About Me

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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Chapter 6

Getting a Wee bit Older

By the end of first year at the Tech my friendship ended with Jonathan, nothing really happened, we just grew apart, as boys of that age do so quickly and can’t see beyond their noses. I started hanging out with Gary Rowden and Ronan Connaghan from across the road. Ronan was a year older than me and very tall, he smoked and was very interesting to talk to, I looked up to him more as a brother than just a friend.

Gary and I were maturing a lot faster than Jonathan, we were popular and at the forefront of the small society of St. Catherine’s Vocational School. To use a well worm phrase; we were big fish in a small pool, a very small pool. We were often mean to Jonathan and Desmond and made fun of them in public; it was almost like we had never been friends in the first place. I felt really bad for him, and still do for what we did, but we were growing at different rates. At the time Gary and I had more in common: football, girls and video games and I guess that’s all it took.

Just before the end of May, when school was letting out for the summer, I came home from being outside, mucking about the fields with the lads, to change my shoes when I overheard Mum and Dad talking. They had no idea I was listening, but what I heard completely shocked me. The gist of their conversation was: Mum was going to move out, Jenny and the younger boys would go with her, but Derek and I would stay at the house with Dad. I quietly slipped out the door before they realized I was there. I kept the secret to myself for as long as I could, eventually I had to tell someone. The same day I told Ronan Connaghan, Mum and Dad made the announcement to all of us.

We had no idea why they were splitting up and it was not ‘till years later that the true story ever came out. They said it was only for the summer. That must be the story all parents tell their kids when they’re splitting up. Perhaps it’s because you can comprehend a summer, it’s a tangible word, you know a summer ends and another school year begins, life moves on, but ‘forever’ who can fathom that word? They talked to us about the break-up and made sure we had all our questions answered and understood, they were very civilized about the whole thing, almost too cool, like they had been rehearsing the play for awhile and this was the big show with all lines and actions perfected.

That summer was not the tragic defining time in my life, as it should have been, defining yes, but tragic, far from it. My cousin Paddy moved in with us for the summer and in between doing gardening for Dad and cooking the dinner most nights, I had the best summer ever. Dad was still working a lot and with Mum not at home, we had the place to ourselves. As long as Dad had his dinner on the table when he got home he was happy. Grilled lamb chops, julienne carrots and mashed potatoes. I think I cooked that meal fifty times or more, I wasn’t very creative in the kitchen and I just made what I knew.

Paddy and I used to be best friends when we were younger, but he and Derek were growing their hair long and listening to real heavy metal, so they gravitated together. They wore combats and black t-shirts with bands like Sepulture, Obituary and Morbid Angel on the front and back. All they ever talked about was Death Metal, Speed Metal, Thrash Metal, the harder the better. They even had a contest that summer to see who could go the longest without bathing or washing their hair. I don’t know who won, but they both smelled like Killybegs before the competition was over.

The weather was great all summer, not much rain to complain about and when I wasn’t cooking dinner or weeding the garden, Gary and I went out to Fintra beach as often as we could manage. I would bring my Ghetto Blaster, that Dad bought in Derry for my birthday, to the beach and play AC/DC, Def Lepard, Motley Crue and Gun’s and Roses because they were all the tapes I had. Derek laughed at the music I listened to, making fun of me when I played my tapes; they weren’t hard enough for him.

It was this summer I first met Garry Anderson, a fella that was to become my best friend of all time. He and Rowden became known as the two Gary’s, Anderson was known as the Garry with two “Rs” on account of how he spelt his name! Garry Anderson was friends with Ciaran McGuinness, who Rowden also knew and we all slipped easily into a great sphere of friendship.

After a lot of tears from Mum, she moved back in with Dad at the end of the summer, so I guess they didn’t lie when they said it was only for the summer. After they got back together and were behaving like a pair of teenagers in love, they thought it would be a good idea to head off to Spain for two weeks, a bit of business, a bit of pleasure, a sort of honeymoon for their new commitment. Their plan for us was to have Brendan Connaghan, the eldest of the Connaghan boys, keep an eye on us and we were to go into Granny’s if we needed anything. They left us with a freezer full of food and money for whatever else we needed.

