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American Dad

If you came here hoping to stroke, please move along. There’s nothing to see here, folks. It’s just a story.

*****

Up and down these past few days. Up and down. It’s always difficult trying to find the right house, a house in which you can feel at home. Especially when you are in another country, and a country that is so near geographically and yet so far away. An emerald isle across an emerald sea – even if the sea in question is more often a leaden grey colour.

So many promises; so many disappointments. One minute you’re up. Up, up, and almost away. The next you are down. As your countrymen might say, it’s an up and down world to be sure, to be sure, Seamus.

It puts one in the mind the Grand Old Duke of York. He of the ten thousand men. Marching them up to the top of the hill, and marching them down again. Before your time, of course, Seamus. Before my time, too, for that matter.

And when they were only halfway up,

They were neither up nor down.

Stairs, Seamus. This stately pile is not short of stairs, is it? The grand staircase in the centre and two more besides. A few too many stairs perhaps? O, great for making an entrance. Descending from above, like a fierce angel, to the astonishment and admiration of the elegantly-attired guests gathered in the hall below. But what about the servants? Up and down, up and down, with trays of breakfast and pails of bathwater. Daily with the bacon, and the eggs, and the griddled kidneys, and the slices of hot buttered toast, and the pots of Irish breakfast tea. Weekly with the pails of bathwater. Perhaps a little less frequently during the winter months.

To be fair to the agent, he did say that the plumbing might benefit from being updated. ‘A few new pipes and taps and other bits and pieces. Perhaps a new bathroom suite or two.’ Pension off the pails. Take a load off Annie. Or was it Fanny? We should have asked Robbie and Levon when we had the chance, Seamus.

Now that I come to think about it, you might make a fine estate agent yourself. Talking up the benefits, pointing out the period features. Glossing over the rising damp and the dry rot. ‘Nothing that a good man and his boy couldn’t put right in a day or three, sir.’ Arf, arf. Wagging your tail with bright-eyed enthusiasm. Slobbering over the black letter agreements for sale and purchase. Earning you a generous commission. You should think about it, Seamus. You should consider it. It could be a great opportunity.

From beyond the open door, the sound of black rubber tyres crunching on the loose red gravel. Eleven-thirty. On the dot. Well, more or less. And I do like a woman who comes when she promises to come.

Seamus looking to me for a clue. Friend or foe? Friend, Seamus. Most of the time anyway. Odd moments of misunderstanding of course. Differences of opinion. But debate can be healthy – even within the bounds of the matrimonial relationship.

Amanda now standing beside the open car door, poised as if for a quick getaway, scanning the broad full-frontal aspect of McCartney Hall, her mouth slightly open as though she is about to say something. And then she does: ‘Geez, Gerald! God almighty! What were you thinking? You dragged me all the way out here for this?’

‘Welcome, my love. Welcome to McCartney Hall. Does it not possess one of the finest facades you have ever had the honour to behold?’

‘It’s … it’s … a goddamned monstrosity.’

‘Monster monster. Of generous proportions? Yes. Granted. But very realistically priced. A snip, one might say. On a per square basis, probably the most cost-effective country residence within 50 clicks of downtown Dublin. On a good day with a fair breeze you could be swanning it at Temple Bar within the hour.’

‘It looks like something out of a bad horror movie. And what’s that black beast doing there?’

‘Black beast? Oh, Seamus. He seems to have adopted me.’

Amanda harrumphing. ‘Seamus? How do you know his name’s Seamus?’

‘Members of the Canis lupus familiaris family and I seem to enjoy a certain rapport. Or perhaps it was just a lucky guess? Anyway, come and have a look inside.’

‘I don’t like the way he’s looking at me.’

‘Nothing to worry about. Just doing his duty.’

‘He looks dangerous.’

‘Just protecting me from unruly intruders with evil intention in their hearts, my love. Not that you are an unruly intruder of course. But he’ll be worth his weight in gold when the cook or the under footman starts eyeing up the family silver.’

Amanda mounting the steps, cautiously approaching the great panelled door, giving Seamus a wide berth. I do hope that she can see past the fallen leaves and the peeling wallpaper and the flaking paint. Purely matters of a cosmetic nature. The structure is basically sound. Basically. In its day, this would have been a very fine house. A very fine house indeed. In its day. And it will be again. Mark my words, Seamus.

‘God, Gerald, this place is filthy.’

