Rottweiler Soup: Rackets Я U.S.
Embassy staff are discouraged from making friends outside of work. Even the best trained, strictest disciplined and most reserved of them could offer up an incautious snippette of information after a particularly relaxing meal, say, or at the moment of orgasm, and you never know who might be listening, even if you think you’re on your own. It’s a tolerable restriction when you’re being moved from assignment to assignment every three years, but when you’ve been stuck in one place for six years, when you’ve been left to rot and passed over and ignored, inevitably you do what you can to make the best of things. You make friends with people who ordinarily you’d cross the street to avoid.
Don’t get the wrong idea about me and Delia. We’re not fuckbuddies or anything. We’ve never even shared a cab, let alone a bed. Which is not to say that he’s any uglier or meaner than any other Irishman. I just don’t swing that way.
Delia is only his nickname. He got it because he can’t cook. Never eat his pork chops.
Nobody knows what Delia’s real name is. He’s a puzzle inside a mystery wrapped inside a tea towel and beaten against a rock. What does that mean? I’ve no idea. It’s an enigma.
You wouldn’t think Delia was Irish, either, what with his stocky build and the kind of swarthy Latin looks that once made Che Guevara so attractive to the Bolivian military, but such a physique is actually quite the norm for Galwegians. There used to be a lot of trade between Spain and Galway— and obviously not just trade, although money no doubt played a part. These dubious origins probably also explain Delia’s exotic relationship with the English language. At the best of times the Irish are masters of obtuseness. Delia approaches English side on, like a winking crab sketched by a reckless Picasso. He’s forever coming out with these sayings — I assume they’re poorly translated ancient Irish proverbs — like, ‘Actions speak louder than mimes’, or ‘People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw parties’, or ‘Desperate times call for desperate housewives’. Christ alone knows what he’s on about. I’ve no idea how his students managed.
Delia used to be a lecturer in IT at UCD, but when all the software firms upped sticks and left Ireland and the department shut down, he had to turn his hand to whatever he could find, not easy for a nerd with attitude. He gives some private tuition and does upgrades and a bit of web design for people who still have broadband, but there isn’t much call for that sort of thing anymore. Most of his income he gets from importing coke and fags on the sly. This can be quite a delicate operation and a risky one to boot. It’s well known that the smuggling and bootlegging rackets are run by some real nasty characters who’ve almost cornered the market and who use the funds to buy arms, which they then flog to travelers, illegal immigrants, circuses and asylum seekers. Anyone who muscles in on their territory is asking for trouble.
It isn’t the Real IRA, by the way, before you leap to any conclusions. They’re too busy fighting amongst themselves, split now by their allegiances to Premiership soccer teams: the United Irishmen versus the Arsenal Irishmen.
Delia’s strictly low-key and small fry, just making a few bob where he can, but I do worry for him sometimes.
We usually arrange to meet down at Lansdowne Tennis Club on Londonbridge Road of an afternoon. It’s quiet then. The odd pair of retirees playing, maybe a couple of bored housewives, ladies who can no longer afford to lunch, the club coach with a gang of kids, but otherwise just Brian, the barman. Delia isn’t one of my agents, incidentally; he’s just a mate. I tell the embassy that I’m meeting with a contact within the traveling community who’s filling me in on arms shipments from Iran, just so it sounds like I’m making myself useful, but it’s only Delia.
We go out on court and have a couple of sets, if one of us remembers to bring balls, just to sweat out the Dublin toxins. They always leave a dark sheen on the skin that looks like a tan, so I’m tempted not to shower afterwards, but Delia always does, so it would be unseemly for me not to. Then we have a coffee or two and chat in the clubhouse. The bar overlooks Courts 1 and 2, which is where all the poseurs play, but of an afternoon it’s just the old farts, so Delia and I sit right in the window, put our feet up, and sneer.
‘Did you see that documentary about Michael Jackson the other night?’ he asked after I’d given him a good drubbing and we were supping choca-mocha-chinos.
‘Who?’ I was distracted by a particularly good spin serve from a doddery geezer with a bandana on the far side of the net playing doubles on Court 2. A sort of geriatric Nadal.
‘Jackson.’ He said it an offhand sort of way, as though preoccupied with loftier thoughts. He often does that. ‘Michael Jackson.’
‘No. Any good?’
‘Excellent.’ Delia had just opened a packet of salmiak, that disgusting but also very moreish salt licorice, a habit he picked up in Norway. ‘Want some?’ I waved the offer away.
‘They were saying, on the program, like, that by the end of his career he was living entirely on a diet of kiwi and banana yogurt and mephedrone.’
The receiver of Nadal’s serve had lobbed Nadal’s partner, a tall, skinny geek standing inert and semi-conscious at the net, leaving a panicked Nadal, who had optimistically followed in behind his serve, to backpedal, a frantic splash of spraying sweat, gammy leg and wobbly paunch.