Young as we were at the time it started out harmless, but quickly our time alone evolved into one big party. All Derek’s heavy metal friends who were long-haired, older boys started turning up and making themselves at home. Derek had a girlfriend who was eighteen and she stayed most of the time too. I was still seeing Caroline and I tried to get her to come to the house, but she wouldn’t and I only managed to see her out at the beach a few times, but never without her friend Carmel the bloody chaperon.

Derek took both Mum’s car and the quad bike out on the roads late at night and was lucky not to get caught by the Garda. He kept bragging about how he got the car to nearly a hundred down by the Common’s school and another fella tried to do the same in his mum’s car and stuck it in the ditch! We trashed the house and mastered the art of cleaning vomit out of carpet, an essential skill for any teenager to acquire if they are inclined towards parties and underage drinking. I don’t know how the hell we didn’t kill ourselves or each other. I didn’t drink yet and either did Derek, we were only thirteen and fourteen, plenty of time for that later. And I do mean plenty of time.

Luckily, when Mum and Dad arrived home we only amassed a small amount of trouble for ourselves. They were too much in love again to really care about what happened, we could have burned down the house, sold the family business to the knackers and turned the garden shed into a whore-house and they would hardly even have noticed!

When I began Second Year in the Tech, things were different. I was going out with the girl many considered the finest in the year. Older students respected me on account they’d spent most of the summer drunk at our house. I was kicked out of the “C” class, the smart class, because Gary Rowden and I had too much of a good time in First Year and it was figured best to separate us. He ended up in “2B” and I ended up in “2A.” This was the class everyone in “C” considered the moronic dumping ground of the school. I had swapped the company of socially retarded nerds like Paul O’Riordian, Marcia Gallagher and the Murphy Twins, who didn’t look alike at all, for the anal-triumphs of Daragh McMennigham and Barry O’Hara with a collective IQ of 25 and all the other dregs of the socially advanced and academically challenged class of “2A.” But worst of all I wasn’t in class with Caroline anymore and not long into the new school year we split up, broke my little heart in two, my first taste of the bitter side of young love.

My one saving grace was that Garry Anderson was in 2A, at least I had someone to sit beside and talk to. Strange thing though, Garry was also in my PE class, Woodwork, Metalwork and Mechanical Drawing Classes and somehow we went an entire year without noticing each other. I like to say I didn’t notice him because I was a punk ass, pompous shit, that thought the sun shown out of his own ass in First Year, and Garry was living under the radar at St. Catherine’s. But I’m sure he has his version, where is he is the hero making-out with the Parkinson Twins and Helen Gallagher!

Anyway, I couldn’t understand why Garry was in this class, he was too smart for these folks. Many of the students in this class were just as smart as the “C” students, yet they were treated as delinquents, because they didn’t have anywhere else to put them. It was an unfair system and I wasn’t about to get stuck in it. I was mortified that I had been moved out of the “C” class, so I went to talk to the principle of the school Master Ward, or Big Joe as we all called him. He told me that if I was making good grades by Christmas and behaved myself he would reconsider my placement. Jesus, if that didn’t inspire me to work my ass off. For the first time since I left the safe haven of the Common’s school I was getting As and Bs again. I kept quiet in class, let the other clowns take center stage, of which there were many and had a taste of what it’s like to be a nerd.

Despite being placed in the retarded class, I was having a great beginning to my year at school. I’d grown quite a bit over the summer and had done a lot of weight training with Derek. I was able to lift my own weight, that was Derek’s bench mark for how strong you were. I was always a fast runner, but now I was fast and strong and my football skills were getting better all the time. Now when I played football in PE the ball went in the back of the net easily and this pissed-off a lot of people since they use to be better than me. When I was in first year I didn’t really do PE class very often, because my back was hurting me as I grew, a mild case of spin bifida; large jar of sympathy please. I had an extra vertebrae and the specialist I went to see told me not to play contact sports, so mostly I just sat up on the balcony doing homework while the other students ran around the place having a good time. After that summer I felt much better and was eager to play as many sports as I could and Master Campbell had me try out for the U-14s school football team.

My friend Decal Cunnigham was quickly becoming one of the best goal-keepers in the county and had a spot on the South Donegal Team. Everyone agreed he was better than Shay Given, of the North Donegal Team and if Declan had kept up the soccer he could be in the Premier League today like Shay and play for the Irish team and make millions, but anyway, that’s someone else’s story.

