A Christmas story: Last adventure of an Irish ape
Channel 4’s economics editor heads to a desolate island to cover the menace stalking Europe. Fearghal O’Connor tells his tale.
The Christmas lights of the city twinkled below and the sky danced with search lights from the other helicopters. All eyes were fixed on the drama that was unfolding on top of London’s Gherkin building.
The radio in the Channel 4 chopper crackled to life.
“Faisal, get your ass back over to Paddystan,” Jon Snow’s voice, as colourfully animated as his tie, boomed.
Faisal shuddered. Even now Channel 4’s economics editor had flashbacks to the terrible Dublin winter of 2010. He closed his eyes and pictured that cold, snowy night on the roof of the Merrion Hotel. Foreign journalists battling to get on to the last RAF helicopter out of the doomed city. Eirigi volunteers rampaging through the hotel rooms below stealing free shampoos and throwing red paint. Somebody was playing The End by The Doors. The horror! The horror!
And now he was once again flying back into the heart of darkness. He had to get there before Paul Mason and the Newsnight team. He needed to be the first journalist to send intelligent tweets from the original source of the scourge that now bedevilled London.
Hours later, the coast of Paddystan loomed out of the mist. Europeans had long feared the contagion from this forsaken island. Sars? Bird flu? Potato blight? Who knew? But they had all seen the Newsnight pictures of the natives living with their pigs in their ghost estates.
It had not always been called Paddystan. But back before the Gulf Stream had been switched off as moral-hazard retribution, back before the remaining natives were forced to burn bondholders just to stay warm, Minister Lenihan had made a fateful decision.
“We have turned a corner,” he said, again. “Going forward, that joke about Ireland, Iceland and one letter will be decommissioned. We will change Ireland’s name and escape our bank guarantee. Henceforth this island will be known as Paddystan. And Paddystan never promised anyone a penny.”
Of course, the ratings agencies quickly tweeted a new joke: what is the difference between Pakistan and Paddystan? One k and a shit load of nuclear missiles.
“I can do nothing about the k but I am happy to reveal that we will spend what is left of the pension fund on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles,” retorted Lenihan in his next emergency Budget. “That will give us serious firepower. I'd like to see Angela Merkel try and bully me then.”
But things got worse. And the Paddystan contagion was now terrorising London. No one suspected that it would be in the form of a large, hairy, incoherent monster that looked as if it had stumbled right out of the jungle set of a famous black and white hollywood classic. It was King Cowen!
King Cowen, the greatest ape of them all, driven mad with a dose of congestion, had rampaged through Europe. Spain, Italy, France all toppled quickly as King Cowen and his soldiers of destiny spread their mayhem. Brussels and Frankfurt were sacked, too. Finally the beast found its way to the UK, attracted by the scent of a royal wedding. Backed into a corner and with nowhere left to turn, it climbed to the top of the Gherkin. It was no Empire State Building but King Cowen was never good on aesthetics.
And so now Faisal had been sent back to Paddystan to find out how the beast had escaped. The Europeans had quarantined the island in December 2010, allowing refugees who paid their travel tax leave only through Terminal Two - an Ellis Island for the 21st century.
By Q1 2011, Faisal knew the game was up for Paddystan when he bumped into a Dublin beggar in the Algarve.
“You had a lovely, busy pitch on O’Connell Bridge with a great view of the Convention Centre - I saw you on the Guardian,” Faisal said to the beggar. “Why did you leave Dublin?”
“That bleedin’ shithole?” answered the beggar. “When guys in suits started coming up from the IFSC to ask me for a few pennies for the kiddies, I knew it was time to get out. All my best clients, the dodgy bankers and developers, are here in the Algarve anyway and they still have plenty of pesetas.”
But now Faisal was a long way from the Algarve. He was picking his way through the ruined shell of the hotel on Merrion St looking for a man he hoped could answer some questions. The de facto leader of this forsaken island. The IMF man who was supposed to keep the ape at bay: Colonel AJ Chopper.
Once the IMF’s very best operative, they had all heard disturbing rumours that Chopper had gone native. Yet they trusted him still to contain King Cowen with his latest four-year plan.
But when Faisal found Colonel Chopper in his ruined suite, he was obviously very disturbed. He kept mumbling, “the mice, the mice, the cupboards are full of mice. I can’t take it anymore”.
And sure enough, when Faisal listened, he could hear noises from the cupboards - “de boom is gettin’ boomier, de boom is gettin’ boomier,” it squeaked incessantly.
“Mice, Colonel? I think you have a rat,” said Faisal, turning away sadly.
Back in London, King Cowen held the Tánaiste in his huge, hairy hand as he clung to the top of the building. All his other close followers had long since left him, struck down by rheumatoid arthritis, back pain and verbal diarrhoea. Dermot Ahern left to write fiction. Dick Roche was spreading slurry in the Wicklow Hills.
The only one that had stuck by King Cowen’s side as he rampaged across Europe was the Tánaiste. She now looked longingly into the beast’s eyes as the RAF Spitfires circled menacingly.
“There’s one thing I need to know before we die,” the Tánaiste said to the ape. ”I still don’t know what a feckin’ tracker mortgage is boss.”
The machine guns opened fire. The ape finally fell to his debt.
The next day, The Irish Times (exiled to a small premises in Milton Keynes purchased off MyHome.ie) perfectly captured the mood of a scattered nation and, most particularly, the mood of the faithful county that had set King Cowen on his path to power and infamy.
Was it for this? Was it for this that Seamus Darby scored the Offaly goal against Kerry in 1982, the editorial asked. Was it for this indeed? the ape thought, exhaling his last.