‘I do concede that it would look better with a bit of a tidy up. We’ll have İstanbul Escort to get a woman in. With a dust pan and brush. But tell me, Amanda, wouldn’t this be a grand spot on which to greet your guests? Here at the top of these fine steps. A white-gloved butler standing by. An eager footman ready to take their Louis Vuitton travelling trunks up to their rooms in the west wing.’

Amanda snorting, frowning, tentatively stepping into the great marble-floored hall. And then a sudden look of alarm. ‘What’s that rustling? Don’t tell me that there are rats. There are, aren’t there?’

‘No, no. No rats, no bats, no Micky mice. No Proddy mice either, for that matter. No, the property is guaranteed 100 percent rodent free. I have Seamus’s word on the matter.’

A low confirmatory growl from Seamus. A slit-eyed look of disbelief from Amanda.

‘I expect that what you can hear, my love, is just the soft rustle of leaves gently brushing the windowpanes. The soil hereabouts enjoys a remarkable fecundity. Legendary it is. Just look at the green, green grass of the fields over yonder. Consequently, the garden would probably benefit from a little trim, a little tidy up around the edges. Nothing that a good man and a boy couldn’t complete in a day or three. Or so I am reliably informed.’

‘And what’s that smell?’

‘That smell?’ Yes. Now that Amanda points it out, I have to admit that there is a faint whiff in the air. ‘I expect what you can smell is history, my love.’

‘History?’

‘Yes. History. The unmistakable essence of 200 years of human habitation. The very antithesis of freshly-sawn timber and wet plaster and the harsh aroma of modern plasticised decorative coatings.’

‘Smells like something has died.’

‘Umm … well, yes, that too is a possibility. Two hundred years is quite a long time. There must have been a McCartney or two who passed on. Popped their clogs. Cashed in their chips. Went for a Burton. Toddled off to audition for the choir invisible.’

Please don’t be difficult, Amanda. And please stop focussing on the negatives. Yes, there are a few things that need attention. That’s what you get with a house that was built almost 200 years before you were. But that doesn’t make it a bad house. Why can’t you just focus on the exquisite proportions, the impeccable Georgian sensibility, the grandeur, the heritage, the dead rat in the corner? No, on second thoughts, do not focus on the dead rat in the corner. And, if it does happen to catch your eye, please note that it is not alive. It is dead. Very dead. And probably has been for quite some time. Even Seamus is showing no interest in it.

‘Come and look at the library, my dear. I can just picture you and me in here after a good dinner. A fire in the grate; a snifter in one hand; a good book in the other. Perhaps a little chamber music playing in the background.’

Amanda, still with a slight frown, looking about the many-shelved room. ‘It’s very dark. Very … gloomy.’

‘Ah. Yes. Well that’s because the shutters are shuttered. Protection against the late afternoon sun. Can’t be too careful at these latitudes. Wouldn’t want our collection of fine books getting sunburned, would we?’

‘Collection of fine books! A couple of dozen smutty paperbacks …’ Amanda counting out on her elegant fingers: ‘Lady Chatterley, Lolita, Quiet Days in Clichy, Tropic of Cancer, The Ginger Man, etcetera, etcetera. Need I say more? Oh, and a pile of aging and well-thumbed top-shelf magazines with some of their pages glued together with what I am sure is not wallpaper paste.’

‘All classics, my dear. All classics. In this Internet age, even top shelf magazines from the ’60s and ’70s have a value far beyond anything imagined in the ’60s and ’70s. And I’m sure that, in the right environment, our collection will grow and flourish. Also, you are forgetting my leather-bound limited edition copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses. Literature of the first order.’

‘Of which you have only ever read the dirty bit at the end.’

‘Different people approach the great works in different ways, Amanda. Sometimes it’s important to know how things pan out – in order to fully appreciate the build-up, the character development, the slow unfurling of the plot. But, all said, a fine room, would you not say?’

‘It has possibilities.’

Sale, Seamus! Crank up the cash register. Kerrching! Amanda is smiling. Well, at least she has stopped frowning. And that’s something for which we should be thankful.

‘And in here, right next to the library, the dining room. Spacious. Stately. Admittedly also in need of a little paint and paper. Perhaps another day’s work for a good man and his boy. O, with all the employment opportunities we shall be creating, the local tradespeople will be building a statue to us in front of the post office. And when you bestow your patronage upon the local provedores, they will address you as Lady Amanda. “Yes, Milady. No, Milady. So nice to see you Milady. A soft day to be sure, Milady.” And a fresh-faced Escort Bayan lad will be detailed to carry your parcels out to your motor – which, in all probability, the locals will have washed and polished while you have been tending to your shopping.’