I was the sweeper, the last line of defense, before Declan, thought of myself as a young Paul McGrath, though a lot whiter and with an Irish accent not an English one, but other than that pretty much the same. We had a great year on the team and I even got a man-of-the-match. It was great to get out of class early to go play the matches, other students looked at you like you were special and you could easily spot the jealous faces, they’d jeer at you and make fun, but inside they wanted to be on the team and wanted to be special too.

Our school didn’t really have a home pitch, just a small wet field along the side of Church Road, so for our home games we had only two choices. The first one, the least preferable, was Dunkineely the arsehole of a small town where Dad’s factory was located. It looked like a full size soccer field version of what we already had at the back of the school. There must have been a full ten-foot elevation difference from one goal to the next and unless Ireland was experiencing a drought, which never happened, the pitch was a venerable mud bath. The alternative was Emerald Park out the back of Granny’s house. It belonged to St. Catherine’s football team, no connection to our school of the same name. (A long, long, long time ago some Spanish sailors had a thing for St. Catherine of Egypt and after nearly dying at sea they prayed to her and she kept them safe and when they came safely ashore in Killybegs they went about making sure she knew they were thankful and ever since people have been coming to Killybegs on pilgrimage to pay their respects to her. There is a well named after her, a road, a housing estate, the school, the football team Jesus nearly everything in Killybegs gets named St. Catherine’s, everything that is except the chapel, which is St. Mary’s!). Well, back to the football field, it was about the only piece of flat land in the whole town and they were very protective about it. They didn’t like schoolboys using it for trivial U-14 games, but whatever the school worked out with the town, somebody must have bent over for someone, they allowed us to play a few games on it.

The best craic were the away games. The school didn’t have its own bus, so we all bundled onto a private bus that belonged to either McBrearty’s, Erskin’s or Keeny’s, the transport cartels of the early 90s in Killybegs. We all acted like complete edgets on the bus, singing songs, telling jokes and taking the piss out of each other. The best game I can remember was down in Falcaragh, in the northwest of Donegal. We were warned that this would be one of our toughest games of the season and we went into the game with a very strong mental attitude.

From the first whistle we dominated the game. I made a few great clearances and Declan made some great saves. We shouted and held the team together from the back. The lads up front slipped in four goals and we went home victors. You could tell Nigel Ferry, our coach/metalwork teacher was happy. He grew up in this wilder part of Donegal and it was good to leave the place with a smile.

In south Donegal we refereed to lads from this area as Rosses men. Known to be tough, big, ignorant men, they were spoken off in whispered tones like Finn McCool and other great Irish heroes. If you had a story in which you fought and beat a Rosses man, then you were a legend in your own time. Well, we hadn’t fought them hand to hand, but we had out played them on the field and that was just as good.

Football has always been my favorite game to play, hated to watch it, but I love to run around a field with a ball, such a simple, beautiful game. Even now when it’s been ages since I’ve played, I’m writing this while wearing a pair of soccer shorts that I’ve had for years; remember the glory, oh yes, remember the glory!

Second Year in the Tech also saw the advent of Glenties, a town about twenty miles north of Killybegs with a ridiculously large nightclub in it called “The Limelight.” It was a relic of the 80s and had been revamped for the 90s. On Friday night they had an under 18s disco, which really meant it was an under 16s disco, ‘cause anyone sixteen and over was already getting into the adult places due to the lack of enforcement of any kind of drinking law. That was and still is one of the greatest things about rural Ireland; if you look able to hold a pint, then you’re welcome to it. Our little world swelled when Glenties entered it, the number of people we could now love or hate, fight or befriend grew ten fold. Teenagers from all over Donegal and even across the border in Northern Ireland came to Glenties.

Even though the nightclub was called the Limelight, we always refereed to it as simply Glenties. For example “Dad, could I have twenty pounds to go to Glenties?” I wouldn’t want to go to Glenties for any other reason than the disco, so everyone knew when you said you wanted to go to Glenties that meant you wanted to go to the Limelight, stay out until four in the morning and hopefully find a nice girl to spend a few hours with, whether you got her name or not. My brother Derek called this the three Fs: Find ‘em, Fuck ‘em, Forget about ‘em. I wasn’t quite on his level and certainly wasn’t doing much fucking, I was just happy with the first F.

