Too Much Time On My
“Wear your learning, like your watch,
in a private pocket”
( Lord Chesterfield).
Emails offering flat garden hoses, penile extensions,
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 . . .
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-percent 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 V 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
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 03rd 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 Garda John McGonigle 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 Inspector
(or Superintendent, I’m still not up to speed on the
subtle differences of livery) . 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.
Back in the station he 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 Garda
McGonigle was the one to answer, “No".
Eventually I was asked where I got 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
The squad-car driver put me in a cell and formed the
opinion that it wasn’t necessary to confiscate my belt
“ 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
In the small hours of the morning while pondering on
what I was missing (Johnny Flynn had been playing at the
Ierne) 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
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
The burly, polite, Garda who ushered me into the
“meat-wagon" asked, "Were you batin’ the polis last
I answered in the negative without elaboration. (Come
to think of it, not alone have I not indulged in “batin’
the polisR21; 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 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, Garda McGonigle, who was now
in uniform, (I bet he didn’t sleep on a plank) 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 feit
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
“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
When I returned home to 4, Chester Road, 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
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. Garda McGonigle’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, Garda McGonigle didn’t finish up
directing traffic in Bangor Erris or Ballycroy and I
haven’t ever heard of a Guard being charged with wasting
Police time . . . have you?
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