No News at Throat Lake

No News at Throat Lake

by Lawrence Donegan


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671785406
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 04/01/2000
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 6.57(w) x 9.58(h) x 1.06(d)

First Chapter

Chapter One: Good-bye

In the summer of '91 a helicopter carrying the Richest Girl in the World floated across the big country sky over Creeslough. An elderly American woman with a face made taut as a snare drum by the plastic surgeon's scalpel peered through the Plexiglas windscreen of the cockpit. She then turned to her fellow passenger and, through bee-stung lips, sighed, "Why did you ever leave, Bernard? It's the most beautiful place in the world."

When one considers the life and times of this elderly woman — what she had seen and what she had done — her words could be construed as an enormous compliment for an Irish village as small and unassuming as Creeslough.

Doris Duke was given the epithet "The Richest Girl in the World" at the age of twelve when she inherited $200 million on the death of her father James "Buck" Duke, founder of the American Tobacco Company. She lived as varied, as opulent and as ridiculous a young life as would be expected of any obscenely rich brat. Every morning the schoolgirl Doris woke to a tape recording of her favorite waterfall before bathing in scented waters in a sunken, solid gold bath. She would dress, then hand her textbooks to a French governess, who would take them downstairs and hand them to the footman, who would give them to the butler, who in turn passed them to the chauffeur. Meanwhile, their young employer undertook the arduous task of choosing which of her eight limousines would carry her to school that day. Two private detectives were detailed to follow her to the classroom and wait outside until her lessons were over.

The young Doris eschewed the traditional childhood pleasures of dolls' houses and scrapbooks. Occasionally, she would pick up the phone and hire a circus for the evening. As you do. She liked to tinker on the piano or converse in French with her governess in order to infuriate a monolingual mother she had grown to loathe. She played the stock market with a gambler's relish that would have made Michael Milken blanch. Alas, in 1929 financial disaster struck with the Wall Street Crash, and Doris was down to her last $150 million.

Somehow she struggled on. Her young adult life was blighted by her constant fretting over the way she looked. She was not, it must be said, a beauty. After a long and fruitless search for the man of her dreams, she married an amateur boxer called Jimmy Cromwell. As a pugilist Jimmy would have lost on points to John Inman but as a gold digger he was in the Sonny Liston class. On their wedding night he carried the blushing bride to the marital bed, where his first thoughts were not sexual but financial. He asked Doris what his annual income paid from her trust fund might be. She locked him out of the honeymoon suite for starters and gave him his final answer in the divorce court a couple of years later: nothing.

Thereafter, according to her army of biographers, Doris Duke embarked on five decades of profligacy, baroque sex and quasi-mysticism. She had a series of love affairs, most famously with Errol Flynn, a Hawaiian swimming champion and a Paraguayan playboy called Porfirio Rubirosa who was afflicted — if that's the right word — with a medical condition that left him with a permanent erection.

For reasons that can only be guessed at she was particularly taken with the Paraguayan. She showered him with intimate lover's gifts, like his own B-25 bomber. But not even Porfirio and his amazing magic wand could make Doris truly happy. In her later years she grew increasingly depressed. She sought solace in the dubious attractions of alternative medicine and vaudeville spiritualists. When not being injected with her daily dose of life-elongating sheep's placenta, she would be encased in her personal magnetic rejuvenation chamber. If not having a nose job she would be huddled in a corner with Madame ZaZa and her crystal ball trying to contact the spirit of her prematurely born daughter, Arden, who'd survived only twenty-four hours.

When Doris was doing none of these things, she tended her money with the inconsistency becoming of a true eccentric. She thought nothing of lending Imelda Marcos $5 million to post bail and restock her shoe closet, yet long-serving and trusted members of her staff received jars of jam for Christmas. It was said that any servant who dropped a glass or a piece of crockery would find its replacement cost deducted from their wage slip at the end of the month.

Such parsimony might have explained why at the time of her death in 1993 Doris Duke had an array of palatial homes from Manhattan to Hawaii, her own private police force, a Boeing 737 and a bank account that clocked in just short of $1.5 billion.

There was just one person exempt from the tyrannical, paranoid grip exerted on her household by Doris Duke in these final years and his name was Bernard Lafferty, her homosexual, ponytailed, barefoot Irish butler. It was he who was sitting beside her as she flew over Creeslough on that balmy summer's afternoon.

