The common man in Ireland has no knowledge of snakes. Our patron Saint and all round do gooder, Patrick, caste them out in a fit of pique after being bitten by one. He summoned the wrath of Jehovah himself. The big man upstairs. The eternal being. And with a mighty smote the snakes were smitten never to return until…..
E cigs are the obvious nicotine fuelled alternative to tobacco based products. With only a few chemicals and an exhalation value of nil, they are safe to use in almost any environment except airport departure lounges and supermarkets. Multiflavourous and entirely innocuous, the common man should be encouraged to vape and throw his filthy disease ridden fags into the nearest bin.
‘Suck in that goodness’ I cry, as I rally the common man to the e cig cause.
Meanwhile at Dublin Port, a huge Chinese container ship docked. The sea was rough, white tipped, foaming with menace. (This has nothing to do with the story, purely decorative.) It was laden with a cacophony of goods. Tractors, tractor parts, parts for tractors, toys (including toys of a dubious and rather personal nature) clothing of all sizes and styles, e cigs and a family of venomous stowaway snakes.
An army of stevedores fussed over the huge container ship like bad tempered ants. Enormous cranes picked up the heavy corrugated boxes like a steel giant with Edward Scissorhands hands. Lorries puffed and groaned and creaked as axles sunk under the weight of the laden crates. And then with their cargoes on board the busy little lorries took to the grey early morning streets of Dublin and on to their destinations.
At a freight yard in Fartrim, County Cavan, cold calloused hands grabbed big fluffy bacon baps. It was breakfast time. A throbbing air horn cut through the slobbering bacon munching sounds. The first lorry of the day had arrived.
The lorry backed into the loading dock and seals unsealed, it’s goods were picked, stacked, separated, labels licked, cages filled, and a sea of clingfilm wrap wrapped a sea of deliveries. Destinations sorted, cages were loaded onto empty wagons, drivers assigned and convoys bade farewell with a jaunty Bon adieu!
In a cage of various corner shop comestibles and consumables, bound for Hardy’s grocery shop in Muff, was a box of assorted e cigs, e liquids and a family of hungry venomous snakes.
The journey was uneventful enough. Pearce, the driver, was a solid strapping chap with a thing for tattoos and Tinder. His journey took him through coasting green countryside and small sleepy Irish hamlets. The sun peeked out from behind blueish grey clouds and Johnny Logan crooned on the CD player.
He turned into Muff’s busy Main Street, pulled up outside Hardy’s shop and put on his emergency flashers (which as everyone knows allow lorries to legitimately park in congested areas.)
‘Morning Hardy’ said Pearce.
Hardy didn’t reply. He was a man of few words and even fewer clothes. Despite it being the middle of March and an outside temperature of barely 7 degrees, Hardy wore running shoes, shorts and singlet. He was a man in his late 50’s but in his youth had been a local Gaelic football hero scoring the winning point in the 1983 County semi final match against Cavan Town. He relived that moment every day. That was his groundhog moment. His 15 minutes of fame.
‘Two cages for you today Hardy’ said Pearce jovially. ‘Two cages of Fartrim Distributor’s finest.’
Hardy was unmoved by Pearce’s Bonhomie. He hauled the cages into the small crowded stockroom at the back of the shop and set about checking the inventory. When everything was accounted for he signed the paperwork and handed it back to Pearce without the merest hint of pleasantry.
‘Well. I’ll be off then’ said Pearce. ‘Top of the morning to you.’ ‘You miserable old bastard’ he muttered under his breath.
‘I heard that’ said hardy.
In the shop, more of an Aladdin’s cave than a shop, with just about every consumable substance and thing known to man. From a dustpan and brush to a jar of bovril and freshly pulled pints of the black stuff: whatever your heart desired, Mr Hardy and his wife Bernie would sell you.
But time’s had changed. The common man, woman and child of Muff had answered the call of the Irish Surgeon General and embraced e cigs with cigarette eschewing abandon. Every flavour was in demand. For the hardened old men there was high nicotine dosed Marlboro flavour. For the laughing old girls fond of a lunchtime nip, the allure of menthol and the red faced kids took to blueberry, banana and cherry (nicotine free of course) like fleas to a dog.
A population weened off the evil tobacco plant their addiction supplanted to a much more healthy alternative.
But this was a rampant insatiable addiction. It wasn’t a simple matter of opening a packet, taking out a brown tipped cylinder, flicking a lighter and sucking in the sweet addictive smoke. Oh no. There was hardware to be considered. See through glass bottom filling tanks. Disposable coils. And everything in a rainbow of colours. And each contraption promised a better throat hitting vape. More flavour, more ‘smoke’ more pleasure.
The variety of flavours, in a variety of nicotine strengths, was equally bewildering. Much debate was had over a pint or two in O’Flanagans as to the best flavour, the most intense hit and whether the working man could safely smoke blueberry flavour without appearing to be too gay.
News of the consignment of e cigs products at the back of Hardy’s shop, fresh off the lorry had circulated around the town like an epidemic. People huddled in doorways within sight of the shop waiting for the shelves to be replenished. Waiting for their healthy fix. Mothers brought their children. Since the revolution children were no longer placated with soothers or sweets and God forbid that a child should munch on a Pink Lady! Children were arbitrarily supplied with e cigs and a selection of nicotine free liquid and left to quietly puff as mothers sipped their afternoon gins and gossiped about this and that and the other.
‘Mr. Hardy?’ Enquired Bernie. ‘Are we ready to put the stuff out? They’re champing at the bit here. Old Mrs Murphy is foaming at the mouth and if she doesn’t get her 18mg Dorset Apple Cider liquid I fear for the worst!’
Mr Hardy unwrapped the film from one of the cages. He thought he heard a hiss from deep within the stack of boxes. ‘Mmm’ he thought. Mr Hardy’s propensity for thought matched his propensity for speech. As he unloaded box after box, the hissing got louder and louder until he lifted a box which lurched and squirmed in his hands. He peeked inside?
‘MARY MOTHER OF JESUS!’ He yelled.
Bernie heard the commotion and alarmed by her husband’s profanity and the fact that he uttered anything at all, flew into the storeroom.
Hardy had dropped the box. It lay on the floor its lid ajar. The head of a snake licked the air and flicked its forked tongue. It hissed. It was having a hissy fit.
Bernie hitched her skirt up above her knees in hasty handfuls and ran screaming into the street.
‘SNAKE!’ She shouted. ‘SNAKE!’
Onlookers gave her a worried look and surmised that she had been at the poteen again. A brew known to induce madness amongst other things.
Hardy soon followed although his escape was more of a nonchalant affair in keeping with his personality.
A crowd of children saw their opportunity to skim some liquid loot and ran en masse into the storeroom. They stopped. In their tracks. They had only ever seen pictures of snakes. St Patrick had chucked them out. They didn’t look that terrible in real life. Just noisy. And slithery. And slippery looking.
The biggest of the boys took hold of a heavy shovel and pounded the box full of snakes until the floor was wet with essence of snake and the hisses fell silent.
They quickly filled every available pocket with dozens of bottles of assorted e cig liquid and fled to the beach to lie hidden amongst the grass topped dunes and vape until they could could vape no more.
Mrs Murphy did eventually get her fix and a seizure was avoided.
Mr Hardy never spoke of the incident again.
Bernie remains traumatised.
He met a lass from Derry on Tinder and gave up the haulier business to set up an e cig shop in Donegal.
And the common man?
The common man is the backbone of Ireland. He is the sounding post for everything. He is a marker. And the cause of the common man is distilled into every piece of folklore. Every whisper and every thought. The common man is the essence of us all.
And he likes his e cigs.