Monday, 7 April 2014

Irish Dave

Irish Dave was a colleague of ours at Plymouth Poly, back in the early eighties, where we all studied Psychology. 

A mature student from Ireland with a rebellious heart, an appetite for life, a thirst for good whisky and most of all, a rabid hunger for any spare recreational drugs he could get his hands on. 

I didn't know him as well as S, my great friend from those days, but our friendship grew and I was there during some of his most profound moments, sitting on the stinking carpet of his student bedsit; the khaki sofa punctuated like a leopard's coat with cavernous fag burns and shadowy piss smears; the bed always unmade, the sheets unwashed since the start of the academic year, the Whitechapel smog of countless cigarettes an ever-present accompaniment to our infinite dialogue.

At times, I remember, his flat was so toxic, my eyes became inflamed and sore within seconds of being there. We used to call for him on the way to lectures and the atmosphere was worse than the night before, Dave still sitting, reading Castenada or Laing or Kerouac, still drunk, still smiling. 

Ye is all excited about turning up for lectures, aren't ye, he'd say, grinning. Psychology's for c**ts, he'd say, and then he'd laugh.

We'd watch him start his day, not with a bowl of corn flakes or a slice of toast, but a deep glug of his bottle of Jamesons and a chunk of rubbery Moroccan black on a hot knife over the hob. Occasionally, we'd join in. Most of the time, we'd just skulk about and make our excuses. 

More for me, ye c**ts, he'd say.

Irish Dave didn't care about his degree in psychology, which he thought was for wankers, a non-subject, despite the fact he had enough intelligence about him to get a First at a proper university, not at a place (as he described it) for working class c**ts and Irish, like him - the urban polytechnic system of the seventies and eighties. 

But he turned up to lectures and tutorials just like the rest of us, in those days of five days of timetabled lectures per week, for ten weeks, full grants for working class kids and unemployment benefit through the summer. 

He never missed and no one except S, me and a few others ever sussed his chemical vices. 

Dave had this habit of laughing as if someone had told him the funniest joke ever told and yet, at the same time, not laughing at all. 

I never saw him rattled. I never saw him concerned. 

I was scared of failing assessed essays and getting kicked off the course. I know S was. I know M was. We were all young and green, but one night, as we discussed it, our ambitions, our view of psychology, I watched Irish Dave take down his jeans, remove himself from his Y fronts and piss on an assessed essay he'd spent a fortnight writing, and explain to us with his eternal grin that that was the true worth of Psychology, all the time listening to Van Morrison, (or Lou Reed, or the Pistols, bands of which he was inordinately fond).

That was impressive. I was in awe of Irish Dave. He was something special. A anti-renaissance man with a liver like molten steel. He was a modern Withnail with none of the eccentricities, ten times the working class roots, and twice the cool.

He survived the three years of the degree and, to my knowledge, he passed it. I got a 2:1 and like most of us we went in separate directions. That parting thing happens and Irish Dave told us it would happen. 

You don't think any of ye will keep in touch, do ye? He would say, grinning, his eyes dilated after a wrap of amphetamine the size of a tablespoon of coffee sweetener. Ye naive c**ts, he would say, laughing. 

Like a madman, I studied for six months on my third year project and revised for night after night on my theory, but not him. The night before the first exam, (Cognitive Psychology, three hours of black box processing, Ebbinghaus, Tulving and Rom Harre), I watched as Irish Dave dropped a tab of acid, took half a bag of prime Dartmoor magic mushrooms, and washed it all down with a bottle of Jamesons. 

I need to take it easy, he said, and sat back on the sofa as we stared at him in wonder.

I didn't stay around that night, but saw him the next day, at the exam, grinning. He was there before me. 

Ye look like you've been stressing, he said to me in the Plymouth sunlight. Ye should have had a tab with me last night and relaxed ye c**t, he said and I laughed. 

We're going back thirty years and my mind has played enough tricks on me just lately to last a lifetime, but I remember him being old even then, and skinny, as cool as f**k, a wise man, a shamen, a libertine and a cynic who raged against the dying of the light without ruining the moment with an unwelcome frown. 

I never saw Irish Dave frown. It just wasn't in him. It was all a joke. All a party.

We talked music more than anything else, his view that psychology was bunk and politics a farce, pointless in the face of Thatcher's relentless evil. (I wonder what he made of Cameron and Osborne). 

We smoked joint after joint after joint of red leb and moroccan black. The kids nowadays wipe themselves out bigtime on chemically engineered hybrid superskunk from Rotterdam and The Hague, but back then, well, it was enough, and when Irish Dave needed to spice things up a bit, the mushrooms always seemed to be there, next to the waste pipe underneath his sink - his foul wash basin, replete with deliberately unwashed plates, cups and glasses, encrusted with mould, ooze appearing from the cracks in the glaze, the stench of manufactured idleness - in a neat plastic bag, little grey beads the size of toy soldiers with creamy nippled caps. 

He never seemed to eat either. Eating never seemed to be necessary for Irish Dave.

Over time, I formed the opinion that he was indestructible, that he was a force of nature, a reincarnate, a bastard offspring of Behan, who sold his plays for a pint of Guinness and laughed as he did so, chortling drunkenly at the absurdity of what he had just done. 

At the time, I didn't know anything about literature. I still don't, but I know Irish Dave did. He lived it. He was as spectacularly intelligent as anyone I have ever met and he blew it, blew it all: Blew it all with a determined and impish smile on his face. 

Because he could do.

Irish Dave died recently. 

S got in touch with me on Facebook, the modern classified reunion ad. I've not spoken to S for twenty five years. Almost the first thing he said to me. 

Irish Dave passed away. 

I felt sad. Didn't say anything. Then I thought. 

It must have been one herculean struggle to get the better of Dave. And I bet he fought like a tiger.

RIP Irish Dave. 

In the short time I knew you, we were friends and you will be remembered.


  1. I could see him so clearly, Charlie. Beautifully written. RIP Irish Dave.

  2. A beautiful tribute. I am sorry for your loss. Prayers to the family.

  3. Lovely story. Sorry for your loss.