REMEMBERING SLAINE AT SAMHAIN
A story for Halloween.
A Scottish fan reminded me of one of his favourite scenes in Sláine. It’s also one of mine, which is why I endlessly repeat it in my stories.
The original version was beautifully drawn by Glenn Fabry and shows Sláine looking longingly after his son Kai, who he’s lost forever.
The fan’s reminder came, appropriately, at Samhain – the Holiday of the Dead – when the veil between the Living and Dead is drawn back. At this time we are united briefly with old friends and loved ones who have gone on before us.
So as the veil was duly removed and I looked into the Celtic Mists of Time, I remembered a close Irish ‘friend’ of my family from when I was a young boy.
A friend who was regularly under the influence of the now infamous ‘Bucky’ tonic wine, made by the Benedictine monks.
The assumption today is, probably, that over-indulgence in Buckfast tonic wine, is a new social problem, particularly in urban Scotland. But that is not the case. The Irish version of Bucky (in a different bottle and a different colour) was/is particularly popular with the Irish urban working class. My friend, who regularly imbibed Bucky, came from a particularly tough part of Dublin.
And, as I look back through those Mists, I recall that Bucky was the trigger for some of his more colourful and Sláine-like behaviour.
I remember he was regularly drunk, causing consternation from the neighbors, so it was decided not to answer the door to him. In impatient response, he opened our front door with his shoulder and we had to buy a new door. But he was not violent to women, only our doors and walls, which I know seems unlikely but that’s my clear recollection. In fact, he liked to pick fights with those who challenged our family’s honour and reputation. His heart was always in the right place, as far as I was concerned, he could do no wrong, and I saw him as a Hero.
Because I saw myself as Kai to his Sláine. Although he was not the only contender for that paternal role.
I remember he was a tram conductor (after he was sacked from British Rail for fighting). I can see him now play-fighting another conductor with those 10-foot-long wooden poles they used to switch the tram lines. He was like a warrior out of Braveheart charging his rival with his lance in riotous horseplay.
He had many weaknesses, such as ‘living out of the bag’. Tram conductors would spend the fares they collected and pay it back at the end of the week when they got paid. But I conveniently hived off his bad side, which became personified as Ukko. The bad stuff my Hero did was always down to that scheming evil dwarf. ‘Ukko’ was responsible for all the ‘get rich quick schemes’, the borrowing money, the false promises, the blarney that never came to anything. But never, ever my Hero. No wonder Ukko needed regular beatings.
My most abiding memory of my Sláine is at Halloween. We had gone round to his family for Halloween games and he introduced me to the fun of apple bobbing – the apples float in a tin bath and you have to try and pick them out with your teeth. He was hilarious. He was the life and soul of the party. I wished, like Kai, I could have always spent Halloween with him.
And Bucky seems to have played an important role in his life, just as mead did with Sláine. So I looked it up today and, of course, it says it’s ‘wreck the hoose juice’ in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.
Well, it certainly wrecked our front door. The online articles went on to state that the Irish version of Bucky is actually more lethal because it has more caffeine. Regular Bucky in Scotland has the equivalent of six cans of Red Bull. Irish Bucky has the equivalent of fourteen cans of Red Bull. FFS!
Now I’d have thought the Irish south of the border, under the influence of their superior version of Bucky, would have caused more chaos than their Celtic cousins. (One article says that 40% of Scottish prisoners locked up for violent crime put it down to Bucky.)
But a search of the web shows no such results for Bucky in the Irish Republic. Are the Irish more controlled than the Scottish? What happened to the Warp Spasms? It’s disappointing and I wonder if it’s the Irish media still covering up for those abusive Benedictine monks who seem to have been even worse than the Christian brothers I was taught by.
Anyway, this Samhain memory suggests that Bucky – as popular and as lethal as ever today – played an important role in my creation of Sláine. And it’s gratifying that Catholic monks’ endeavours have helped to create a legendary pagan hero.
It’s all lost in the Celtic Mists of Time, of course, and my ‘friend’ has long gone on to Tir Nan Og, but I know what I have related is true.
We can’t get Bucky where we live, but – as the Living and the Dead are united at Samhain – I raise a glass of red (caffeine free) wine to my lost Hero.
Sláine The King by Glen Fabry ™ REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, COPYRIGHT © REBELLION PUBLISHING LTD, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Oh man, I have an alcoholic Da so never drank, but I remember Buckfast well- it was a regular for bush drinking in Limerick, and later in Art College in Dublin amongst the local students, but was pretty much disparaged in favor of Bulmers Cider in both cases. It was the tipple of last resort or for when you really wanted to get wrecked with minimum effort, because there was no guarantee how insane it could make you. Many a night of unbridled chaos could be laid at the feet of those monks.
Finding this post was a peculiar coincidence, as I was thinking of this scene just this morning. The trigger for it was one of my learners (I teach in a Scottish jail) breaking down in tears after confiding in me that he had finally been cut off from his kids. The Buckie certainly played a part in his misadventures (you see the same faces reappearing at this time of the year, it’s getting cold out there and the taxpayers keep the jails warm) but, as many of the inmates will testify, it’s the vallies on top that really do the damage.
The alcohol fires up the aggression, the caffeine keeps you upright long after you should have dropped, and a handful of Diazepam as a chaser is just the thing to switch off the rational brain entirely and run the whole staggering, twitching, roaring-for-a-fight biomass purely on reptilian fight-or-flight instinct. Again and again I get the same story: a couple bottles of Buckie and a hunner blues and you wake up in the cells covered in blood, frequently that of a close friend or spouse. It’s really the legal state-sanctioned drugs that’re doing the bulk of the social damage up here, and the descendants of the Celts fight with blades even today. I fear your Sláine has devolved into a self-consuming Avaggdu.
He blames the social workers, of course. I didn’t have a copy of Slaine The King at hand to cheer him up but there is an old Titan reprint of the first Ro-Busters stories.
Thanks for your comment, it shows the grim reality I survived as a kid is still there today. It sounds like it’s worse today, but actually I think nothing has really changed, just the drugs of choice. So I think it would be part of Halloween’s magic to send you a copy of Slaine The King for for use in jail (I just happen to have a spare of that particular title). Drop me your address at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get it in the post to you.