A Ridiculous Story
This story was originally written in 1985 as a contribution to a book commemorating the Golden Jubilee of Castleisland Vocational School, my alma mater (whatever that means). I haven't read it in over ten years, and I'm surprised at how I got away with a number of the things contained therein. But then I was still a smutty-minded young scut in 1985. The story is largely in its original state, with some small edits, and has been adapted to fit the Tales of A & B concept. In case you're interested, A was originally called Jonesey and B was known as Bug-Eye Murphy...By the way, it is the only piece of fiction that I've ever had published. And do you think I got paid?
Mr. Punch was a fabulously wealthy man. He was involved in lots of successful enterprises and owned valuable property all over the country. He also owned three brilliant racehorses and sponsored the local soccer team. Legend has it that whenever Mr. Punch broke wind, ten-pound notes descended from the sky.
Mr. Punch was nationally famous for the public-house that he owned and ran in his home town. While it was no longer the most lucrative of his enterprises, it was the one that he enjoyed being involved in the most; all the others were run by very well-qualified but over-intelligent men in mohiar suits who spoke, according to Mr. Punch of little else but venture capital, tax havens in the Caribbean and rugby. Mr. Punch, while being fabulously wealthy, only had the intelligence of two empty coconut shells, and he couldn't really compete with these sharks. Mr. Punch was grateful for the fact this his roles in these ventures had been reduced to those of financier, decision-maker and profit-creamer-offer.
He felt much more at home in his pub (which isn't so surprising because he lived there). He could mingle with the great unwashed public and exchange pleasantries with them on a great variety of topics such as greyhounds, football and politics. He could still feel as if he was earning his keep by occasionally changing the beer barrels and doing the stock-taking. He often got his photograph in the local newspaper when his pub's dart team won competitions. Above all else, Mr. Punch wanted to feel that he was still "one of the people"...
...which makes it very hard to comprehend why he suddenly decided to go out and buy a twin-engined aeroplane. When he made the announcement of his latest acquisition at the pub one night, the reactions of the locals ranged from disbelief to downright jealousy.
One said, "I can't understand. What would he want with an aeroplane?" Another said, "If he'd saked me for my opinion, I could've told him what to do with his money. He could've given it to me, for one thing..."
Yet another said, "Every man is entitled to buy a car and own a nag. But a plane? Ah now, that's a different matter entirely." And still another said, "But what does he know about flying an aeroplane?"
It was this very point which had been brought home to Mr. Punch when he strolled into the local book-shop one Saturday and went browsing through some pilot-training manuals. He had reckoned that learning to fly couldn't be that much different from learning to drive. But whereas you can get an old banger and drive it around the field at the back of the house, you can't really do the same thing with an aeroplane, can you? And after about five minutes leafing through the above-mentioned manuals, he realised that one of the few shortcomings of the Ladybird book system was that it didn't cater adequately for the budding junior aviator. Oh, disaster! Oh, folly!
That evening, he sat in the lounge of his pub, staring disconsolately into his pint. Whatever had possessed him to go off and buy that bloody aeroplane? He'd be the laughing stock of the town. Nobody would bother to drink in his pub anymore, although they might just stick their heads in the door, take one look at our Mr. Punch and laugh uproariously as they leave. It really seemed like the end of the world for the would-be Charles Lindbergh.
As he became more and more obsessed with the idea of inevitable failure and subsequent ridicule, his temper became more and more foul. Not being a married man, the only people on whom he could take out his anger were his "children", the staff at the bar. One day, A, the head barman, walked into the office and asked Mr. Punch to OK a few invoices. Mr. Punch told A to stick the invoices up his Holy of Holies and threw a crystal glass paperweight (which said "Best Wishes from the Isle of Man") at him.
Understandably, staff relations deteriorated as the boss became increasingly depressed. Notices were handed in left, right and centre. Service in the bar became abysmal and the regulars stayed away in droves. All of this made Mr. Punch feel totally desperate. He had nobody to turn to. He toyed with the idea of selling the plane and forgetting the whole idea of joining the jetset (or, in this particular case, the twin turboprop set). This, however, would merely have left him with no aeroplane and no friends. He resolved to get the aeroplane into the air even if he had to strap it to his back and leap off a cliff with it.
