My last post generated a good number of emails and comments. Many of which indicated that they will try to read it again when they are having trouble sleeping.
I will attempt to lighten it up a bit with some John B. Keane stories. John B. Keane (7/21/28-5/30/02) was an Irish playwright and pub owner from 1955. His works include “The Field”, “Matchmaker”, and “The Roses of Tralee”. Some of his most humorous works are “Letters to a Successful TD”,”Letters to a Love Hungry Farmer” and “Letters to an Irish Priest”.
The following are a few of my favorite John B. stories.
Since I spoke recently on public houses and the wisdom to be found therein I have received numerous letters of congratulations for highlighting these hitherto-undisclosed aspects of pubology. One letter deserves my immediate attention, however. It comes from a city reader who says that he has been in our pub here in Listowel several times but he has never seen me. That is quite possible since I cannot spend all my time in the pub. However, it could also be that he is looking in the wrong direction for, as well as looking for me inside the counter, he should look for me outside the counter. The latter is my stamping ground during my hours of recreation. Here I may be seen with glass in hand by those who are sober.
The other letters offer contributions drawn from their own experiences of pub life. A woman from Drumcollogher who supplies her name and address and who used to work in a pub one time recalls a customer who slipped his domestic moorings whenever he sighted visitors in the vicinity of his home.
‘He was what you might call a philosopher,’ the Drumcollogher woman remembers. ‘He had one saying for which I will personally remember him … “For the protection of its inmates, if nothing else, every house should have its visiting hours.'”
I couldn’t agree more. for some reason totally beyond my ken whenever I sit down to a meal I am besieged by visitors. The phone-caller too always rings at mealtimes for he knows you must eat and are likely to be seated at your own table when he lifts the phone to harass you.
I mentioned cures when talking about pub lore. On Sunday night last as we were about to close for the night a farmer from an outlying townland arrived offering as an excuse for his lateness the fact that he was a martyr to arthritis. While he sipped his whiskey he was offered several cures. One man in particular had a most unusual remedy. To cure his own arthritis he regularly singes his bare bottom with burning newspapers as they once did to clear recalcitrant feathers from the carcasses of hastily plucked geese. The treatment, if it left a few blisters itself, always worked. I mean, where else would you hear it but in a public house. I have heard of cures that would make the hair stand on your head. Now there’s a real cure, especially if your head is bare.
I often wonder why nobody has written a book about pub lore or pub sayings or pub medicine. Could be, as the old saying would have us believe, that the jokes of the night before are not nearly so funny in the morning. I was often tempted to write a book about my experiences in the pub trade and nothing else but I never got around to doing it. Maybe I’m doing it now through this medium.
I once had a customer who consumed all his meals early in the day, ending with his dinner which he devoured at three o’clock in the afternoon so that he could go to the pub early and remain there until closing time. He lived a happy life. So did his wife who, as long as she was permitted to indulge in bingo every night of the week, never objected to his drinking habits. She managed their pensions. She presented him with the price of two pints each afternoon before his departure and with his natural charm, guile and cunning he always managed to have rounds stood to him by those he praised for their courage and generosity. Pubs are filled with men who need recognition for unrecognised talents.
Pubs and poets go together and one of the better verses I have heard over the years was composed by a drunken man after he had been introduced to a female from the townland of Ballybrohawlinam.
‘Where in God’s name,’ said he, ‘is Ballybrohawlinam?’
“Spell it,’ called an onlooker
‘No,’ said a third, ‘get something to rhyme with it.’
The drunken man provided the following without a moment’s hesitation:
Beautiful are the bottoms of the women of Ballybrohawlinam
With their chaste eyes heavenwards as though they’d no bottoms at all on ’em.
I believe that there are people born into this world for no other purpose than to be deceived. They themselves accept the role as if it was theirs by right. They are, as it were, the fodder on which con-men sustain themselves. They have long been easy meat for clairvoyants, astrologers and palmists, to mention but a few of the prophets of the modern world. Americans have a name for them. they call them suckers.
A worthwhile if somewhat frowned upon career can be built from simply preying on these all-too-plentiful gulls. Now, therefore, we will deal with the little-known occupation of tipster as distinct from the more highly regarded profession of racing correspondent.
I must confess here and now that I have not encountered a racecouse tipster for twenty or more years which should encourage aspiring candidates to the position. I can’t imagine why this is so because it was a lucrative trade as well as being colourful and sporting.
I was once acquainted with a racecourse tipster. He was the father of a large family, several of whom entered holy orders and remained in holy orders, much to the betterment and general edification of themselves and their communities. One became a doctor, another a teacher and the youngest a black sheep. Black sheep , I might add, flourish only where there are large and highly successful families. An only son rarely turns out to be one. Let me return, however, to our friend the tipster. A successful member of the tipping fraternity once told me that the cream of his clients consisted of middle-aged women who purchased his tips out of charity rather than out of any hope of backing a winner. Other customers were drawn from all walks of life while a hard corps was made up of patrons to whom he had previously peddled winners and placed horses.
Racecourse tipping calls for little or no skill. A peaked cap and well-worn raincoat is the usual attire and while a pinched face is an asset it is not an absolute necessity. An air of confidentiality also helps. The first practising tipster I knew managed to give the impression that he singled out only certain people for his favours. Before attempting to make a sale he would first look all about to make sure that nobody would know what was happening, thereby convincing the customer that if too many people knew the identity of the horse the odds would not be worthwhile. He might also hint that he was a drop-out from a racing stable and was possessed, as a result, of inside information. Throwaways like: ‘He was nobbled last time out,’ or ‘He likes it yielding,’ or ‘He’s off today’ never fail to impress prospective customers.
Now let us look at the trade’s accoutrements. These are simple and few, I am happy to be able to report. First one must be able to read and write. Secondly, a large stock of notepaper and envelopes is essential.
Now let us suppose that there are nine horse in the first race. Let the tipster write the name of each horse on a single sheet of notepaper and indicate whether it should be backed for a win, a place or each way. Obviously hot favourites should be backed only for a win. Outsiders should, of course, be backed for places and each way. Place each sheet of notepaper in its own envelope and seal the envelope. Place the nine sealed envelopes in a larger envelope and indicate clearly that it contains the entrants for the first race. Follow the same procedure for the remaining races. Tips should be sold for roughly a pound apiece.
When all are not sold, the unsold envelopes should be given away for nothing since it is absolutely vital that all the envelopes be distributed. This guarantees a winner and three placed horse in every race which has sufficient runners for place betting. Let us presume that there is place betting in the six races on the card. This means that you will have tipped six winners and twelve placed horses. It also means that there will be a substantial number of satisfied customers.
During the races the tipster might repair to the bar and partake of a few bottles of stout and a ham sandwich. He should always vacate the bar before the last race and place himself in a conspicuous position near the main exist. There are certain risks involved. A punter who may have plumped on a loser recommended by the tipster might well seek physical redress. There is also bound to be heaps of abuse, as naturally he will have tipped far more losers than winners but these are the hazards of the trade and who wants a trade without hazards.
On the credit side, there is a good chance that those who have backed winners will not be unmindful of the man who provided them. Those who back winners celebrate a a rule through the medium of intoxicating liquor and it is widely held that intoxication breeds generosity. Racecourse tipping open to both sexes. In fact it is a calling at which a presentable female might excel more than her male counterpart.
If John B. was alive today, I’m sure his blog would have a great following. Let me know if you like his sense of humor and I’ll post some of his letters from “Letters to a Successful TD”,”Letters to a Love Hungry Farmer” and “Letters to an Irish Priest”.