‘Yeah, well that’s what they said. Only, I don’t think they had mephedrone around when Jackson was alive.’
‘Huh. They probably made it up. Some of those documentaries are complete fabrications.’
‘That’s what I thought.’ Delia gnawed on a piece of licorice. I realized that I’d left my Nicorettes back at the apartment. ‘Besides’, he went on, ‘I don’t think there’s such a thing as kiwi and banana yogurt. I mean, kiwis are a protected species, aren’t they?’
Nadal made a desperate lunge for the lob and miraculously succeeded in putting up a lob of his own, right up into the stratosphere. His opponents looked nervously at each other and shuffled around the court. Neither of them wanted to take the smash for fear of busting their corset.
‘Do you have any change on you, Delia? I want to get some nuts.’
‘Sure.’ He fumbled in his tracksuit bottoms. ‘Are you sure you won’t . . .?’ he proffered the salmiak again. I pulled a face to suggest polite horror. ‘No thanks.’
He handed over some shrapnel and I stood up to go to the bar. The ball on Court 2 had now come down and had bounced once. One of the old farts was lining up to take the smash. I stayed to watch the denouement. He netted it. What a tosser. Nadal and his partner high-fived.
‘Did you ever see Jackson?’ I asked Delia when I came back from the bar with a bag of Dry Roast nuts and no change.
‘I think he played Dublin, didn’t he? Before he died.’
Delia looked up from the spot where his change was supposed to be and frowned.
‘Yes, Joe. Before he died. That would have been around the time he was still alive.’
I realized what I’d said. Smartass.
‘Hah. Well I’d go to one of his posthumous gigs. Wouldn’t you?’
He seemed to seriously contemplate the possibility.
‘I suppose so.’
‘Think of Thriller, but with added realism.’
An ace from Nadal.
‘Hmm. When you put it like that, get me a ticket.’
We smiled conspiratorially and sucked up the last of our drinks, congratulating ourselves on the wittiness of our repartee. Aim low, that’s what I always say.
‘Joe, while I think of it, if you’re in the market for some snow, I’m expecting a batch from a cousin of mine who’s over from Cornwall on his holidays next week.’
‘His holidays?!” I snorted incredulously, but Delia glared. His silent reproach told me I’d have to take him at his word. Ahem.
‘Yes, of course, I’d be very interested, Del.’
‘Any particular brand?’ Wow, I get options too. I mustn’t overreact.
‘I’ll take whatever your cousin manages to bring over. I don’t want to be any trouble, Del.’
‘It’s not a problem. I’ll give you a ring when he’s been over.’
‘Aye, when tha boot cums in,’ I said, like a twat. Delia eyed me unimpressed.
‘Well, you know what they say, Joe. “Many hands make light aircraft.”’
Yes. Enigmatic. That’s our Delia.
Highlights from Sally:
The Los Angeles Times reports that Robert Downey Jr. was up in court again yesterday, this time after $500 million worth of cocaine was found in the attic of his home. Fortunately for him, the jury accepted his explanation that it was for his own personal use.
The Limerick Leader reports that the latest craze among delinquents down there is to play Russian roulette for cash using bags of glue and antifreeze. They sit round in a circle with bags placed on an upturned garbage can lid in the middle. All but one of the bags contain glue and one contains antifreeze. They chuck in 100 euros each, and the one who gets the hit from the antifreeze has his taxi fare to hospital paid for by the rest. The report says that antifreeze ‘almost certainly causes blindness and will quite frequently cause death’. Better than living in Limerick, I suppose.
The Irish Examiner had great fun recently during Queen Elizabeth of England’s jubilee celebrations after revelations from a former footman in Buckingham Palace about the Duke of Edinburgh. The Irish exhibit a remarkable degree of knowledge about royalty, despite not having any of their own — preferring instead to put the fucking jesters in charge. Their enjoyment on this occasion has mostly been derived from discovering how much Prince Phillip hates the English, but other revelations about him have included
- He owns a robot that cries.
- He is scared of sugar mice, but not real mice.
- His fancy dress outfit of choice is Princess Diana.
- He is credited with the invention of the Jamshandy, the original recipe for which is a pint of lager with a marmalade top.
- On Sunday mornings, he used to make prank phone calls to Malcolm Muggeridge pretending to be the voice of God.
- The sight of children’s shoes drive him into fits of uncontrollable rage but he is unable to explain why.
- He burned down the Reichstag.
- He was the inspiration for Bill Maynard’s TV character Selwyn Froggatt.
- He was taught his first magic trick, ‘Crown, Sceptre, Crown’, by Kaiser Wilhelm at a state funeral.
- He wrote the original screenplay for Herbie Rides Again.
- He eats two pomegranates a day, despite being allergic to them.
- He has a morbid fear of cupboards.
- He has the phrase ‘CUFC 4 Ever’ tattooed on his left buttock.