Saturday, November 28, 2009

A bit of a Hallowe’en stink

It may sound strange but I was delighted when a wise and wonderful man from Huntstown asked me last month if I had noticed the smell in the area every evening.
For several weeks, my wife had taken to sniffing the air every time I came in the front door and I had been starting to get a complex. With a sense of smell that never really returned despite being off the cigarettes for six years, I had only got the whiff occasionally – a strange brown smell that I imagine is slurry, even though I haven’t the slightest idea what slurry smells like.
I had told my wife that I didn’t think I was the source of the odour but I could tell from her raised eyebrow and clothes peg on her nose that she wasn’t convinced, particularly as she insisted on shooing me upstairs to the shower the moment I set foot in the hall and fumigating my clothes as I washed.
However, the casual remark from the man from Huntstown exonerated me completely of any blame for the smell. Though I may pong a bit occasionally, it is extremely doubtful that my odour could be smelled over a mile away, even with the wind in the right direction. Every time I opened the hall door, the smell wafted in behind me, fingering me for a crime I had not committed.
Innocent of all charges, I was thus filled with a determination to bring the true perpetrator to justice. Sadly, when I went to put my investigative journalism hat on, my wife admitted that she had given it down to the Good as New shop, so I donned a baseball cap instead and set out like Stanley to discover the source of the smell.
Now, in the cartoon advert for Bisto, the children follow a highly visible smell of gravy back to their own kitchen. Sadly, the slurry smell was not quite so definitive and certainly not as visible to the naked eye and for several days I drove around the area, getting out of my car at strategic locations and sniffing the air like a bloodhound, doubtless drawing quizzical looks from passing motorists.
Oh, how I cursed my twenty five years nicotine habit! Of course it is doubtful whether the most sensitive nose in the world could differentiate between the various strengths of the odour from one location to the next, but I, with my desensitised nose, had no chance.
To be honest, although I was completely unknowledgeable of all things agricultural – to me, the phrase “country smells” encompasses a wide gamut of odours – I was not convinced that the offending pong was indeed slurry. Sure, hadn’t we seen on the news how the farmers were protesting that they were all being put out of business by the weather, the EU and Brian Cowen, so why would they waste their time producing slurry (whatever slurry is) when their children were being starved off the land?
I made discreet enquiries in the Paddocks, telling people I was “only asking for a friend” but I could tell people were afraid, particularly when they went running out the door with their hands over their ears. Nobody was prepared to blow the lid on this story, though a few of them tapped the side of their noses, indicating either that they knew something or that they had a cocaine habit.
My big break came when I came downstairs one morning to find a piece of paper had been slipped under the hall door. Of course, it might just as easily have been pushed through the letter box but it sounds more dramatic my way.
“Rubbish collection to help the starving farmers of county Clare,” I read. “Please place all your unwanted money in a black sack and leave outside your front door on Thursday morning.” I was about to throw it away (I’d already given all my spare money to the Bankers’ Benevolent Fund) when I noticed a handwritten scrawl on the rear of the notice.
“You want to find the sauce (sic) of the smell?” it read. “Go to the graveyard in Clonsilla at midnight!”
The words sent a chill down my spine and then another one just above my left elbow. What foul deed was afoot, I wondered? And what was this sick sauce mentioned in the note?
Of course, my wife, who was becoming quite adept at eyebrow-raising, looked surprised when I casually informed her at 23:45 that I was “just popping down to Clonsilla, love.”
Her parting shot of “Drive carefully, smelly,” ringing in my ears, I clutched a sprig of garlic and a crucifix in my hand and drove the two miles to Clonsilla. There was no moon. Well, there was, but I can’t be bothered going into the astronomical reasons why it wasn’t visible. A thick mist curled across the dank night like, well, thick mist curling across a dank night. Somewhere, a coyote howled its mournful cry to the sky but thankfully it was in Arizona and I couldn’t hear it.
I parked the car opposite the deserted train station and slowly walked towards the grey church, silhouetted against the sky. Idly I wondered if the stars were out, but the question merely brought visions of Art Garfunkel into my head, so I shuddered and walked on. And then I noticed the smell.
It was the thick, rotting stench of decay, reminiscent of a soup my wife had bought in Sainsbury’s up in Newry a few years ago. It pervaded the air like a blanket. Birds were falling out of the trees, clutching their throats. A family of hedgehogs had loaded all their belongings into a small cart and were heading for Lucan. I wrapped my scarf tighter around my nose and hoisted myself up onto the graveyard wall, narrowly missing a full can of Dutch Gold sitting there, and peered over.
The sight that met my eyes that was more horrific than any Lionel Richie video. Sitting in a tight circle around a giant cauldron, was a coven of property developers, local politicians and members of the council’s planning department from yesteryear. One of this unholy number, sporting a mask of Satan, was stirring the foul mixture in the cauldron, while one of the former politicians was reading aloud from an ancient recipe book.
“Add one bucketful of rezoning applications,” he intoned, in a voice that seemed to come from the bowels of Hell itself, but was probably from his throat. As he read the words, members of the circle stood up in turn and cast the ingredients into the pot. “Stir in a wad of brown envelopes, add in several indeterminate loopholes in the planning regulations, pour in a plethora of tax breaks, muddy the whole lot up and leave to simmer for several years.”
Clinging to the top of the wall, I fumbled for my phone. I knew it had the capability to take photos but it always took me an hour to find out how. The stench was atrocious and my eyes watered. I felt my mind starting to retreat and I remember falling back off the wall and knocking the can of Dutch Gold down on top of me.
And then I blacked out and remembered nothing else until the policemen woke me up, your Honour.

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