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Patrick McCabe: Poguemahone

Just in case you do not know, the title comes from the Irish póg mo thóin which means kiss my arse. Musical aficionados will know of The Pogues who were originally called Pogue Mahone but had to change the name under pressure from the BBC. The title used here more or less sets the tone or, rather describes events. The book was published by Unbound, a crowd-funding publisher, rather than a more conventional publisher

The novel is laid out as though it is in verse, which I personally find somewhat annoying but I see his point. However, Irish poetry, which has given us many fine works, is less the inspiration than traditional Irish songs, which can be and often are raucous, colourful, lively and throw in a few Irish-language words.

The story concerns Irish brother and sister Dan and Una Fogarty. They have lived much of their adult life in England. Una is now seventy and lives in the Cliftonville Chateau Care Home in Margate, on the southern coast of England where she generally misbehaves (she has dementia). Dan still looks after her but feels the need to escape every now and then. Una shouts at the staff, lives in the past, She is a big fan of Mott the Hoople, the latest greatest rock band in the world (70s culture plays a fairly large role in this book), is critical of the English (no-good Sassenachs)and mocks the other patients. She, in turn, is nicknamed Ho Chi Minh, as she is so thin though she used to be nicknamed Fudge in her younger days, as she was so large and looked like Mama Cass.

Dan recounts their tale. Una lived in a house known as the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple, in London. she has a boyfriend, Troy McClory, a Scottish poet, who is full of himself and not, perhaps an ideal boyfriend. Anything he wanted he used to fucking get it, including Una. But he does get jealous. When she is seen to be too friendly with the improbably named Toots McGladdery, he hits her. We follow the colourful stories of the various residents. Free love, not too expensive drink and drugs, suicide, exorcism (the house is clearly haunted), drinking songs and a certain amount of violence.

Dan arrives in London and is attacked on his first day for being Irish but gives a good account of himself. Further back, Auntie Nano had a famous club in the heart of London City directly underneath the Piccadilly Line and we meet various habitués of the club, including Brendan Behan who drinks industrial quantities and behaves badly, Harold Pinter, Kim Philby, Noel Coward and Ian Fleming. Two lesser-known celebrities who drink there and play a minor role in the book are the singer Peter Sarstedt and the record producer Joe Meek who ended up killing his landlady and himself.

Dan finds digs,indeed in this very building where his mother had killed herself many years ago. His room is actually a concealed attic in 45 Brondesbury Gardens, Kilburn, above the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple, whose antics he can spy on, particularly his sister’s sexual antics with Troy. He also sees Alex Gordon the caretaker, aka Sexy Lexy Gordon who harasses the women continually and often takes sexual favours in payment of rent. Everyone seems to have a nickname. Dan’s is An Londubh (The Blackbird) as he does bird impersonations.

We follow the antics of the residents of the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple, with lots of drugs, sex and alcohol, a certain amount of violence, visits from the police, inc;uding for IRA connections, complaints by the neighbours, lots of references to 70s music, the odd death and people coming and going. There are even, allegedly, ghosts, as strange noises are heard and an exorcist is called in to help. There are various theories as to the actual cause, including ancient plumbing, birds, Dan in his hidden flat and, of course, the effect on the residents of drugs and alcohol. More than one character sees ghosts, in particular Luke Powys, who was a child in the village of Aberfan, South Wales when the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip occurred, killing many of the children in the local aschool. Luke had had flu so his mother kept him home. However, his best friend Flicka Evans was killed and Flicka reappears to him now and again. Ficka is not the only ghost to make an appearance.

We also, later in the book, go back to Dan and Una’s antecedents, which, perhaps not surprisingly, are somewhat murky, involving incest, abortion and prostitution.

By the time Una is in the care home, the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple has become a motel. Dan makes a visit on his own and then takes Una. She is surprised at how much London has changed. However, they do find her Virgin Mary medallion hidden there where it was left.

There is no doubt for the Fogartys and for some of the others, their stay in the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple was the highlight of their life. Everything after was downhill. It was not always easy for them all the time, but there was some sense of community and lots of sex’n’drugs’n’rock’n’roll. For us, it is something of a lively ride. At times, I felt it went on too long but I cannot deny that McCabe paints a very colourful picture of an era of whch the Mahavishnu Anarchist Temple is a microcosm.

Publishing history

First published in 2022 by Unbound