Edwardian Bloomsday Banter in Neary’s

11 Jun

cropped-dfw-dd-lide-cover-small2There is something reassuring about a visit to Neary’s. Things don’t change. You are greeted at the entrance by two strong metal arms, each of which holds a big conical lamp to guide you in. Inside, spherical glass lampshades, the size of footballs, sit on great brass stands which grow from the bar. Due to its familiarity, all this seems quite normal but it is far more special than that. A friendly but reserved greeting can be expected from the barmen, smartly adorned in their famous livery of black bow tie and white shirt.

A line of small round tables accompany a continuous couch along the wall which faces the bar of this beautifully appointed rectangular room. I was fortunate to find a vacant table and was relaxed the moment I took my place on the couch. To my left were a group of retail workers resting after a hard day’s selling. To my right were three intellectual types. The looked like real or aspiring Trinity College professors, much like Michael Caine in the film Educating Rita. Perhaps Rita was sitting to my left? This I shall never know.

The professors were aged between 30 and 45 years. One had a beard, a heavy tweed jacket and green corduroy trousers. The second wore thick, black-rimmed glasses and a white, woolly Aran jumper, whereas the third was quite bald and smoked a pipe. They engaged in a giddy Edwardian-style conversation which became more pronounced during the process of procuring each round of drinks. The general banter went as follows:-

(1)The offer:-

‘Could I interest you in a further libation?’

‘Could you make a hole in another pint?’

The acceptance:-

‘Can a duck swim?’

‘Can a bird fly on one wing?’

(2)The order:-

‘James, give us another dose of that.’

‘Whatever he’s having and none for yourself.’

(3)The delivery:-

‘Now take this in your right hand and say after me.’

‘Imbibe one of these every 30 minutes and the itching should subside.’

(4)The acknowledgement:-

‘The blessing of God, Mary and Patrick on you.’

‘Tanks awfully muchly.’

‘To those like us.’

‘That one’s mine, as the devil said to the dead policeman.’

‘More power to your elbow.’

(5) Followed by general small talk:-

‘It’s the greatest country in Ireland.’

‘Who made those allegations?’

‘I am the alligator.’

‘The oldest woman in Dublin is still alive!’

‘I beg your parsnips.’

‘And there was him and him gone.’

(This is an edited extract from my book – London Irish Dublin English)    

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Free speech and a look-alike Bono clash in Grogan’s Pub

29 Mar

Grogan’s Castle Lounge is located on South William Street. This is not a wide street but from its pavement grand stonework steps lead up to the magnificent eighteenth-century Powerscourt House. A few yards further down this street, on the other side of it, stands Grogan’s.

It was Saturday evening at around 6pm when I entered this fine establishment. This was twilight time – the crossover between the business of the day and the night. The space was shared by shoppers and regular drinkers. The shoppers were rewarding themselves after a hard day’s procurement. Many were single, professional-looking females aged between 35 and 65 years. These people were confident and not to be messed with. They sat, cross-legged, at small tables, with their backs to the wall and facing the bar. They drank gin and tonic or a glass of wine. A few eccentrics drank Guinness. Some smoked a cigarette. Others read The Irish Times or a book. Branded shopping bags rested neatly against their legs for both security and economy of space. The regulars sat or stood at the bar. They were old and young, intellectual and artisan, a very mixed bag. The inner sanctum comprised a loose group of eight to ten individuals, mostly male, located at the far end of the back, inner bar. They could all have been members of the Dubliners band – shaggy beards, woolly jumpers, some flat caps, a few thick, black-rimmed glasses and a couple smoking pipes. They were either finishing off a Saturday afternoon session or starting out on an evening routine. These two powerful groups, the regulars and the shoppers, seemed to co-exist very comfortably, with an air of mutual respect.

