Saturday, July 16, 2005

Puke Quiddich

The mountains of hype in the papers and on the news this week about the release of the new Harry Potter book reminded An Spailpín Fánach of something he'd written in early September 2003, just after Kerry and Tyrone spent an All-Ireland semi-final lamping the tar out of each other. I was wondering how well such violence from those beyond the law would translate into another code. Here we go again:

It was another beautiful September Monday at Scoil na bhFaithnemhuic. The butter coloured sun shone its beatific rays all over the old grounds, from the ivy-clad gates, through the ancient halls of the main building onto the bike shed at the back, where Muggeridge minor was busy working on an extra-circular spell to make the girls' scrunchies disappear. He knew that once he could eliminate the scrunchie, the pinafore, blouse and scanties could not be far behind. Taking a deep breath, Muggeridge minor returned to his awesome work.

Unaware of Muggeridge minor's magnum opus, games mistress Letitia Dunbar-Harrison strode out to the playing field, her broomsticks under her arm. Last year the proud old school had got to the Provincial B Final at Quiddich and she had high hopes for her charges this year. It was so nice to see the young people getting out and playing sports away from those musty old books - it always gave Miss Dunbar such a special feeling of reward to see her charges grow as people, not just wizards.

Miss Dunbar distributed the broomsticks and chose captains for a loosen-up game of Quiddich, to run the rust from her charges. After a brief argument over who'd be left with one stout young man on their team was resolved by sharing the burden over the halves, Miss Dunbar strode to the middle, and threw up the ball.

What she was to witness was to stay with her the rest of her life. Young Parry Hotter accelerated onto the pill, snaffled it and turned his stick goalwards, only to be karoomed into the ditch by a burly young man recently arrived in the school. Poor Parry was catapulted into some hawthorns that skirted the playing field, and it was some time before he got his breath back. He leaped back on his broomstick, and flew up to where battle was thickest.

Unfortunately, battle was the operative word that day in the skies. Any time a child got the ball the opposition surrounded him. One would firmly box his ears; another would grab his broomstick and run it back and forth between its pilot's legs - so disconcerting for boys at that age - until the child submitted. The defensive players would mass and attack the player in position like the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, swooping down, whooping and crying, until eventually all that could be seen was something of a cross between a low flying cumulus and an asthmatic in a lime pit.

This was not the ancient game that Miss Dunbar knew and loved. She gave a shrill blast on her whistle.

"Children!" she cried. "Come down here this instant!"

The children flew down and dismounted. Some where shamefaced, some wore clothes that had been torn to ribbons in the battle, some were crying and some were aching, just aching, for that damned Baden-Baden to come near me one more time and by Jesus, I'll let him know he was in a fight. The children assembled around Miss Dunbar.

"Children! What is the meaning of this?" demanded Miss Dunbar. "This is not the game that I have been teaching you for the past five years, and it certainly not the game that your fathers and their fathers' fathers fought and died for you to play! What is the meaning of this?"

There was silence. And then a small, reedy voice piped up.

"Please Miss," said Parry Hotter, "it's all to do with that Irish game."

"Shut up! Shut it, ya wee tout!" roared Máirtín Mac Aonghusa, his face red and his eyes glaring. "Tell them nothing!"

Brave Parry carried on, the words coming in a tide now. "Please Miss, it's all to do with that Irish game that was on telly yesterday. It was meant to be a great game with the best forwards in the country going at it and may the best man win but instead it was all frees and pulling and dragging and spitting and men behind the ball and force of numbers and Pat Spillane said it was puke football on The Sunday Game and maybe it was and maybe it wasn't but Tyrone won it in the end and isn't winning all that counts?"

"Do you mean to tell me Parry Hotter," said Miss Dunbar, her words icy, "that some bunch of Nordies aren't content with ruining their own game but with ruining ours as well?"

"Please Miss, it wasn't just the Nordies," said Parry. "Kerry were at it as well. Uncle Eugene says so."

"Parry Hotter!" said Miss Dunbar. "How dare you say that about the Kingdom! Don't you know that they have the finest footballers in Ireland? Everybody stands back to admire their Gaelic athleticism, and then sends them home from Dublin every third September with Sam at the back of the train?"

"But Miss," said Parry, aware that he was challenging authority but equally aware that truth conquers all, "Uncle Eugene says that Kerry haven't been right since Meath spanked them in 2001 and Armagh emasculated them last year in the second half. Uncle Eugene says that the first thing any Kerry back did when a Tyrone man came near him was give him a big hug and hang onto him, the way Uncle Dudley said I was to do with a lady if I was married to her or if she was very, very drunk. Uncle Eugene says that they were at it all day, even Séamus Moynihan."

"Enough!" cried Miss Dunbar. "I can't believe that such a thing would be done by anyone wearing Green and Gold. Wash your mouth out with soap this instant!"

"But it was, it was, it was!" cried Parry, oblivious to all caution now. "There were over seventy frees in the game, that's more than one a minute, it wasn't like a game of football at all, it was like rugby league with all the players bucking and bouncing on the ground the way Uncle Dudley..."

"Stop! I've had enough of your nonsense! My ears hurt! My faith is shattered," cried Miss Dunbar, slumping to the ground. The players gathered around her. Some thought of giving her a good shoeing, but remembered that this technically was a stop in play, making shoeing unnecessary. Miss Dunbar looked up at the children through dishevelled hair. The children thought of the shoeing once more, but stopped when she spoke again.

"More than seventy frees, you tell me? Why didn't the ref send anyone off?"

"Please Miss," said Parry - how Miss Dunbar was getting sick of that reedy voice and those dopey bloody glasses - "if the ref sent anyone off then whomever got the man sent off would have been whining for the next month that the ref didn't let the game flow and was being pernickety but when he didn't send anyone off they're all saying that he lost control of the game and he's only a bollix."

"Well, that's not a nice a position to be in," said Miss Dunbar. "Maybe if the GAA made up their goddamn minds on what's a foul and what's not a foul and not listen to half the amount of ráiméis that the ref should have done this or shouldn't have done that we'd be spared nonsense like yesterday. Every other goddamn game on Planet Earth has a set of rules they can stick too - how hard is it for the GAA to do that? You can't have your cake and eat it. Slow Learners of the Earth Unite, wha'?"

Miss Dunbar pulled herself to her feet. "You know," she said, "all this soft chat about Gaelic football has given me a fierce lip for porter. What say I follow another great GAA tradition and introduce you all to the joys of underage drinking? Smear some blackberries on your chins now like good like boys so no-one will know you're under-age and we'll all head down to Pat Joe McGinty's there at the cross - are you on for that?"

"Yes, Miss," chorused the children happily.