Glenties was the location of my first real fight. I’d had a few tiffs here and there in national school; with Derek, my cousin Paddy and one time I shoved Brian O’Rourke up against the prefab wall when I was only in fourth class at the Commons and he was in fifth Not very exciting really..

At the time my friends and I were still into heavy metal and hard rock and starting to get into grunge. Nirvana was a favorite, their songs and guitar rifts were filled with an energy that was present in our lives and when we heard this emotion put into music, it drew us to it and we fed of its energy as much as it fed of ours. In the middle of a “Teen Spirit” fueled mosh in Glenties I saw some fella bang into Garry in a not too gentlemanly way and I took it upon myself to walk over to him and with a neat little push and slam to the floor trick I’d learned in the Foresters Hall, I sent the other lad to the ground at about ninety miles an hour. He got up with a very bewildered face, as if to say “what the fuck just happened?” He came on for more and I did it again. This pissed him and his friends off a lot, but before it could go any further a bouncer came between us and broke it up.

I soon forgot about the skirmish and proceeded to dance with a half-decent looking girl, with beautiful long black hair, who had caught my eye earlier in the night. I asked her if she wanted to go outside and we went for a little walk. While up at the school, the designated spot for “shifting,” it turned out that she was a frigid cow. It was like kissing a wet paper bag that wouldn’t let you touch the goods inside. So, feigning sickness I left her standing and found my cousin Paddy with his bird and told him:

“Can you go back there and tell that doll I’m sick and have gone back down to the disco.”

“Why, what’s wrong with her?”

“She’s fucking terrible, whipping her tongue about the place and won’t let me near her tits.”

“Fucking prick tease. Alright I’ll send Rosie up to her. You’re a tight bastard Vial.”

“Just give me a minute to get the hell out of here.”

As I walked back to the Limelight I found the doors locked. I knocked a few times, little use really considering the noise inside. No chance of getting in, I decided to go across the road and get a burger and chips to pass the time. As I turned around I found myself facing four Glenties lads, one was the lad I’d had the run-in with earlier.

A few words were exchanged and then it was on: a real honest to god street fight. His friends gathered round and urged him on. He came at me and I snapped, my adrenaline started to rush and gush through my veins. I punched him, head butted him, kicked him, I was giving the lad a right beating in front of his friends in his own town, not a very smart thing to do. As the crowd got bigger I stopped for a second to look around and the little fucker caught me with a sucker punch right above my left eye, this was the only blow he had landed and drew from me another series of punches, kicks to the gut and head butts.

People were streaming out of the Limelight and the fight was broken up, his gang pulled him away ‘cause they could see the beating he was getting. A bunch of his friends made a move for me but some of the Killybegs people got me on a bus quickly, as the Glenties crowd were very pissed about the shit kicking I’d just given to one of their own. I was still feeling a rush from the fight and people were shouting “get him off the bus.” If it had been just to fight the lad again that would have been fine but every teenager in Glenties was out for my head. They started shaking and rocking the bus. The bus driver was getting somewhat worried and as soon as he could he got the hell out of Glenties.

My hand hurt the next day and I had to get it looked at, turned out I’d pulled a tendon in my thumb hitting the young man. There was a girl from Glenties at our school and when she saw me in the hallway a few days later she let me have it.

“What the hell did ya think ya were doing? Poor James he’s black and blue from the fight. You better not show your face in Glenties again bla, bla, bla…” What did she expect me to do, stand there and get a beating so poor James would be all right? I don’t think so. Bastard thing was, I was trying to hook up with a friend of hers, Paula; Caroline and I were on a break again, and now my chances were shot. Damn.

That fight gave me a bit of a reputation and many times over the years some cunt has tried to fight with me and I’ve never backed down yet, well now that I’m old and fat I might, but not back then. Fighting is something most civilized people frown upon, but when you live in a wild place like Donegal it is part and parcel of life, a kind of right of passage. If you can’t fight, you get your ass kicked.

