Half Measure

“Call me cynical, but original
Tryin’ to fit into a world that’s so digital
Came to let you know
I left the pigeon hole
Now I gotta find an edge, won’t let it go

I don’t think twice
‘Cause I know my mind
This could be our time
Tonight just feels so right

All I need
It don’t let me down, it don’t let me down
All I need
And it don’t let me down, it don’t let me down”

  • Mac / Bugg

Many, many, many, many years ago, in 1985, I worked in the dispatch department in Mullan Mill when it was still a shoe factory. I wasn’t there very long when we had a very pleasant visit one afternoon from some delightful gentlemen who were gainfully employed in the Gardai’s Special Branch. For my non-Irish readers, An Garda Siochana, commonly known as the Guards, or Garda, are the Irish Police and their Special Branch was their counter terrorism division. The Troubles were still raging then.

There had been an attempted jailbreak by some Provisional IRA prisoners from Portlaoise prison and that was the reason for our visitors. The company had a contract to manufacture and supply runners, or trainers, for the prison service to issue to the prisoners. The runner we supplied looked incredibly similar to the Adidas Rom, which was hugely popular at the time, and surprisingly easy to ‘pay homage to’. I often thought that it was a tad ironic that the prison service was buying runners that ‘paid homage’ to the Adidas Rom , to issue to prisoners that may very well have been guests of the state for ‘paying homage’ to an Irish £5 note.

In any case , the lads from Special Branch were checking to see if it was possible for someone, i.e. one of us, to have smuggled a key into the prison in the sole of one of the runners. They witnessed us hoofing runners tied together in pairs, but without boxes, into large cartons marked with nothing only a large ‘8’ or ’9’ to signify the size of the runners contained within. We didn’t even use address labels on the cartons. Whenever we had a quantity ready for a particular prison , we simply called upon the services of Master James Lynch Esq., Courier Services and stuffed Jimmy’s Ford Transit with the cartons and he drove them directly to the prison. Jimmy had a selection of Transits, each one held together with Sellotape and decades of the Rosary.

Having spoken to us for a few minutes they quickly ascertained that however the Provo’s had gotten a key, it hadn’t come via an Adidas Rom-a-like made in Mullan Mill. But as they’d made the journey anyway , a couple of them asked if they could buy a couple of pairs of shoes at cost price, and who were we to refuse such a request from the nice men carrying submachine guns.

We spent a wee while getting shoes in different sizes and colours for them to try on and all but one of them were quickly sorted out and grateful. Some Gardai I’ve met are excellent people, the Harringtons, Rogers, Brackens and McCoys of this world. Most are simply decent people. And then there’s one that …well he’s just an oul prick.

One Garda insisted every shoe we offered , and we offered dozens, was too tight or too big and that he needed a half size. The factory hadn’t made shoes in a half size in years, but the only way we were getting rid of this fella was to get him the shoe he liked in a half size. I picked up the pair he eventually  liked , but that he swore was too big, and went out into the shoe room in the factory. The shoe room is where the shoes are taken from the manufacturing racks, given a quick polish, checked for defects and then boxed and labelled. I asked Theresa if we had any old box end size stickers in a 9 ½ , and a stamp for the inside. After a few minutes of rooting around old presses and biscuit tins , we came across the stickers and stamps and quickly doctored the pair he’d just tried on into the desired 9 ½ .

I went back into the dispatch and made a big fuss about how I’d taken this special pair from someone else’s order and he greedily took them from me and tried them on.

“Perfect !” he announced to all of his colleagues,” I told you only the half size would do.”

While looking for something I came across something better. It was the story in The Critic magazine of the Legless Duchess, a Gainsborough painting of Georgina Cavendish , Duchess of Devonshire. The painting went missing from Chatsworth House a few years after the Duchesses death in 1806 before turning up fifty years later in the house of a school teacher, Mrs. Maginnis, originally from Monaghan. In her wisdom Mrs.Maginnis had chopped the painting in two , removing the Duchesses legs so that the painting would fit above her mantelpiece. She eventually sold this top half for the staggering sum of £56 to an art dealer who sold it to a London art dealer called Agnew in 1876 for 10,000 guineas.

He in turn sold it for a then world record price of $50,000 to JP Morgan’s father. It was to be exhibited in Agnew’s Bond St. gallery for two weeks before shipment to the US. It was stolen by Adam Worth , the Napolean of crime, and inspiration for Sherlock Holmes arch nemesis Moriarty.  

He held on to it for years before eventually meeting a fellow American in Constantinople, Patrick Francis Sheedy, originally from Monaghan, who finally helped him negotiate the half a pottrait’s return to Agnews. JP Morgan bought it himself this time.

The Morgans auctioned it off in 1994 when it was bought by the 11th Duke of Devonshire and returned home to Chatsworth house.

Georgina was great friends with Frances Murray, owner of the Rossmore Estate, who became Frances Fortescue, and eventually Lady Clermont. It was Frances’ nephew , Warner William Westenra who eventually inherited the estate from her, becoming Baron Rossmore. It was rumoured that the bottom half of Georgina’s portrait hung in Rossmore Castle for many years before going missing when the family moved to Camla Vale.

Halves and half measures have stalked me this week.

After my chemolympics and operation I have determined to enjoy each day, no half measures, but without being annoying or evangelic about it. Enjoying the day does not necessarily mean climbing a mountain, it may simply involve watching several episodes of Father Brown, or reading up on Newton’s Daniel & The Apocalypse…again…and still not understanding it…but enjoying it no less. It may just involve sitting out the back, drinking tea, listening to The Rest Is History podcast and being ignored by Pasta. It could also be hiring a bouncy castle for your Dad’s 80th birthday party to entertain the young grandchildren and then spending the day fretting about your Dad who ends up spending more time on it than anyone.

And somedays it can be meeting old friends in Rossmore Park, having coffee and three scoop Rum & Raisin milkshakes , talking about old times and the future.

No half measures.



Author: paul

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