Emails offering flat garden hoses, 2% mortgages in North Carolina or equipment to spy on neighbours, I usually delete unread. Recently, however, one caught my eye: Men’s and ladies prestige watches for all occasions… 98% accuracy… Includes all proper markings… authentic weight.
It reminded me of my own foray into the world of retailing chronometers. In the early summer of 1972 I discovered a source where I could purchase large quantities of affordable, imported, watches at £2 each. (Hector Grey pointed out to the young, entrepreneurial Bill Cullen that if you buy an article for a pound and sell it for two pounds that is one hundred per cent profit. According to the Scotsman’s reckoning I was only making 25% percent on the watches; I was selling them for £2.50 each.)
The streets of Dublin proved to be lucrative for me in the month of June. Through hard work, a lot of patter and strategic planning I sold hundreds of watches in the Capital. Sales dropped in early July. Had everyone in Dublin bought a watch from me?
On Sunday 16th July, a scorching day, I headed for McHale Park, Castlebar to the Connaught Final. Roscommon beat Mayo 5:8 to 3:10 and I boarded the Dublin train with pockets bulging. In the All-Ireland hurling final Kilkenny beat Cork 3:34 to 5:11 and watches were on offer to all.
And on the penultimate Sunday of September, as the final whistle blew, I was waiting outside Croke Park. Kerry vs Offaly had ended in a draw. Both sets of supporters were jubilant in anticipation of a win next time out. Fob-watches were purchased for wives and girlfriends… and sometimes both.
I was, once again, ready for the replay on 15th October. Offaly beat Kerry 1:9 to 0:13. Watches would adorn muscular wrists in Banager and Blennerville.
I found that the only section of the Irish community completely out of the watch market was the Greyhound fraternity. Perhaps they were only interested in stopwatches. A visit to Harold’s Cross resulted in not one sale.
When Percy Bysshe Shelley was selling his book Address to the Irish People, at the Gresham Hotel, in 1812, he said, “I stand by the window and wait ’til I see who looks likely. Then I throw a book at him”. I didn’t use the poet’s marketing ploy but one hundred and sixty years later and twenty yards from the prestigious Hotel, on 3rd November I was selling outside the Savoy Cinema in O’Connell Street when a well-dressed man of rural-Irish background asked me, “How much for four watches?”
The lapel of his fashionable, fingertip-to-hip-length, fawn coat failed to conceal the tell tale strap of a Walkie-talkie stretched diagonally across his chest. This didn’t bother me. In the preceding months I had met literally hundreds of Guards in the course of my selling. Some had bought watches and with many others I had exchanged good-natured banter. But, seemingly, this was different.
If the Garda had asked where I had gotten my wares I suppose I could have quoted William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802), “Suppose I found a watch upon the ground, and it should be enquired how the watch happened to be in that place… the inference, we think is inevitable… ” or I could have given him the name and address of my wholesaler.
But he didn’t ask. Instead he called for a patrol car and I was conveyed to Store Street station. The driver was a, civil, plain-clothes officer who asked if I had, “ever been in trouble before?” I shared the back seat with a twenty-stone Superintendent. He went a long way towards proving the theory that fat people are jolly. He found the fact that forty watches for which I had paid hard-earned cash, were being confiscated, hilarious. “You wudda had a profitable night on’y ye met the wrong man” he guffawed. I was glad to see the Superintendent was enjoying himself.
Back in the station and the arresting Garda suggested that the watches weren’t of top quality, as if I had been claiming that they were Omegas. When I asked if I could make a phone call, he was the one to answer, “No”.
Eventually I was asked how I came to be in possession of the watches, and I gave the name and address of my supplier who was based a ten-minute drive from the station. Was my alibi checked out? No.
The squad-car driver put me in a cell and formed the opinion that it wasn’t necessary to confiscate my belt or tie. “You don’t look like the sort of fellow that would hang himself”. He looked in on me later and when I asked him what time it was, adding, “Isn’t it hard lines when a man starts out with forty watches and ends up asking someone else the time?” He laughed; a genuine laugh.