My break up with Caroline came about after about a hundred stupid, childish fights we just couldn’t get along and her friend Carmel was doing her utmost to see that we split apart and in the end she had her wish. It was a tough break-up for a thirteen-year-old and for a few weeks I thought it was the end of the world, but then I got over it; the elasticity of the teenage heart is amazing. I messed around with two girls on and off, nothing serious. One was older and the other was the same age as me and the first breast I ever kissed as a teenager belonged to one of them. I’ll never forget that. I’ve a soft spot in my heart always there for her and a few years ago when I saw her as a grown woman I was very happy to have once lain in a grassy field with her. But in my mind none of them ever came close to Caroline, she was my first and I had to put that special bit of love away, deep, deep inside me.

It was a welcome break when Mum and Dad told me that they were going to take Derek and me on holidays to Tenerife with them just after Christmas and we’d be there to ring in New Year’s Eve 1992.

I was still brooding a little over my breakup with Caroline, trying desperately not to think about who she was going out with now, and just lay around the swimming pool looking at topless women. The old German ladies with tits down to their knees were enough to make you gay, but thankfully there were enough beautiful young women lying there to redeem your manhood. Then just when I though I had Caroline out of my head, I was in a bar with Mum and Dad with some people they had met and the song “Sweet Caroline” started playing from the band and put a big damper on my mood. I didn’t feel like going out with Derek for the rest of the night and just went home with the old pair. I think Dad called me a “mopey bastard” and I felt embarrassed that I wasn’t tougher.

However, the next day was much better and we went for a drive up the main mountain in the center of the island, an extinct volcano, so we hoped. Our map informed us that it was something like the second highest peak in Western Europe. Now I wasn’t an expert on Geography but wouldn’t the fact that the island of Tenerife sits off the coast of Africa not exclude it from that statement? Guess it’s like living in the North West of Ireland and calling yourself Southern Irish. Imperialism knows no boundaries.

We rented a convertible Suzuki jeep and drove on down the four lane highway (Amazing what some EU money can do) to explore the island. When we left Playa de la Americas it was very hot and I only had on shorts and a T-shirt. By the time we were at the top of the mountain, admiring the location where they shot Planet of the Apes and many Western movies, there was frost on the ground. My God, did I ever freeze my ass off, I was so cold and couldn’t wait to get back to the lowlands where it was about ninety degrees and put a jumper on! Not exactly my idea of a Tropical holiday.

After coming back from the pool one afternoon Mum was waving around a flyer about time shares. She’s been talking to someone down at the pool about it and they thought it was the best idea ever. Thanks to Granny Sharkey Derek and I were avid fans of the TV show Watchdog and we knew only too well that time shares were bullshit. Dad knew it too and Mum was pretty persuasive that we could at least just go and take a look, we didn’t have to commit to anything, just a quick look.

They had a real flashy apartment building set up for the display model and dazed tourist were wandering around with their tongues hanging out following the time share reps in their blue blazers like hungry dogs. Most of them had never imagined this kind of luxury or wealth and to be able to share in just a fraction of it was more of a temptation than most people could handle.

After out walk around even Derek and I were sold, everything we heard and seen on TV was just propaganda and maybe this operation was legitimate and we were eager to have out little slice, Mum was in the whole nine yards too.

Our man in the blue blazer sat us down to talk about “numbers” and that was when Dad started poking holes in the man’s scam. They were using the logo of a very well known English insurance and investment company and making it seem that they were connected. But when Dad asked if they were the man fumbled and tried to tell a big story about their similarities. Dad just wanted a simple yes or no. Then he took off on another tangent that was playing to the sympathies of us, the other three, wishing that Dad would stop harassing the guy about his company. Their magic had worked on us, but Dad was invulnerable to it, like kryptonite to superman, Dad was breaking them down question by question. To the point where they wanted us to get out and leave as soon as possible, fearing any of the other entranced tourists might hear Dad. When we finally left the building and were back in the car and their spell was wearing off on us, I could appreciate how brilliant Dad had been. If it had been up to us we would now have been neck deep in time share excrement!

By the end of the week I was back in nice, wet, predictable Ireland with no volcanoes, topless sunbathers or time share scamers. That was my first time ever coming back to Ireland from the air and as the plane prepared to land in Dublin it swung out over the city and Dublin bay, I could see that Ireland was a really small place. A wee island with her own wee problems, and my problems were even wee’er than that.

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