Friday, March 19, 2010

A Gunrunner's Tale (Kinda)

Okay, so it turned out I did not have to cook on St. Paddy's Day--a big hooray for all concerned! The theater god came home early enough to take care of the whole thing. Funny, but I suspected all along he would. It would've taken a hell of an emergency at work for him to risk the outcome of his sacred corned beef and cabbage.

He made the right decision. *pauses for a moment of reverential contemplation of TG's cooking prowess* Mmmm.

But enough about my stomach. Back to the gunrunner story I kinda-sorta threatened to tell.


Once upon a time a nice young married couple--we'll call them Junior Theater God and Wannabe Writer Chick--decided to chuck it all and see Europe. So they quit their jobs, sold their house, and bought Eurail passes. Hied themselves aboard the cheapest transatlantic flight they could find and set out to do some serious sight-seeing before their money ran out.

After longish stint in Sweden, visiting WWC's relatives (this being basically free and therefore much to be desired), the nice young couple struck out on their own. The trains became their go-to place to spend the night, since this saved beaucoup (they picked up a little French during their sojourn in Paris) bucks on hotels, and didn't waste precious daylight hours getting from place to place. Hotels, B&Bs and youth hostels became default accommodations, used mostly when showers and laundry facilities were desperately needed.

As time went on, the knowledge came upon them that their train passes were good for free ferry passage to the Great Green Land of Eire. Yea, not only for the passage, but also for all trains within the great land.

Verily, they said unto themselves, "Whoa! Dude. Let's do it!"

Much was learned along the journey. Important things, like by "ferry" they mean "rather large ship," and that crossing the North Sea in November is an exceedingly motion-full experience, no matter the size of your "ferry." Just because the deck is beneath you as you begin a step does not mean said deck won't plummet six feet before you finish your step. Also, no matter how strong your stomach is, being around seasick people will make your own complexion take on a greenish tinge.

And finally (perhaps the profoundest lesson of all), a ferry crossing over a choppy sea is one time in life when having a Guinness is not particularly helpful.

Not being the sort to dwell on unpleasantness, JTG and WWC hopped a train as soon as they were off the boat, and tried to put the harrowing 28-hour trip behind them. (The trip was only supposed to take about 20 hours. But rough seas, yadda-yadda...)

First stop: the Old Head of Kinsale, County Cork.

And, as in any good fairy tale, there was a castle. Desmond Castle, to be precise:

Alas, luck was not with the nice young married couple. Their visit fell on a Sunday evening, and the castle was closed.

Sadly, they were due to leave for Dublin early the next morning, and would not be in the area when the castle was officially open. What could they do?

Why, break in, of course!


Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And they didn't actually have to break anything--only hop over a stone fence and wiggle a window that hadn't been properly latched. Besides, it wasn't like there was anything there to steal, so, really, why would anyone mind? And it would be such a shame to get so close to Desmond Castle and not get to see the whole thing.

Once inside (which was very much like the outside, it being, for the most part, an open courtyard), feeling very clever and not a little wicked, they came upon another couple, who had apparently had the same idea. Let's call them John Smythe (because that's what he said his name was, and it is generic enough preclude lawsuits) and Cuchi-Cuchi (because she spoke with a Spanish accent and looked remarkably like...

...Charo, only in tourist clothes, and her real name was not generic).

Smythe (whose weathered, pale blond visage was as generic as his name, and in no way deserving of celebrity lookalike photo) and Cuchi-Cuchi were friendly enough, so JTG and WWC did not run away, as was their initial inclination.

That was their first mistake.

Bonded by a few jovial comments about the changeable Irish weather, and their new life of crime, the two couples agreed to retire to the local pub and pass a convivial evening over a pint or four of Guinness.

That was mistake number deux. (Again with the French. Have I mentioned that the ferry to the Great Green Land of Eire originated in Le Havre, France?)

Over the course of drinks, Mr. Smythe and Cuchi-Cuchi regaled the wide-eyed JTG and WWC with stories of their connections to the Abbey Theater in Dublin.

(If JTG and WWC hadn't been floating cluelessly in a Guinness fog, they might have noticed this so-called connection didn't pop up until after their own theater leanings had been revealed. The whiff of entrapment, however, went undetected, camouflaged as it was by the atmosphere of the pub.)

It was arranged that JTG and WWC would meet up with Mr. Smythe and Cuchi-Cuchi in Dublin, there to receive an intro to the sacred Abbey Theater connections, and possibly obtain *gasp* unofficial jobs, which would allow them to extend their stay in the Great Green Land.

That was their third mistake.

[Scenic interlude of lovely train trip to Dublin.]

At the first opportunity, JTG and WWC presented themselves at the Smythe residence, a small house on the seedy side of the city. It was a dark and rainy night, but they had been promised a meal, and free meals were high on their priority list.

Smythe greeted them at the door, a cheerful cloud of whiskey fumes emanating from him. But as he led them through the hallway his manner changed. The walls were lined with framed black-and-white photos--portraits, they soon learned, of the glorious dead. Each frame was draped in cheap black cloth. Smythe explained, in loving detail, the contributions of every dead person there to the cause, growing more morose--and slurring his words increasingly--with each passing photograph.

JTG and WWC, sensing something was Not Quite Right, telegraphed the look at each other simultaneously, but the hallway was narrow and Smythe was behind them, so they couldn't slip back out the door.

Besides, they smelled roasting mutton, and just knew there'd be potatoes to go along with it, it being Eire and all.

Once all were seated in the shabby drawing room (no sign of Cuchi-Cuchi), Smythe assured them dinner would be served momentarily, and pulled an open beer from behind his chair. Without offering a beverage to JTG or WWC, he proceeded to inundate them with story after story of the fight for freedom, from Easter 1916 to the present day, shifting seats from time to time, pulling bottles out from various stashes throughout the room and sneaking swigs.