He'd been unable to sleep recently and had spent most of the dark hours tossing and turning in a vain effort to fight his anguish about the aeroplane. He'd often find himself on the floor of his bedroom, tightly shrouded in the sheets and blankets which had wrapped themselves around his body like the tentacles of an octopus. The bags around his eyes grew bigger and bigger and he ceased to shave, for fear that the idea of cutting his own throat might prove too inviting. Before long, he looked a right bloody mess and you wouldn't have got tuppence for him at a jumble sale.
One morning at breakfast (two stiff glasses of Johnnie Walker), Mr. Punch was idly scanning his newspaper (i.e. looking at the photographs) when the idea suddenly struck him - if he couldn't fly the aeroplane himself, why not advertise in the papers for somebody who could? The simplicity of the idea took quite a few minutes to sink in, but having done so, he immediately ran to the telephone and placed ads in all the national dailies.
In another part of the country, in yet another bar, another man sat idly scanning the pages of his newspaper over a glass of whiskey. His name was "Captain" Willie Flyte and he was trying to decide which horse he'd back in the 2.30 at Leopardstown. He wasn't havng much success, however, as his mind as being distracted by thoughts of how his career as a pilot would now be progressing if he hadn't made that mistake all those years ago.
That mistake occured when the Captain had been the Senior Pilot of Icarus Airlines. He had been wonderfully successful and his star was, as they say, in the ascendant. Then, that fateful night, he'd been at a big whing-ding thrown by the Chief Executive of the airline to celebrate the opening of a new commuter route to the South. The Captain had been drinking rather a lot of the free booze and had become, in turn, tipsy, merry, amorous and then just plain randy. He'd made a pass at this gorgeous-looking young lady right in the middle of the Gentlemen's Excuse Me, when suddenly the music stopped and an almighty roar was heard frm the other end of the room:- "THAT'S MY WIFE!" It was the Chief Executive. The Captain's knees buckled from under him and he fell gracefully in a half-swoon to the floor. A pitcher of ice-cold water was thrown all over him, and he awoke to see the Chief Executive's flaming yellow eyes burning down on him.
He grabbed the Captain by the lapels and shook him savagely. "What were you doing with my wife?!" he screamed as if his private parts were being blended ina liquidiser. "I...I didn't know she was your wife", the Captain stuttered in reply, "I...I...thought she was somebody's teenage daughter..."WHAT???!!" yelled the Chief Executive. "Bloody pervert!!! You're fired...d'you hear me? I promise you'll never work as a pilot as long as I live!". The Chief Executive always kept his word too, for from that day to this, the Captain had never flown an aeroplane.
He closed the newspaper in disgust. All those unhappy thoughts were interfering with his concentration. He'd have to have another whiskey. He called the barman and ordered a Jameson. He dropped his money all over the floor. He swore under his breath and bent down to pick up his change. His hands had more shakes than the United Arab Emirates and it took a good minute to gather all the cash together and give it to the barman.
Just then, the door of the bar burst open and the Captain's old chum and drinking buddy, B, buzzed into the pub. He gave a quick look around and finally espied the Captain out of the corner of his bloodshot eye.
"Ah, the hard Willie", B said, parking his capacious rear-end on the stool beside the Captain. "I thought I'd find you here. I was just looking through the paper this morning when I found something that might tickle your fancy..." He thrust the paper into the Captain's hands.
"What? There's nothing but ads here", the Captain protested.
"Look", said B impatiently, and he pointed a nicotine-stained finger at the centre of the back page. "Read that one".
The Captain read the advert to himself.
"Well, what do you think, eh?" B asked, all excited.
"Ah, no", the Captain said quietly, shaking his head.
"What do you mean? Are you trying to tell me you won't apply for the job?"
"Ah, look B. Look at my hands. See how they shake. How do you expect me to get a job with hands like these? They'd only be any good for beating eggs - just shove 'em into the bowl and you wouldn't even need a whisk."
"Now, don't be a bloody defeatist", B sternly said, concrete in his voice. "This is the chance you've been looking for all these years. Don't tell me you don't want to fly again."