Lafferty had left the village below twenty years before and never looked back. He didn't exactly dislike the place where he grew up but it was nowhere near big enough to satisfy an imagination filled with youthful dreams of becoming famous. From Ireland, he went to Scotland and from there to Philadelphia. He worked in hotels, casinos and as personal assistant to the lounge singer Peggy Lee. He was the perfect servant, ever attentive, the very soul of discretion and feminine kindliness. He was also an excellent embroiderer. Doris Duke took him on at $500 a week plus room and board.

Before long, she came to trust her butler more than anyone else on earth. It was he who repaired her favorite ballgowns, he who knew exactly what temperature a melon should be before his mistress would eat it. It was Bernard Lafferty, dressed in his favorite gold lamé Armani jacket, who escorted Doris Duke to fashionable charity events in Los Angeles and New York. And it was he who, for old times' sake, brought her back to the Donegal village where he spent his childhood.

There is little doubt that the American billionairess and the Irish butler came to regard each other as mother and son, with all the love, joy and, let's be candid, petty disagreements that the filial relationship entails. Both are now dead, so it is with the utmost confidence, not to mention libel immunity, that I repeat here the words uttered, apocryphally, by Bernard Lafferty when the Richest Girl in the World described this tiny corner of Ireland as the most beautiful place in the world.

"Miss Duke," he said, I think it might be time for your medicine."

I did, I confess, make a silent nod of agreement toward the memory of Bernard Lafferty as I drove past the white fáilte road sign that greets every new arrival to Creeslough. Nightfall had draped the village in a thick black curtain, illuminated only by the muted glow of half a dozen streetlights. A storm was blowing out of the north, buffeting my car and throwing forth white globules of rain that threatened to smash the windscreen. I felt momentarily depressed, as if I had just driven into the end of the world. It had been that kind of day.

If you ask me, there are two great benefits to being as rich as Doris Duke. Like her, you can disregard the mores of polite society and indulge your every whim, be it a well-endowed Paraguayan gentleman or an addiction to LSD and enemas. The second attraction of enormous wealth is that you need never ever experience the economic necessity that requires you to travel second class on a ferry across the Irish Sea in the company of the No. 1 Loyal Limavady Rangers Supporters' Club.

Alcohol has never been a stranger in my life. The only enticement for going to church when I was young was the thought that I might get the chance to see Father McCallum's enormous, strawberry-textured nose explode. "He's got a very bad flu," my grandmother said, when I asked about our parish priest's extraordinary facial appendage. I may have been young but I wasn't stupid. When I replied that he must have had the flu for the last four years she would shoo me away with the instruction, "Say three Hail Marys for our dear Father's soul."

The sad truth was that Father McCallum's liver, not his soul, required the Hail Marys and that three hundred, never mind three, would be nowhere near enough for salvation. As fast as Famous Grouse could make the stuff, our old priest could guzzle it. Yet even he would have blanched at the amount of alcohol consumed by the Rangers fans as the ferry made its unsteady passage from Stranraer to Belfast.

Bad weather had delayed our sailing. My fellow passengers were delighted. It increased their onshore drinking time. They were blind drunk when the ship edged out of port. And when we left the shelter of Loch Ryan for the open sea thirty minutes later, they were' already on their fourteenth rendition of "We'll Guard Old Derry's Walls." By the time we reached Belfast harbor it was clear to all those on board who were still sober (me, the barmaid and the coach driver) that Derry's walls would have to look after themselves for the time being.

Belfast gleamed invitingly in the twilight rain. I resisted the temptation to explore and joined the rush-hour traffic on the motorway heading west. Housing estates quickly gave way to an unremarkable rural landscape. An uneventful journey was punctuated by a cheerless shuffle of one-street towns.

Eventually, I reached Derry and its unguarded walls. I drove over the Foyle Bridge, joined the city bypass and pressed on through the unmanned, unmarked border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Only when the road signs became frankly surreal did it dawn on me that I was in another country. I was certain the Republic of Ireland had many attributes but on first impressions it was obvious that motorists were spectacularly ill-served by the nation's road signs. As I drove toward the cathedral town of Letterkenny it was progressively thirty-five, fourteen, seven and eleven miles away.

