True confidence tricksters need a mark with value. How about a bank in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day in 1971? Well what I’m about to tell you is a scoop, a first, an exclusive, for the world’s biggest con was pulled in Dublin 46 years ago tomorrow. I’ve kept this secret so long I’m ready to burst but I guess the main parties are all dead now and the statute of limitations must surely have run out. So here goes, let me first set the scene because it’s important.
Every year on St Patrick’s Day, my mam and dad would bring us into Dublin city centre to watch the grand parade. It was a spectacular event for us, full of glamour and noise with marching bands coming all the way from places like Chicago and New York, just to participate in our capital’s parade on our special day. We all loved it. The day always began with mass. The girls wore green dresses with green ribbons in their hair and all the adults wore shamrock pinned to their collars.
It was still the middle of lent, so while everyone back then gave up something for lent, I would estimate that 99% of the kids had forsaken sweets for the fasting period and the great thing about March 17, was that we were always allowed a special dispensation so we could crap out.
For the most part the streets were heaving with crowds, so it was always difficult to get a good spot near the front to see the parade. 1971 was different. To this day and I still don’t know how, my old man wangled his way into one of the buildings along the route. It was on Westmoreland Street which for those who don’t know Dublin well, is essentially the street that extends from the main street in Dublin called O’Connell Street, so it was right beside the action. Many business owners along the route, allowed their employees to bring their children in to watch from the upper floor windows. From there they had the best vantage point for the parade. What was different about this particular building was that it was a bank and my father had no connection to it. An insider, who shall remain nameless, agreed to let my dad bring his family in to watch from the first floor window.
Now my dad was a bit of a chancer. If you told him your car brakes were dodgy, he could convince you that he was a mechanic and fix them for you, even if he didn’t have a clue. I’ve seen the man talk his way in and out of more peculiar circumstances than I care to remember. With that in mind, I shouldn’t have been surprised that he talked his way into the bank. In fairness it wouldn’t happen today I’m sure but they were different times. Still – he was good. What happened later is the shocker.
My younger sister had just been born a month earlier, so my mother was staying at home with her that year. As a result it was just my dad, my sister, my brother and little old me tagging along to the parade that day. It was a glorious day, absolutely perfect parade-day weather so I should have been delighted. I wasn’t. I never got to see the parade. Mam came to my room when I didn’t get out of bed and discovered the pool of puke lying on the floor beside my bed. She felt my head, cleaned my little face and kissed me, telling me I’d be alright. Mams work at a special speed when their little ones are not feeling well. She cleaned up the mess, freshened my bed clothes and changed my Pyjamas, before tucking me back into bed and making me drink some water. She told my father that I couldn’t go to the parade as I was ill, so off he headed with my siblings, leaving me with my baby sister and my mam.
Having a baby in the house made things difficult for Mam, so she brought me downstairs and tucked me up on the sofa with blankets and pillows and offered me some toys to play with. It was easier to have both precious babies in the one room. I told her I was too sick to play and closed my little brown eyes. As I lay there with Mam fluffing about me like only the mother of a poor sick child does, my father was walking through the doors of the bank on Westmoreland Street holding the hands of my sister and my brother with a broad grin on his face. No doubt the bank employee was nervous about his indiscretion, maybe my father had something over him, who knows, but I always imagine he would have been sweaty and nervous when I picture him in my mind’s eye.
Back home I refused to eat until near midday. My throat was sore. Mam had made green jelly for the day that was in it and although it was supposed to be for after dinner, what better for a poor, sick little boy who couldn’t eat, than a bowl of green festive jelly and cool, soothing ice-cream. It was magical. While my father stood a step back from the small gathering, waving at the noisy parade below from the first floor bank window, I am confident that none of them paid the slightest bit of attention to the smiling family man with his two happy kids in tow. Now here is how the greatest con ever was pulled with I might add, the most valuable return ever!
My sister was fresh to the world, usurping my seven years of baby status in our house. I needed at least a week off school to pull some of that special ‘Mam’s favorite’ feeling back. Mam, had sick-ray vision so she would see straight through a fake illness, unless I could do something so outrageous that she’d have to believe me. I brought a spoon to bed and on St Patrick’s Day morning used it to gag and make myself puke. I hate puking more than anything else so this was an extreme length for me to go to. My mother knew I would rather explode than puke so it was the ideal ploy. The day was so perfect, a balcony view of the parade on a sunny day, there was no way I’d want to miss it, but I did. Combine this monumental self-denial with my reluctant vomiting and my Mam’s sick-ray vision was rendered useless. I simply had to be very sick indeed to puke and miss the parade. Being sick on St Patrick’s Day and not just a normal one, but one where I would have got the best view ever, meant only one thing. Poor little mite had to be very ill. I would be kept home from school for at least a few days.
Oh yes, while my dad basked in the glory of his achievement in getting a key viewing spot for his kids and while my siblings reveled in the view, I got to get back that special feeling that came with being the baby of the house. Sure my sister was still going to be there, that I couldn’t do anything about, but for those few hours and days that followed, I pretty much had Mam all to myself again, and that was priceless. At seven years of age, I had just fooled the greatest expert in the world and secured the most valuable haul of love and cuddles ever. Oh yes… I was a truly talented tiny baby-faced grifter. I had conned the best in flamboyant style for the best prize ever. Mam.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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