It gave him...……”
“Baconitis? That’s right. Oh aye, it was the bacon.”
Peter stood whistling and looking round him and the woman stared hard at the
“I suppose you’ll be going to the wedding Missus.” says Peter.
“What wedding?” said the woman, tearing her eyes away from the pig.
“Sure I thought you knew,” said Peter, “The whole town’s going to it.
Auld Ned Rankin’s going to marry Mary Dunbar, -------- She’s Fred Dunbar’s
“Auld Ned Rankin? Is that the auld man in his 80’’s who’s nearly bent over with
pains. Walks on two sticks and never leaves the chapel?”
“Aye, that’s him.”
“And you say he’s going to marry Fred Dunbar’s youngest daughter? Sure she’s
“Nineteen. She’ll be nineteen next birthday.”
“And they’re getting’ married? What do the Dunbar’s think of that? Were they
not against it?”
“By God they’re all for it, ------ and as soon as possible, in case the
christening should come first.”
“Christening? Do you mean to say that auld Ned Rankin---------?”
“Oh aye, to his credit he takes way it. Sure I saw the both of them come out
of the priest’s house.”
“Good God almighty! Auld Ned Rankin! And him on two sticks as long as I can
remember. And you say the Dumbars are for it?”
“Well they’ve come round now. Mind you when the news first broke, Fred Dunbar
went for the shotgun and went looking for auld Ned, but he’d run away.”
“Run away? Sure he can hardly walk.”
“Well, do you know Albert Sproule?”
“Him that lives half way up the mountain?”
“The very same. Well he told me that auld Ned Rankin tore through his farmyard
like a greyhound, jumped two hedges and disappeared.”
“God, I thought he could hardly walk.”
Fred Dunbar, Fred Dunbar himself told me that he had auld Ned in his sights when
he sprang over a six-foot gate like a gazelle. Sure only the gun jammed, he’d
‘a shot him.”
“And where did they find him?”
“Fifteen miles away. Hiding under a whinbush. But by this time the priest was
on the job and auld Ned agreed to do the decent thing. And now they’re all
looking forward to the wedding-------and the christening.”
“God almighty! Auld Ned Rankin! The dirty auld goat!”
“Aye, well, you have to give him credit Missus. When he was caught, he did the
decent thing. And the wean will have a daddy.”
“God! Auld Ned Rankin?”
“Aye. But you know, she could have done worse. And at least with auld Ned as
it’s father, it will be going to the chapel from an early age.” Did you not get
your invitation yet?”
“Ah, it’s probably in the post. Sure the whole town’s going.”
“Well, I’d better be off.” said Peter and walked on up the road.
“Of course she told everyone and got a solicitor’s letter from auld Ned Rankin
and the Dunbars. After that when she saw Peter coming up the road, she’d
run in and shut the door and pull the blinds.
And Peter would walk past, laughing to himself and making grunting noises.
But I could not do it. I Wish I could.
But she’s not there anymore.
Where did she go?
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© Copyright 2009
J P McMenamin