‘Oh, for goodness sake, Gerald!’ Amanda continuing her tour. ‘And is this the sitting room?’

‘It is.’

Amanda standing in the doorway, sniffing slightly. Probably noticing the damp patch in the far corner. Difficult not to notice. Wallpaper coming away from wall in elegant curls.

‘And what’s upstairs?’

‘Upstairs? But of course. Bedrooms, bedrooms, and more bedrooms – including a master bedroom fit for a duchess. But first, tell me, Amanda, is this not a magnificent staircase?’

‘Why is that dog coming with us?’

‘He lives here – in a manner of speaking. Also, I think he particularly enjoys the view from the landing – out across the fields to the ancient wood beyond. And once you see it, I’m sure that you will understand why. Nevertheless, to return to my original observation: is this not perhaps the most handsome staircase you have ever ascended? Imagine, of an early evening, descending to join your guests. A footman waiting just beyond the lowest step with a perfectly-made G and T, served in a Waterford cut-crystal glass, and proffered on a perfectly-polished tray of finest hallmarked silver.’

‘You’re mad. Stark raving mad.’

‘Just looking through the thin veneer of shabbiness and neglect to the brighter layer of possibilities that lies beneath. Had the housekeeper been a little more diligent, I’m sure that her diligence would have been reflected in the asking price. Still … that said, we must make enquiries as to whom the housekeeper was and make a mental note not to re-employ her. There! Now is that not as fine a view as you are likely to see anywhere in the county?’

Amanda, turning to look out of the tall windows and across the driveway and the fields beyond and on to the ancient wood beyond the fields, and acknowledging the perfect prospect with a not-ungraceful nod.

‘Now you can see why Seamus was so keen to come upstairs with us.’

‘He’s a dog, Gerald. A dog. Can dogs even see that far?’

‘He is a dog, yes. But a dog with the eye of John Constable.’

A stifled bark from Seamus. Actually, more of a contemptuous grunt than a bark.

‘What? Oh, yes. Sorry. No offence intended. The eye of George Mullins, perhaps. Or James Arthur O’Connor.’

‘What?’

‘James Arthur O’Connor.’

‘What are you going on about?’

‘I think that Seamus may have been slightly offended that I associated him with an English landscape painter when there have been so many fine Irish practitioners of the art.’ Amanda not really attuned to the sensibilities of Canis lupus familiaris. More of a cat person. Felis catus. Blame it on the Internet. Bloody cats everywhere these days.

‘And through here, my dear … our very own love nest. Again, it would benefit from some fresh paper and paint. A mere day’s work for a good man and his boy. And, of course, it needs a bed. Perhaps one of those beds with ornately-carved posts and a canopy. And at least a dozen pillows. But I am sure that you can see the possibilities. Just imagine waking up to this glorious view, and listening for the discreet tap on the door that announces the arrival of your breakfast.’

Further slit-eyed sceptical glances from Amanda – but at least she seems to appreciate the merits of the fine rural view. ‘I assume there is a kitchen?’ It must have been the mention of breakfast.

‘A kitchen? Indeed. The very heart of every great home. Shall I have Seamus go on ahead and tell the pots and pans to stand by for an imminent inspection?’

Yet another slit-eyed glance from Amanda. But Seamus requiring no further instruction. Padding from the room. A sharp left turn, and along the short passageway, back to the top of the stairs. A faint rhythmical clicking of his blunt claws on the marble steps as he descends.

Taking Amanda gently by the arm, guiding her from the bedroom, avoiding investigation of the adjacent bathroom. No need to cause undue stress. Nothing that can’t be sorted with a few bits and pieces – pipes, taps, a few choice examples of the ceramicist’s art. Out onto the landing. A quick glance over the bannister to confirm that the deceased rat is hidden from Amanda’s view. Pointing out original architectural features as we descend. Keeping her gaze well above the leaf-strewn floor as we turn towards the kitchen. Seamus waiting beside the large panelled door that leads to McCartney Hall’s domestic offices.

Turning the large once-polished brass doorknob, pushing open the door, catching the first faint whiff of long-ago boiled cabbage. Quickly scanning the flagstone floor for unwanted evidence of deceased members of the rattus rattus family. Happily, the coast appears to be clear.

‘On your left, the butler’s pantry. Of course, the choice of a suitable butler will be crucial. And, on your right, Eskort the chatelaine’s, umm, retreat; keys, account books, and a lockable cabinet in which to store a selection of your favourite tipples for the difficult days. And then the door to the wine cellar. And the door down to the hanging locker – for the hanging of venison and other game, that is. Not for the hanging of recalcitrant members of the kitchen staff. Capital punishment is no longer permitted within the boundaries of the estate. And then … ta da! … the kitchen itself. The very heart of the home.’

