WELCOME back readers. And also, of course, welcome back to me.
It is almost four and a half years since I’ve typed words that went on to appear in the back pages of this paper.
In fact, the last time I did, the paper was called the Evening Echo.
I preferred that title. For me, it evoked sultry sunsets as you pored over the Don Notes with a cool glass of wine clutched in your fist. It summoned up the silhouette of a customer hunched over the latest pitch and putt report in the candlelit corner of quiet city centre bar. “The” just doesn’t have the same cachet for me.
But times move on and we must move with them, or we risk being submerged by the swirling current of progress and end up writing pretentious sentences that make no sense.
So what happened to me back in 2018, I know you are dying to ask?
Why one week was there an informative betting column Tuesday through Friday, and the next, extended coverage of Mid-Cork Junior B Football?
Rumours abounded that the pressure go to me. That providing such extensive gambling advice frayed my nerves to such an extent I was on the edge of cognitive collapse. Others, who knew me well, postulated that the Dubs’ “Drive for Five” caused a cerebral wobble. And that these external pressures caused me to invent completely outrageous and unbelievable stories about my personal life.
When in fact what happened was I woke up from a coma in Panama.
We are still trying to piece together how I ended up in Central America, but a scar on my midriff immediately rose suspicions that I was brought there by organ traffickers. My doctor, pointing to an X-Ray a few hours after I roused, showed me how my kidney-napping had been a botched job and whatever quack had operated on my tummy had mistakenly removed my appendix — which was fortunate for me as it had been on the point of rupturing.
And as almost always happens when someone is the victim of a dramatic health hijacking, I’d entirely lost my memory.
I quickly settled in Panama, became fluent in Spanish and got a job as a longshoreman on the canal, eventually getting promoted to stevedore.
One morning earlier this summer on my way to work I walked by some backpackers who looked worse for wear after a night on the town, and as I passed, one of them called out to me.
“This might seem like a strange thing to ask,” he said, in a curious accent that sounded oddly familiar, “but did you ever write for the sports pages of the Echo?”
He convinced me to buy him a beer and as we sipped our cervejas he told me I was the bulb off some fella who once wrote a betting column in far off Leeside. Except that guy had fewer chins. (This turned out to be partly down to my penchant for fajitas for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and partly down to apparently insisting on having my picture byline photoshopped from 2010 onwards).
As he talked, things came flooding back. Academy Street, the Mutton Lane. Cheltenham disasters. Lapps Quay, The Sextant. Aaron Baddeley at 100/1. Blackpool and The Groves.
And so, an Echo reader rescued me from the comfortable and tropical lifestyle I was leading and I was soon on a plane back home.
There were tears, of joy I presume, in the sports editor’s eyes as I approached his desk. But true to form, just like the old days, he pretended like he wasn’t happy to see me. The deputy sports editor was so astounded by my return he couldn’t pull his head out of his hands, so overcome by emotion he wasn’t even able to welcome me back.
My boss got straight to the point: “You can have your old job back.”
He kept talking, but I’d already zoned out, ideas for gambling glory invading my thoughts. I was back!
He was going on about indignant letters from readers in the final six months of my tenure as a tipster... lost livelihoods... court cases threatened... legally obliged to try and make up those losses... time to pull my finger out... a suspicious lack of a tan despite supposedly spending four years close to the equator.
When I zoned back in I realised he was asking me a question.
“We were thinking you might work from home?”
“Because of Covid?”
“Yes. That’s it, Covid. And we’ve been keeping the Christmas decorations on your desk and it might be a bit of hassle to move them.”
I wandered over to my old desk, picked up some tinsel, and wrapped it around my neck like a scarf.
The sports editor tapped me on the shoulder and walked me to the door.
When it closed behind me I heard a big cheer, the tension of my return released, a signal if ever there was one of how much all my colleagues had missed me.
The Department of Foreign Affairs found me a room in a Northside hotel, saying I’d be staying there until they could sort out my papers and passport, and confirm I am who I claim to be.
It is from the lobby here that I type these words on the communal computer that is most often used by other guests placing Skype calls back to relatives in Odessa.
Will I use every hour online I am allocated trying to dig out the finest sports betting advice an uninformed punter could ask for?
Of course I will, or my name isn’t El Longshot, or as they aptly Christened me in the hospital after they discovered my amnesia, Juan Beto Inigo Alonso.