That you are reading this probably means that you have heard of me but if not then be prepared for a roller coaster ride of adventure, action, romance, and a little bit of horror. My name is Enrique Ivan Hamish O’Brien and this is my story.
I suppose that if you are going to make any sense about where I am going and how I might have gotten there, it behoves me to tell you where I have come from. I was born in Dublin on March 16th 1930, in a small two-bed house on Sheriff Street. It was my grandfather’s house, he worked in the docks, shunting trains. My mother was in her teens still living at home at the time. She earned her money by shunting sailors at the various early houses along either side of the Liffey where she plied her trade as a barmaid. It was somewhat telling that on my birth cert the doctor had cheekily written “miscellaneous” on the section for father’s name but we had an idea who my father was. Counting back from the due date, my family surmised that I was likely conceived in the second week of June 1929. Shipping records says that there was a Hungarian freighter, A Scottish Trawler and an Argentinian Naval ship in port at that time. This was were I got my name from, taking care of all possible heritages. In addition you will find that I often refer to various traits that I must have inherited from my father, either my fiery Latin blood, Slavic stoicism, or Scottish poetic leanings. I like to think that I exhibit enough of these traits to be pretty sure that whoever my father is and wherever he came from, he would be in no doubt I was his son.
With my father long gone and mother (ahem!) occupied, it was left to my Granny and Granddad to raise me. They were still pretty young, my mother was their firstborn and they had another six children, all girls. Aunt Flora, their youngest, was only two years older than me. I just slipped into the family, became the son they never had.
There were some problems though. Being a baby boy in a house of girls amounted to a prison sentence, a years long torture session of playing dress-up and being carried around like a big baby. Hand me downs were also a bit of an issue. Once you hit the age of four, I found, wearing a dress is no longer socially acceptable in a boy. It didn’t help that Granny tried to alter them into a male cut, I just looked like I was wearing floral knickers.
My Granddad, a wise man, told me that the stranger the clothes you wear, the less likely you were to get into trouble “no man would fight a man in a dress” he told me when I complained to him. It turns out he was wrong on that front, I was well and truly pasted on several occasions. It was there that Granddad told me “If someone picks a fight with you son, You better show them that you are the craziest person they have ever met. You should go at them with everything, kick, punch, bite, make them think twice before they ever lift a hand against you again. Be too much trouble to be worth it! That’s the way to keep out of trouble.”
To say I was an enthusiastic follower of this advice would be a bit of an understatement. It must have been a hell of a sight, three and a half feet of fury, wrapped up in paisley, throwing itself, with full Latin passion, at confused and suddenly very scared older boys. It worked, maybe a little too well. Word quickly spread that I was a little scrapper that you didn’t cross, or talked to, or acknowledge on the street.
The fact that I was universally feared by my peers did mean that I was a little devoid of friendship. But I still had one or two friends. My closest and best friend growing up had to be James O’Malley, from the house at the end of the street. Jimmy’s dad worked with my Granddad so we got to know each other from delivering stuff to the docks, me in the altered dress, him in the third hand short trousers, more hole than fabric, quite the weird-looking pair we were.
We quickly found that we had very similar interests. Jimmy’s dad had ten young children to feed so he never had any spare money for Jimmy. Sometimes though, Mother had a good day with tips and she’d give me a penny or two to spend. Sometimes we would go over to Tara street and buy second-hand comics. We loved the adventures of Dan Dare, or Buck Rodgers. Other days we’d go to see the serials in the Cinema, I’d make my money last as long as possible by buying jellies and toffee over in Aungier Street before we went in.
When we didn’t have any money, which was more often. We would go and play in our secret club house, it was an old, empty warehouse along Spencer Dock. We shared it with a flock of feral pigeons, they made much more of a mess than we ever did. We had an old table with chairs and a cupboard to store our collection of old comic. Sometimes it would be the command centre of our galactic army, the next the offices of our successful big-city newspaper. When the pigeons were around, we used to use them as back drops, pretending we were explorers in the deepest jungle. It was great fun, so it was!
Jimmy had a lot of Aunts and Uncles, most of them had travelled away on the boats to England or the America as nearly everybody did those days. Some of them had done quite well and they were always sending parcels and gifts back to Jimmy’s Dad and his Granny. One time, one of them sent him the most amazing thing I had ever seen. It was called looked like a gun, like what they used in the serials, and it had a spring that you used to fire a little metal ball. We thought it was deadly.
We decided to try it out in our club house. There were some tin cans and bottles lying around so we laid them in a row and took turns to shoot at them. I’m not one to boast, but I was a considerably better shot that Jimmy. I got most of the cans and bottles that I aimed for. Jimmy on the other hand was a danger to anybody on the opposite side of the room.
I quickly got bored with shooting at stationary targets and, in the curious way that my mind works, I began to notice the pigeons sitting above us. “Here Jimmy!” I asked, “Bet I can’t hit those pigeons!”
Jimmy called the bet and I took aim. With a quiet whump! a pigeon fell, dead, from its roost, the rest seemed to not really notice and it wasn’t until after my second shot that they copped on and flapped off. Thinking myself an expert marksman by then I went and took aim for my third shot while the birds were flying past us out the windows. My shot went wide and hit one of the intact panes of glass with a satisfying crash.
I was about to say something to Jimmy when I heard a roar and shouting from outside the window, followed by knocking on the door. It turns out that some fella was walking along the road outside the warehouse and my shot made glass fall on him.
We legged it out of a side door but we forgot about all of the comics and sundries that we left there, most of them labelled with Property of Enrique O’Brien. Return to 25 Sheriff street or die.
The comics were returned but I nearly died from the hiding that my Granddad gave me. It must have been then that he came to the conclusion that having me wandering the streets could do no possible good and that it was time for me to go to school.
And that, of course, is the next part of my story.