After the runaway success of his Irish Mammies books, based on his parody Twitter account, Irish Examiner columnist Colm O’Regan's first foray into fiction adopted the same observational approach, focusing on the humour of small-town Irish life.
His follow up, Ann Devine, Handle with Care, is published on Thursday by Transworld Publishers. Here, we publish an extract.
It’s another beautiful hot summer’s morning but, as I expected, Gordon and myself are the only two in the church car park. And the big Tidy Towns clean-up has a fierce look of ‘no one else coming’ about it.
“Bing! Hey guys, Can’t make it on holidays this week ☺ Keep up the good work.” If you’re not going to turn up, don’t be sending me WhatsApps with smiley faces, Bernie.
A car pulls in. A 181. Another volunteer? No, it’s Andy Walsh, and he isn’t going to be helping us. He goes around to the other side and gently edges his mother-in-law, Bessie Doran, out of the car.
Bessie is bent half in two and half blind, but she points the walker in the direction of the church like she’s laser-guided.
‘Small turnout, is it, lads?’ Andy says as he’s passing us. Me and Gordon are standing there with so many pickers it looks like they were seized in a raid. And no one to use them.
‘Grand day for it anyway.’ He folds his arms and sits on the car bonnet.
‘She’s gone away on you, Andy.’ I point at Bessie, who has continued on in unaided towards the church. Her face is set for some hard praying and she doesn’t even look around.
‘Oh, Janey, she is. There’s no stopping her when she’s heading for Exposition.’ He scuttles after her.
Gordon leans back against the car-park wall. ‘An intimate gathering, Ann,’ he says.
Bing! “Me neither. Clodagh has training.” We blink into the sun, watching the road, listening out for cars slowing down. But they only do so to gawp.
’Will we leave it, Gordon?’ ‘We cancelled the last one too, Ann. It sends out the wrong message.’ ‘There’s no message going out at the moment, Gordon. Only ones coming in.’ Bing! “Oh sorry, was that today. Clean forgot, sorry.” Three cars pull in over the next few minutes. Everyone gives us a salute and goes in to watch the Blessed Sacrament. They say the Church is in trouble, but there’s a bit of life in it yet, by the looks of things. It’s mainly women the same age as me and older. But we’re keeping going much longer now.
With all the scanning. When it works. And they do mindfulness there on a Thursday. ‘As long as no one tells the bishop,’ says Father Donnegan.
Bing! “Can you get milk gerry and not the low fat” Bing! “And get yourself a couple of cans x” A big night ahead for Gerry and Lorna.
This message has been deleted.
“Sorry lol” ‘We’ll do our bit anyway, Ann,’ says Gordon, taking a picker.
We walk up the village and stop and stare. Four bags dumped over the wall at the house where Tadhg the Bear used to live. He’s long gone now. A tank of a man. The house has an old planning notice on it announcing someone’s intention to build retail and residential units. Nothing came of it.
An old planning notice is practically an instruction to Throw Your Shite Here.
After all the fuss and publicity we got last year, the Tidy Towns has fallen away. ‘A lack of strength in depth’, Gordon calls it. That’s Kilsudgeon all over. We’re always one thing going wrong away from despair. It’s the same with the footballers. They went on a run two years ago in the championship.
They absolutely leathered Drumfeakle. We had a fifteen-year-old playing like a Brazilian. Then, against Clonscribben, the fifteen-year-old was being wound up by an ould lad on the sideline, calling him gay because he had a nice haircut, and the young lad ran to the sideline and milled into him and got sent off. The team had been leading,but didn’t score again for the rest of the match. And they didn’t win a match again for a year.
‘What are we doing, Gordon? This is gone to the dogs. I can’t even take a photo of us for Facebook.’ We carry on in silence, apart from giving out about the state of the place and a few more Bings! From the WhatsApp.
‘Will we knock it on the head for the rest of the summer, Gordon? Start over in September?’ ‘Maybe, Ann. I’m not around much this summer. Flora has booked us on to a wine-tasting tour, followed by a holiday villa. It’s our anniversary gift to ourselves.’ ‘That’ll be lovely, Gordon.’ ‘We’ve no one else to spend our money on. Flora’s always saying we need to enjoy ourselves. When we got over not having children, we said, we’re a family too, aren’t we?’ ‘A fine family, Gordon.’ I see a slight little bit of a pain in his eyes, but it’s gone again. He claps his hands together.
‘I’ll get the jeep and we’ll pick this up. We might as well be depressed on a clean street. We need more impetus to get more people involved,’ he says.
‘Well, if you’re heading off, I can’t do it on my own.’ He nods. ‘I know, Ann. You’re right. We shall dissolve for now and regroup in September.’ ‘That’s fine by me, Gordon.’ We go to our cars.
Who has cancelled now, I wonder, after it’s all over?