Seamus leading the way. His nose held high. Sniffing. Walking the perimeter. Stopping every few paces to sniff and peer. O, please, I beseech thee, Seamus, do not find any livestock. Or even dead stock. I think, with a little tidying, and a fresh coat of paint, this could be the kitchen of which Amanda has always dreamed. The country kitchen to end all country kitchens. An Aga to end all Agas. A feature spread in Architectural Digest. And the sudden appearance of a rat, a bat, or even a dead cat, would spoil everything at this point.

‘Hey, you know what: this is really nice.’

Please, please, please, stop sniffing, Seamus. And stand by to crank up the cash register. Amanda is making buying signals. ‘Yes, it is nice, isn’t it? Nice and spacious. Nice and … well, nice. Yes, nice and nice.’

‘Is this table included?’

‘I’m sure it can be. Or we could insist on it being removed. It would be entirely up to you, my dear.’

‘No. I want it! It’s perfect.’ Amanda running her elegant fingers across the surface of the well-worn, well-scrubbed table which, considering the state of the rest of the house, is remarkably clean. ‘No chairs. But still.’

Having patrolled the perimeters, Seamus now dropping to the floor, his front legs stretched out in front of him, his head resting on the upper part of his paws, eyebrows raised, his large brown eyes watching our every move. Thank you, Seamus. Thank you for not revealing any fly in the ointment, any rat in the corner, any bat in the belfry. I feel that we are back on the metaphorical way up. But mustn’t get too excited. When we are only halfway up, we are neither up nor down.

What would make you really love this place, Amanda? Should I rush out and find some fuel to fire up the Aga? Pop in a loaf of yeasty bread to bake? Should I get a pot of coffee started? Should I put a call in to the local butcher and have him deliver a perfectly-aged sirloin of finest prime Hereford beef or a haunch of venison?

Or – and here’s a much simpler idea – should I simply bend you over that stout table which you apparently covet, lower your drawers, and take you from behind. Board you across your shapely transom, as it were? What do you think?

‘The dog.’

‘The dog? You mean Seamus?’

‘If you say so. Why is he watching me?’

‘Mmm … well, he is a watchdog, Amanda. Watching is what watchdogs do.’

‘He makes me nervous.’

‘Our bank manager makes me nervous. And your mother makes me nervous. But then, to some extent, I suppose that they too are just doing what they are programmed to do.’

‘You do talk a lot of rubbish.’

Is now the moment to try the soft approach? A boyish smile? A casual brushing of her face with the backs of my fingers? ‘But within the rubbish, more than an element of truth would you not say?’

Amanda not saying anything. But, in saying nothing, saying everything. Pausing at the cobweb-fringed window to peer out at the kitchen garden. Box hedges in need of a trim. Weeds invading the rosemary and sage. Mint running rampant. Perhaps another day’s work for a good man and his boy. But a potential cornucopia on the doorstep, nevertheless. No more trips to Tesco. Five a day. And fresh is best. Feel my heart lifting at the very thought. Marching back up to the top of the hill. Amanda’s skirt rising with my spirits.

‘Gerald! What are you doing?’

‘Just appreciating your pulchritudinous posterior, my love.’

‘Hmmph.’

A few little kisses on the back of her neck. Generally does the trick.

‘Mmm.’

And then around the side. A little nibble of the earlobe. A breathy kiss or two in the shell-like. Even without being able to see her face, I know that Amanda will be smiling. Seamus sensing developments. Getting up from his recumbent position and trotting across the kitchen to take up a position guarding the door. Thank you, Seamus. You are indeed a fast learner. Or perhaps the table has been used before. In fact, yes, I am sure that it has been used before.

Steering Amanda by her beautiful buttocks back towards the loved and scrubbed table. Bend over, my love. Yes, just like that. Lifting her skirt; lowering her knickers; fingering her fecund valley.

‘Oh, yes.’

Oh, yes, indeed, Amanda. Almost there. Not much longer now. Quickly releasing the quick-release belt. Click. Snap. Done. Unzipping the zip. And when they were down they were down. Down, down and away. But only the external covering. Only the product of my tailor’s fine workmanship. The contents within, up, up, and well above the horizon. The slightly blue-tinged helmet-shaped head escaping from the stiffening pink fleshy confines and sniffing out the distinctive perfume of a smouldering pudendum.

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