It soon became painfully apparent to JTG and WWC that working at the Abbey Theater was but a distant dream. However, the mutton was really smelling grand, and restaurants were expensive, so the intrepid pair stuck it out.

An hour or two in, a young man came to announce dinner was at last ready.

"T'anks, Guido*," Smythe said, and swayed unsteadily into the dining room.

Over the course of over-done mutton and still-crunchy, undercooked dried peas (but the potatoes were lovely), Smythe explained that his Abbey connection was on vacation, but if JTG and WWC were still interested in employment, he had a small museum "up north" that could use a caretaker. He couldn't pay much, but the freezer would be stocked with steaks, and all they'd have to do was take delivery on a "package" from time to time, and relay the odd bit of information back to him.

"What's in the packages?" WWC asked, ignoring the warning look in JTG's eyes. WWC was hopelessly curious, and frankly a bit of a snoop.

"Printing presses," Smythe said vaguely, waving his hand dismissively, "...and a few other t'ings. I run a small charitable organization, to help the poor unfortunates in Africa."

JTG pushed away from the table and took WWC by the elbow, saying, "That sounds great. We'll definitely give that some thought. Well, better get going. Long way back to the hostel, we'll be in touch..."


"Don't want to miss the bus," said JTG, still hustling.

"But you haven't had dessert. Don't worry about the bus--Guido will drive you back."

WWC's ears perked. "Dessert?" After all, she hadn't eaten much mutton, on only one pebbly mouthful of peas.

Resigned, JTG sat back down. The spongecake, topped with freshly whipped cream, was superb. Apparently Guido's true culinary skills lay in the realm of sweets.

The ride back to the hostel with Guido proved informative. With a worshipful voice, he recounted how John Smythe had picked him up off the streets, literally out of the gutter, and provided him with work and a home. If some of the things he had to do were maybe not quite what some would consider to be entirely legal, they were entirely moral and right, and that was what truly mattered to God, wasn't it?

It was noted by the now slightly less naive young married couple that apparently speeding, running lights, and ignoring stop signs was somehow moral and right.

The truly important thing--to them, anyway--was, they survived.

Could they be sure the bibulous Mr. Smythe was a gunrunner, and had intended to recruit them to his cause? No. Nonetheless, early the next morning, JTG and WWC left the hostel. Left Dublin, in fact, having decided it was a fine day to visit Killarney.

Moral of the story: breaking and entering can only lead to no good.

Corollary to the moral: there's no such thing as a free dinner.

* I know. But as God is my witness, he called the little Irish lad Guido.

P.S. If either of my kids is reading this, I made it all up. Your father and I would never take stupid risks like that, and neither should you.


Janelle Alexander said...

Read the WHOLE thing!! Love it!! Hehe! I'll make sure I look up Mr. Smythe next time I visit... Or not! Depends on whether ot not I'm in the mood for adventure. And/or jail. :o)

Susan Adrian said...


This is SO like several adventures I had in Europe.

Except for the breaking into the castle part. And the Irish gunrunner part. And the Guido part. But you know, other than that. I did take trains in Europe. :)

Linda G. said...

Thanks, Janelle! I suspect Mr. John Smythe has long since expired from liver disease, if not "lead poisoning."

Suze, I can't believe you never broke into a castle! Well, I expect you were doing your sight-seeing at a time when the sights were actually open. That tends to help one avoid a life of crime.

Anonymous said...

Ah, another intrepid traveler such as myself. I say, great mischief is for the begetting in the lands of the Celts. Wales being my favorite.

LOVED the trip beside you and the side line I was able to take for myself down my own memory.

Another fine post WWC. :)


This is freakin' hilarious! Funniest thing I've read all day. Thanks for sharing your adventure!


Linda G. said...

Hi, Kristina! Sadly, we never made it to Wales. Our Eurail passes weren't good in Great Britain. (And thus not in Northern Ireland, either--only in the Republic of Ireland.) Maybe next time!

Linda G. said...

Thanks, Tawna! Glad you enjoyed it. Oddly enough, I didn't even have to exaggerate. We really were that dumb. Fortunately, we were also lucky. (Hey, if you're going to survive "dumb," you better be lucky.)

LR said...

Haha, Charo! Charo looks like she's about to flop out and create some potholes in that picture.

Great travel story!

Linda G. said...

Thanks, LR! Charo's girls do look a little, um, precariously contained, don't they?

Anonymous said...

Great story, Linda. I laughed out loud at the caveat for the kids at the end. I think your kids know you too well by now to believe that. *g*

Linda G. said...

Hi Kathy! Yes, I fear you're right about that. The kiddos know both of us too well to doubt the veracity of stories like this. But a responsible parent always includes the disclaimer. ;)

Kari Lynn Dell said...

Admit it. You'd do it all again for the sponge cake.

Linda G. said...

Kari, well, it WAS a very fine sponge cake. But honestly, it's the whipped cream that would bring me back for a repeat performance. In fact, all my memories of Ireland are glopped-over with whipped cream--Ireland has the best whipped cream in the world. Mmmm.

Deborah Small said...


I'm in awe. And jealous. What a memorable experience. The best I can scrounge up is getting stuck in the mud next to my now hubby. Mind you, I hear the forties are the new twenties; maybe he and I can chuck it all in, pack the youngest off to live with the oldest, and take off on a similar adventure. Or. Maybe not. *g*

Linda G. said...

Hi, Deb! Good to see you. Welcome to my experiment in blogging. :)

I totally agree--the forties are the new twenties. Only with achier joints and slightly less hair. *grin*