A brush with Devine inspiration: Exclusive extract from Colm O'Regan's new book

In this exclusive extract from Colm O’Regan’s new book, ‘Ann Devine Ready for Her Close-Up’, mammy and daughter tiptoe through the social niceties of the community meeting and ponder the fate of the bats.

A BAD FEELING ABOUT YOUR BUNS

I don’t know when I’ve been to a public meeting last. There was one over wind turbines a few years ago. They were all up in arms about it. It would kill bats, they said. I never knew so many people to be interested in bats before. The bats and the birds got a good airing. But the wind-turbine fella never turned up, and it turned out they’d withdrawn the application. We’d had the calmest year ever that year, you couldn’t dry a line of washing, and they reckoned the turbines wouldn’t make any money. All the bats died the following year when a farmer knocked down the shed they all lived in. They didn’t last half as long as the row the Turbine Committee had about spending the money that was raised. The treasurer was a teacher and she bought a load of books on birds without telling anyone and people are still not speaking to her over it.

This is why I generally stay away from committees. It seems like you’re only ever one misunderstanding away from someone getting their nose out of joint.

‘C’mon, Mam. If I’d known you were going to take this long, I’d have come later.’

Deirdre is coming with me, and she’s sitting in the kitchen tapping her watch.

‘It’s hard to figure out what to wear to these things, Deirdre. It was easier when we used to go to Mass. You’d have your best for Sunday because of the daylight and the second best for evening because of the dim light. But now we don’t go to Mass I don’t know which outfits go where. Say what you like about Mass, but it put a bit of structure on the day.’

It put plenty of structure on all our lives too, Mammy. Structure we could have done without. It’s not a gala. Look at what I’m wearing. Now put on that fleece or we’ll be late.

I don’t know who’s the mother and who’s the daughter half the time these days.

After all our rushing Deirdre and myself are the first there, apart from Mary Funshion, who looks after the place. We make a beeline for the radiators because it’s freezing. Mary appears now and then, filling the burco. She refuses any offer of help, as usual. She’s about two stone and five foot tall and it would give you heart failure to see her carrying anything bigger than a mug, but there she is, dragging chairs around like a fella loading a plane.

We move away from the rads for fear of chilblains. Deirdre and I are in the chairs, kinda leaning against one another. I like these little moments where you can feel the physical contact with your child. Isn’t it a funny thing, you hug the absolute stuffing out of them for years, and then one day they tell you to stop and not be embarrassing them? The hugs dry up then, unless there’s a funeral, or some bit of a strop over a boyfriend or a girlfriend, and then their wed- ding please God. So the lean is nice.

Eventually, people start showing up, late. That’d be the way around here. Don’t show too much respect for a thing by being on time in case the thing turns out to be a dead loss.

‘Who’s running it?’ I whisper to Deirdre as I watch a few stalwarts meander in.

My question is answered in a minute. We hear the sound of leather-soled shoes as Gordon Patterson walks in carrying a black, technical-looking bag.

‘Ladies,’ he says, ‘you’re here before me.’

‘We are, Gordon,’ I say. ‘All set for Tidy Towns.’

Front cover illustration by Ollie Mann

Deirdre looks at me. ‘You’re gone very enthusiastic all of a sudden, Mammy,’ she says as he walks away from us.

He’s a different cut of a man compared to a good few around his age. I don’t mind saying I like looking at him. He’s tall, but not lanky. He can hold himself well. He was in the FCA for a while, and it shows in the bearing of him. They had no children either, and you can tell. They’re not wrecked like the rest of us. Denis knows I keep an eye on Gordon. He says he doesn’t mind. I’ll carry on with Mary Richardson, he says. Mutually assured destruction, he calls it. He has a soft spot for her since she admired his jumper the one time he got up the courage to go for a pint in the golf club bar. He likes her because she’s a Church of Ireland sort of a Catholic. I think that means posh. Gordon wouldn’t necessarily be that popular around here. Nothing to do with him actually being Church of Ireland. Although that’s probably part of it. It’s just that his wife, Flora, has a bit of a reputation for turning her nose up at people. There mightn’t be any truth in it whatsoever, but once you get a name some people would have nothing else to do except keep the name alive. That’s why I’m so careful about saying a bit about the wine in the pub or at a concert.

It would be a different matter now if you got cold tea somewhere. You could bring a magistrate in to look at that. It’s more of a civil rights thing, tea.

And then in comes Flora. Immaculate as well, like himself. Boots nearly up to her knees. A kind of a brown skirt. All good stuff as well.

‘Why don’t we ever wear anything like that, Mammy?’ whispers Deirdre to me.

‘I don’t know, Deirdre. It’s not really our style, I suppose.

‘But maybe it could be yours.’

‘But it could be yours too, Mammy. You see them on the makeover shows. Here’s Bernie. Remember, before, she looked like the arse of a donkey? Well, we’ve hosed her down and told her to cop on and now look at her! But they always look miserable afterwards. I’d say they go back to the old fleece straightaway. I think it’s a confidence thing.’

‘But you’ve bags of confidence, Deirdre. Look at you, organising left, right and centre with the camogie. Running the show.’

‘In certain things, Mammy. Camogie, work, mammying. In my comfort zone. But it’s a different story putting on a display.’

Flora and her pair of displays arrive over with a Tupperware thing full of buns.