In the small hours of the morning, while pondering on what I was missing (Johnny Flynn had been playing at the Ierne Ballroom) the shouts and language in the adjoining cells made me thankful that I wasn’t a law-breaker or a Guard.
My first cell-mate was an intelligent individual. The sort you could talk to. He was removed and replaced by a well-dressed teenager who was probably a hard man out on the street but allowed his vulnerability to show once locked up. I learned from a page from the Irish Independent, which lay on the “bed”, that my friend Dick Trueman had been appointed Secretary of the United Arts Club.
Towards dawn I was presented with a Charge-sheet which proclaimed that I was being charged with, “feloniously receiving forty watches… “. When I insisted on reading the document I was accused of being, “very cagey”.
Though nobody had asked me what was my trade or profession the “Occupation” line on the sheet was filled with the words, “No business”.
When my term of incarceration came to an end (the only night of my life spent in a cell) and the crisp November air of Northside Dublin assailed my face, I was in a position to review the words of George A.Birmingham; “The Irish Police Barrack is invariably clean, occasionally picturesque, but it is never comfortable”. If Mr. Birmingham had ever visited Store Street he would have omitted the bit about “invariably clean”.
The burly, polite, Garda who ushered me into the “meat-wagon” asked, ” Were you batin’ the polis last night?” I answered in the negative without elaboration.
Come to think of it, not alone have I not indulged in “batin’ the polis” since, but somewhere among my collection of newspaper cuttings, Clancy Brothers records and knick-knacks picked up in the Dandelion Market is an interesting letter; It is from Superintendent Micheal Carolin expressing his “deep gratitude” for my “assistance rendered to Gardai Eaton Touhy and Brian Woods who were under attack on Blackditch Road, Ballyfermot”.
So, I didn’t agree with Brendan Behan when he said that there was no human situation so grim that the appearance of a Policeman wouldn’t worsen.
I was taken to the Courts area and kept in a holding-cell with a number of others. I was the only first-timer and I was informed by the more experienced that I would be “going straight to ‘the Joy'” (Mountjoy Prison).
On my journey through the subterranean passage, from the holding cell to the Court, the Garda who has arrested me was now in uniform, (I bet he didn’t sleep on a plank) and made me walk in front of him. Perhaps he feared my having a lump-hammer or an anvil concealed in my shirt pocket.
When the Judge addressed me, not being au fait with Courtroom protocol, I stepped forward to deliver the monologue, which I had rehearsed through the night. A Garda put out a restraining hand and whispered to me that that is not how things are done. The Judge on seeing my confusion said,
“You’ll get plenty of opportunity to say what you have to say”.
They next thing I heard was “adjourned”.
I signed a Bail-bond for £25 and walked to freedom thinking of a couple of lines from The Ballad Of Reading Gaol:
“Out into God’s sweet air we went
But not in wonted way… ”
I contacted my supplier and, since neither of us had anything to hide, he accompanied me to Store Street Garda Station and explained that, yes, he had been supplying quantities of watches to me over the preceding months. The officer on duty pointed out that since I was already charged I would have to appear in Court on the appointed day or a Bench-warrant would be issued for my arrest.
When I returned home to Ranelagh, Dublin 6, I discovered that the house had been searched by a number of Gardai. A ledger and light fitting were missing. The former was returned to me later in Dublin Castle. The latter I haven’t seen since.
I later learned that the following exchange took place between two friends of mine:
“Did you hear about Lennon being arrested?”
“No. What did he do”?
“Oh, nothing. He had too much time on his hands”.
On my next Court appearance, being a great believer in the maxim that the innocent don’t need defence, I didn’t engage a Solicitor. The arresting Garda’s only evidence was, “I am not offering any evidence”.
Life went on. I haven’t featured in Fogra Tora since.
As far as I know, the Garda who arrested me didn’t finish up directing traffic in Bangor Erris and I haven’t ever heard of a Guard being charged with wasting Police time… have you?