My life in the IRA

During those rather tenebrous days of the 70s, you could go to a cocktail party and discuss Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Yes, and there would be no smirk, the conversation would not linger on the superfluity of notes, the brazen ostentatious lyrics, instead the conversation would be serious, almost academic, maybe too academic, the conversation would be littered with Greek and Roman allusions, the lyrics would be compared to Byron and Keats, the musicianship would be fawned over. During wine and cheese you could bring up any subject, the intelligentsia would deconstruct and construct with the vigor of Irish road workers. I spent very little time outside, so the dark, wind, and rain hardly bothered me, the early 70s was lived not between cocktail parties, it was one long endless cocktail party, and this is how my trouble started.

Every intellectual wanted to fight for something. 73 was a very violent year, the 70s as a whole was a very violent decade. There were a myriad of terrorists groups willing to take help, or money, from an intellectual. Bombs and shootings were happening all over the place. There were groups such as the IRA, the Baader-Meinhof Group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Ejército Popular Revolucionario, the Revolutionary Guevarist Army, Εθνική Οργάνωσις Κυπρίων Αγωνιστών, Noxçiyn Respublika Noxçiyçö.

You couldn’t walk down the road without a backfiring car nearly killing you of a heart attack. A dog taking a piss sent you into an apoplexy, you believing the dog worked for the CIA or the KGB, and its penis was a ray gun or a laser gun and it was aiming straight at you because the other night over wine you proclaimed that the Cold War was not really a War but was in fact a money machine for those in power. Paranoia was everywhere. Everybody was paranoid. Black Sabbath hit on the zeitgeist with a song called “Paranoid.” Doris Stokes knew the answer; she had gleaned the answer from the dead, everybody was paranoid. It was the year of the spiritualist and the ouija board. Erich von Däniken blamed the UFO and the alien. There was something in the wine, in the cheese. Maybe, Lysergic acid diethylamide.

Every cocktail party I attended somebody would come up to me and ask me if I needed something. They were asking if I needed money. Of course, I needed money a writer always needs money. All donations were welcomed. During the early 70s, everybody wanted to give me money.

Between 73 and 75 I lived the Good Life. I rented an apartment in Chelsea, I had suits made by Tommy Nutter, I drove a Ford Capri 3.0 S. I made friends with footballers, such as Stanley Bowles, George Best, I played snooker against Ray Reardon, I lost at darts to Jockey Wilson. I dated Soap stars. I drank with Open University television stars. I was the first person in London to try Colombian Cocaine. I dined with Fleming and Greene. Whenever I talked about my writing, at the time I was writing hardboiled stuff, real macho stuff, the pages were full of blood and guts, the money flooded in, my verbosity about death and destruction over wine and cheese resulted in the next morning with the postman knocking on my door and handing over not two, not three, not four, but five or six cheques. The rumor started in 1975. Wherever I went, the next day a bomb went off. It was as though the bombers were following me from shop to pub to army barracks. Twice I was nearly blown up. Of course, by the end of 76 I knew how to play the rich intellectuals. My verbosity grew, my tales knew no boundaries, my depravity was picked from the pages of De Sade, my violence from The Sweeney and The Professionals.

As sudden as a bomb exploding, the money donations started to dry up. The bombings were affecting the cocktail parties. It was unsafe to leave the house. Nobody wanted to drive; there was the fear of the car bomb. The intellectuals had to catch the tube, even worse, the bus. Nobody was fashionably late for the cocktail parties. Everybody was early. I did my best to dispel the idea that I was a member of the Irish Republican Army, but with each denial, my membership in the IRA hardened like concrete. As sudden as a car bomb the Che Guevara poster was replaced with the sexy tennis player scratching her beautifully sculptured arse. Whenever the talk of violence reared its ugly head, the conversation turned to Coronation Street or The Good Life. I was deemed a pariah. The intellectuals had been forced to watching the television. The television critic had been given birth to out of the nebula of a pub bomb blast. I was considered a persona non grata. I couldn’t even start up a conversation about South Africa. Finally, I was ostracized.

The next thing I knew MI6 was knocking down my front door. An intellectual that I had contradicted, that I had corrected, he had used Dickensian for Draconian, had snitched on me. I was in bed, I had been out the night before, on my own, I was extremely hungover. The barrel of a machine gun was shoved up my left nostril. I was dragged out of bed and punched in the gut. I was allowed to climb into my trousers, but not my shoes. I was thrown into the back of a Ford Capri 3.0 S, hooded, and shouted at and abused. The car journey stopped and I was carried into a small cell. Somebody handcuffed me and removed the hood. I was beaten up, tortured, quizzed repeatedly, and finally left naked in solitary confinement. As if this was not the nadir, punk rockers took over my apartment and squatted. It turns out the punk rockers composed London’s Burning while I was having my nuts electrified.


(A nod to Harry Mathews)


Paul Kavanagh is the author of Iceberg and The Killing of a Bank Manager.

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