"No buts. We'll ring the number in the advert and we'll get ourselves a job, OK? Come on, finish your whiskey and let's go!"
The Captain was carried along in a wave of enthusiasm; he had no real perception of what was going on until he found himself outside the telephone kiosk. Panic struck. "What'll I say?" he asked helplessly.
"Say you're the world's best pilot and that you've come back to this country to take it easy after years flying jumbo jets across the Atlantic", B encouraged.
"But look at the cut of me!"
"A bath, a shave, a dab of Grecian 2000 and you'll look like a million dollars. I'll even give you a loan of the suit I wear going to court. Now, go in there and do the business!"
The Captain went into the kiosk. Nothing happened. After a moment or two, he came out again.
"What's wrong now?" B asked testily.
"I've no change", the Captain sheepishly replied.
"Jeyes's Fluid!!" B exclaimed. He fumbled in his pocket and took out a rake of fifties, part of his last night's winnings on the slots. "Here, take these and don't come out till you've made that phonecall".
The Captain picked up the receiver and dialled.
Mr. Punch was standing by the telephone when it rang (luckily for me, otherwsie the story would've ended far too quickly for my purposes). He answered it. "Mr. Punch speaking."
"Er, hello. My name is Flyte. Captain Willie Fylte. I'm...ah...phoning up in reply to advertisement in the paper, looking..."
"Yes! Yes!" Mr. Punch got all excited. It was the first reply he'd received to the advert since it had been published in the papers a few days before.
"Well, I am a pilot with many years of flying experience behind me and I've...ahm...been looking for some place to take it easy after my days of flying jumbo jets across the...er...Atlantic..."
"You've flown jumbo jets?" Mr. Punch was very impressed.
"Ah, yes", the Captain replied. This might be easy after all, he thought.
Mr. Punch went wow silently. "Well, I've got a Piper twin-propeller, and I'm looking for someone to fly it for me."
A Piper? The Captain heaved a sigh of relief. He'd flown Pipers for years before joining Icarus and he knew them inside-out. As for jumbo jets, he'd made an Airfix model of one once...
"Ah, a Piper", he said. "Yes, I'm quite familiar with them. A lovely little aeroplane. Very easy to fly, for a pilot of course."
It was Mr. Punch's turn to sigh. Maybe this would be his man. "Well, if you'd like to come down to have a look at the aeroplane. I'll gladly refund your travellng expenses. When would it be handy for you to come down? We could discuss salary and all that stuff afterwards."
"Would the day after tomorrow suit?" the Captain asked.
"Excellent!" Mr. Punch replied, barely surprising his delight. "Just ask any taxi-driver for my pub, they'll know where it is."
"Goodbye, Mr. Punch, I'll see you then". The Captain put down the receiver and came out of the kiosk, beaming triumphantly.
"Well?" B asked, "How did it go?"
"Could you lend us a few quid for a bottle of Grecian 2000?"
Two days later, the Captain found himself outside the door of the public-house owned by Mr. Punch. He paid the taxi-driver with some more money he'd borrowed from B and he asked for a receipt, to be presented to Mr. Punch when claiming his travelling expenses, just in case...
He opened the lounge door and entered. There were a few regulars seated around the lounge, sipping their late-morning pints. He walked up to the bar and spoke to the barman (A, the head barman, as it turned out, who'd been re-instated by Mr. Punch after his depression has lifted).
"Could I speak with Mr. Punch, please?" the Captain asked.
"I'm afraind he just popped out a moment ago, but he should be back in a jiffy," A answered. "Who can I say wants to speak to him?"
"Er, my name is Flyte. Captain Willian Flyte. I've come about the ad in the paper for..."
"Don't tell me", A interrupted. "You must be Mr. Punch's pilot..."
And that, folks, is what is known as a punchline.
They all lived happily ever after; Mr. Punch got to fly in his aeroplane, the Captain got back his self-respect and lost his shakes, A moved to the Isle of Man and sold souvenir paperweights and B went off to work as a female impersonater in a sleazy Hamburg nightclub. Such is the way of the world, thanks be to God...
(c) 1985 and 1998 Daniel Prendiville