Creeslough, my final destination, was just a further half-hour drive away. Or, as the government's roads department would have it, fifty-seven miles due northwest.

I had been to the village before, on holiday with my girlfriend. Her father was a Creeslough man. We stayed for three weeks in a farm worker's cottage that had been passed down through generations of her family. We had a wonderful time. It hardly mattered that the cottage was a dank and dark monument to bad taste and the Irish winter. It was summer. We spent most of our days on the beach and most of our nights gazing at the stars and the moon.

"Come on, let's make ourselves a new life here in Donegal," I said, one balmy night. "It'll be like starring in The Quiet Man."

"You're drunk," she replied, seductively. "Shall we go to bed?"

I was smitten. This was the kind of love that happens perhaps once in a lifetime.

But Donegal does that to you, with its vast stretches of wild, unspoiled beauty (commemorated so touchingly in a local song, "Donegal, pride of all, miles and miles of sweet fuck all") and a pace of life that makes the slow rhythm of southern European summers seem manic in comparison.

I returned to Creeslough again and again. Each time I went back, the idea of making a new life there grew a little bigger and kicked a little harder.

I began to accumulate a list of reasons why I should move there. I was Irish — at least, several generations ago I was. It was a back-to-my-roots thing. London was filthy, crowded, expensive. Above all, it was inhospitable. I had lived in the same groundfloor flat for eight years and I had still to pass a civil word with anyone in the street. This wasn't healthy. Not even the friendly neighborhood busker — "Here's a song from my latest album, Van Morrison's Greatest Hits. I bought it this morning" — could convince me that living next door to the tube station with the worst record in Western Europe for muggings, assault and rape was a terrific idea. Even if I managed to evade the queue of villains waiting to relieve me of MY wallet in the morning, I still had to endure a fifty-minute train journey of unremitting discomfort, my nose pressed against the forehead of a complete stranger.

My job was another problem. I worked as a journalist in the London office of the Guardian newspaper. I liked to think that I could turn out a decent story every now and then, when I wasn't picking fluff balls from my belly button or gazing wistfully in the direction of the female librarians. But I was never going to be the editor. What's more, I never wanted to be the editor. It would have meant employing people like me.

Even when I was transferred to Glasgow — a city where I'd spent ten happy years of my life — I had little difficulty in finding compelling reasons for moving to Creeslough. I spent much of the time diving into shops and alleyways, trying to avoid old girlfriends, old enemies and people I'd borrowed money from in 1988.

One day I had lunch with an old and dear friend, who had become something big in political lobbying or some such nonsense. He was wearing a loud, expensive suit but even that was drowned out by the noise of his ambition.

"There are four types of client," he told me, leaving aside his radicchio and toasted pine nut salad while he mapped out his inevitable ascent to world domination. "Those who know who you are but don't know why they need you, those who don't know who you are but know why they need you, those who know who you are and know why they need you and those who don't know who you are and don't know why they need you."

The depressing thing is: when he finished this little soliloquy he looked deeply pleased with himself, like someone who sincerely believed he had just been speaking in English. My mind was made up. I knew then I had to escape this madness.

It was against this backdrop of fanciful dreams and deepening misery — Walter Mitty sings the Leonard Cohen songbook — that I did the unthinkable. I resigned from my job and made plans for the future. I was moving to Creeslough. My company car went back. I paid a visit to a backstreet dealer called Gary, who sold me a 1983 Nissan that had clearly enjoyed a long, chaotic life on the stock-car racing circuit. I settled all my outstanding bills and allocated what time I had left before leaving to bidding a fond farewell to those people who were proud to describe me as a really close friend (two minutes each, six minutes in total) and packing my bags (eleven days).

Isn't it amazing how much stuff you collect as you progress through life? I spent hours rummaging through a sea of junk. Occasionally, I would resurface with a Duran Duran T-shirt (among countless fashion atrocities) in my hand and the anguished cry, did I spend good money on this? I opened one cupboard door and out leapt a mauve velvet jacket, a pair of tartan bondage trousers and the three well-fingered copies of Readers' Wives magazine, which had nursed me through those difficult teenage years when lank hair and a lank personality made me so unattractive to the opposite sex.