‘Can you taste these for me, ladies?’ she asks. ‘I think they’re too dry. I hope you don’t mind being my guinea pigs. Haha.’

‘I’ll always risk it for a biscuit, Flora,’ says Deirdre. ‘Don’t be afraid to tell me they’re too dry, Ann. I don’t know what happened to them. I had them in and then the phone rang, or else the mixture is wrong to begin with. Taste them there and tell me are they too dry.’

The buns are grand, and I tell Flora so.

‘Thanks for saying so, Ann, but they are too dry.’

I knew she wouldn’t believe me. If you get a bad feeling about your buns, nothing is going to convince you otherwise.

A book can be bad news, especially in Kilsudgeon

I was never one for sticking my neck out too far, not until all of this business with the Tidy Towns, but, you know, sometimes you have to get involved, says Ann Devine.

I didn't think it was going to end up in a book. I mean, I saw he had the recorder out, but I thought it was for the paper. ‘There’s a lot of buzz over it, Ann. People want the full story’.

Over all the carry-on with the Tidy Towns and the filming, I. Was. Not. One. Bit. Happy. I can tell you. There was enough talk about me over that video that went viral. But I’m not supposed to say any more about the video.

“It would be too much of a spoiler, Ann,” the book people told me.

This is the thing now that everyone’s terrified of: Spoilers. If you’re watching something on Netlfix and you’re not in sync with the other person, then you’re on shaky ground. I went ahead of Denis one day on a murder programme and he couldn’t be in the same room as me. Not a word, Ann, he says, or I’ll know who did it, because I won’t be able to stop myself from asking you and you can’t lie to save your life. He thinks I can’t lie to save my life, but he doesn’t know what I’ve lied about before … And don’t you go telling him, either.

But where was I? Oh, yes, the book. A book can be bad news, especially in a small place like Kilsudgeon. Do you remember (or maybe you’re too young), Packie Summers had a book? Ructions. That’s the only way to describe it. Packie was big in the local GAA. He was still togging out in his 50s.

“I only go on to make sure the grand-nephew doesn’t get bate-up, Ann,” he says to me. “I’d be worried about him. He’s a technical player; too good for the likes of Junior C.” Packie retired eventually and he set the cat among the pigeons, rightly, when he released, of all things, an autobiography. He saw the lads on the Sunday Game and he thought he could be one of them. Every time you’d meet him, he’d be on about them.

You see your man, Brolly, and Spillane, Ann? They’d be on huge money, I’d say. Wouldn’t mind getting a slice of that action. Some of these after-dinner speaking gigs. The STORIES I have. All I need is the angle.

Well, he found his angle sure enough. The Summer Seasoned, 40 Years a Club Man, by Packie Summer, came out. The Sentinel did a bit on it and that’s when the trouble started. Their headline was: ‘Local Man’s Club Football Exposé.’ They had extracts and everything. Himself was reading them out to me.

Packie used his book to settle a few scores. The referee — who shall remain nameless, but ye all know who it is — rode us that day. And, of course, everyone knew he got the contract, shortly after, for doing the wiring at Shamrock’s clubhouse. Coincidence? I think not … “Your cousin is blowing the lid off the place, Ann,” said Denis.

The whole thing was cancelled. Every single book went off to be recycled by the Chinese. So, somewhere in Guangdong, now, there’s a lad who’s an expert on Kilsudgeon GAA.

So, books make me nervous. You see, I was never one for sticking my neck out too far, until all of this business with the Tidy Towns happened. But, you know, sometimes you have to get involved, don’t you?

The place was in an awful state. Kilsludgeon, they were calling us, because of the rubbish around the place. I was ashamed of it, to be honest, and I’m not even born around here. I only came around here 35 years ago, when I married Denis, so I’m still not a local. But once you start picking up litter, you see it everywhere. I don’t understand the mentality of people that’d dump a bag over a ditch. And I don’t mind saying I get angry.

There was a fella came around one time when I was off on my walk. He didn’t see me, because I forgot the hi vis and my fleece is a sort of a green colour. Next of all, out he pops and starts taking this mattress out of the car.

“Excuse me,” I said to him. “Excuse me.” But he pretended not to listen. I went right up. “Excuse me, are you planning on camping here, or what?” thinking I’d get him with smartness.

“F*ck off,” he said. Cool as you like. I had no reply. Except the same answer, really. “I won’t,” says I. “You eff off.” So he did, but he left the mattress after him, which I suppose was what he wanted in the first place.

And then, I was shaking there, because I’m not one for confrontation. But what are you supposed to do? It would be great to be like the films, where he’d turn around and there’d be Ann Devine saying, ‘Jest where do ya think yer goin with that mattress’, like Dirty Harry and have the gun with the big pipey end on it.

But you can’t do that, because, sure enough, they’d have you sued for PTSD. And the mattress would still be on top of a bed of primroses on the ditch. We do what we can do, anyway, as the fella said. If we did nothing, we’d only be going mad at home. Once the youngest went out the door to college, it’s surprising how much of a hole he left in the timetable. So my brain needed to be doing something. That’s why I’m up to my neck in empty cans of Gallahad and bags for life full of nappies on the side of the road. And worse.

I’m glad they’re taking precautions, anyway, I said, when I picked the first one off the ground at the back of Johnny’s Bar. Well-named, that place.

Ann Devine is out tomorrow, published by Penguin Random House, €14.

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