I couldn't take all of it, of course. I decided to limit myself to five of each of those items I considered essential for modern life. To add a little excitement to the whole exercise I pretended I was a guest on Desert Island Discs. "Well, Sue, I've chosen five pairs of boxer shorts rather than the usual bog standard Y-fronts. I find that, on a hot summer's day, Y-fronts make your balls sweat like two Sumo wrestlers in a sauna..."

Gradually, the car filled up. Five pairs of jeans (Lee, of course), five shirts, five pairs of boxer shorts, five computer games (Wipeout 2097, Sonic, Street Fighter 11, Football Manager, Mortal Kombat), five T-shirts, five golf clubs (driver, three-iron, seven-iron, sand-wedge and putter), and so on.

I had a lot of stuff but nothing that automatically commanded a leading role in the film of my new life — no wife, no kids, no Meg Ryan character from When Harry Met Sally (one of my five videos, if I'd been taking a videorecorder) offering platonic friendship and the promise of a romantic ending. It was surprisingly simple, really, except for the soundtrack.

I had fifteen hundred records, all carefully indexed and stacked in alphabetical order. Like Rob Fleming in High Fidelity (one of my five chosen books, naturally, along with The Catcher in the Rye, Independence Day, The Lost Continent and Trainspotting), my record collection was my autobiography — from the schoolboy error of Clive Dunn's "Grandad" to the desperate attempt to hang on to my youth that was Nu-Clear Sounds by Ash.

After four days I got it down to five singles — "Overnight Sensation" by the Raspberries, "A Girl Like You" by Edwyn Collins, "Superstition" by Stevie Wonder, "Good Vibrations" by the Beach Boys, "William It Was Really Nothing" by the Smiths — and five albums: the Velvet Underground banana album, the first Stone Roses LP, Stranded by Roxy Music, Nevermind by Nirvana and Dylan's Blonde on Blonde. On the fifth day, I decided to take all 1,500 records except Clive Dunn and Duran Duran.

I took a lease on the holiday cottage and made a deal with my I-can't-believe-you're-doing-this-but-I'm-calm-about-it-because-it's-just-a-stupid-phase-you're-going-through girlfriend. I would leave for Ireland. She would remain at home. Hopefully, I would manage to upgrade the cottage from the hovel of our holiday memories and find a way of earning a living that would keep two adults above the United Nations' designated poverty line. I was optimistic. I'd already heard a little whisper that there might be some work on offer from a friend of a friend. Or was it the friend's second cousin? Anyway, his name was Johnny and he had a farm. I knew it was an uncertain future, I knew that I would occasionally be lonely. We agreed I would come home the moment it became obvious I had made a rash and terrible mistake.

I arose the next morning, ate a hearty breakfast and found a space under the driver's seat for Clive Dunn and Duran Duran (well, I didn't want to break up a collection). I spent an hour making a final tour of the neighborhood until it was time to go. Accompanied by my stern-faced girlfriend, I walked out of my front door for the last time.

Needless to say, it was a touching farewell. Anyone of a sensitive disposition, or who cried at the scene in Sleepless in Seattle when Tom Hanks put his arms round his son and confessed to American radio listeners how much he missed his dead wife, may well want to skip on to the next chapter.

"Good-bye," I said, snatching one last tender kiss. Our fingers remained entwined for a few more seconds. I broke away. "I love you."

"Good-bye, honey," she replied sadly, though in truth she seemed strangely dry-eyed for such an emotional moment. I climbed into the car, pulled the door shut and drove slowly down the street. As I did, I turned round for one last lingering look and that was when I swear I heard her shout, "See you next week, you poor, deluded fool."

Copyright © 2000 by Lawrence Donegan

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No News at Throat Lake 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed the hilarious 'No News at Throat Lake' and recommend this title to anyone who has ever looked at photos in a magazine of an adorable little village and thought, 'Gee, I wish I could live there.' Think again. Donegan did exactly that, leaving his big city job behind and settling down in a moldering cottage in the Irish countryside for all of us armchair travelers to gawk at. Donegan's naked honesty is refreshing and hilarious. He's a man who isn't afraid to make a fool of himself for our entertainment (or join a Gaelic football team for that matter) and I really appreciate every beating he took and rat he had to exterminate. 'No News' is a book written from the heart and a real gem among the shelves of bland travel essays out there. Kelly Reno - Author of Misadventures & Merfolk.