I edged my way to the bar and managed to purloin a small part of it on which to put my elbow. The shoppers had taken all the seats by the wall. There were a couple of larger tables by the window but these were taken by students and tourists who were determined to maintain exclusive possession of their valuable space. Paintings hung on the wall behind the row of seated single ladies. Each had a price tag attached to it. When a painting was sold it was replaced by another. During the summer season many tourists probably woke the next morning wondering why they had made such a purchase.

My attention was drawn to a young man who looked just like Bono. Short in stature with brushed-back hair and black wraparound sunglasses, he was clearly working hard to look cool. He passed by and went through to the inner bar. Only a minute had passed when he returned with a bunch of newspapers under his arm. The publication was The Socialist Worker. He walked around the bar repeatedly saying: ‘Buy The Socialist Worker – smash the boss class.’ No sales were made. He had just about completed his lap when he came to a small table at which two male drinkers sat. They looked like experienced session musicians, with lean, worn faces, aged 45 to 50 years, casually dressed in jeans and check lumberjack shirts. One had a long, white-haired ponytail reaching to the base of his back.  After the Bono lookalike had repeated his clarion call to arms, they both looked up at him. After three seconds silence, the guy with the ponytail spoke in a loud, clear theatrical Dublin accent:

‘There was a time (pause) when people in this pub (pause) did not need to be told (pause) how to think!’

His clear, firm voice had momentarily silenced the bar. All had heard his pronouncement. It was followed by a gentle murmur of approval and then the general conversational hum was reset to normal volume. Everybody went back to their own business.

I believe that moments like these are fantastic. They stay with me forever. It is as though I have been momentarily transported to an O’Casey scene from Juno and the Paycock or The Plough and the Stars. There are very good literary pub crawls arranged for Dublin tourists but, if you hang around the right pubs for long enough you could witness live, original material performed spontaneously!

This is an edited extract from the book – London Irish Dublin English. You can order it as a hard copy or download an ebook from the Amazon Website. If you’re in Dublin you can buy it at Sweny’s Chemist Shop (Joycean Museum) at Lincoln Place, near Trinity College.

 

A chance encounter on Grafton Street

23 Mar

It was dusk on Grafton Street. The Christmas decorations had begun to glow in the fading light.Her reflection could be seen in the window of Brown Thomas, the upmarket department store. Its contents had grabbed her attention and commanded her to stop and look. However, she was not in the mood to pursue a mild interest in the garment on display and, after a few moments, continued her journey along Grafton Street towards St. Stephen’s Green. At the junction with Harry Street, from behind a flower seller’s stall, Harry suddenly appeared in front of her.

She surprised herself by readily accepting Harry’s offer of a drink in nearby McDaid’s but she was not uncomfortable with the situation. During and after her separation she was taught to live in and accept the “now”.

Harry ordered the drinks and then found a discreetly located table. There was a lot of coming and going in this establishment. Seating as far from the entrance as possible was preferable.

‘Samantha, I am really, really pleased to have met you today. How have you been keeping? I haven’t seen you at the tennis club in recent times?’

‘I had a slight problem with my Achilles tendon which required rest and physiotherapy. It’s getting much better and I am just about to make a comeback – when the evenings get longer.’

“Well I am delighted to hear that. The Achilles can be very troublesome, you know. Sometimes they can only be repaired by surgery. They just snap for no apparent reason. I recall the case of a football hooligan crossing Chelsea Bridge on his way to a match. Without warning his Achilles snapped, causing searing pain. A policeman was walking behind him and the hooligan thought he must have been hit on the Achilles by the policeman’s truncheon. So he punched the policeman in the mouth – could have gone to jail. I assume his immediate transfer to the nearest hospital and subsequent diagnosis saved him.’

“Yes, I know, I heard about that case.’

She felt surprisingly relaxed about him telling her things that she already knew. Normally this would irritate her.

Harry was light-headed by just being in her company. He was besotted. He would settle for a platonic friendship but, dare he dream of more? She was less enthusiastic, being frequently admired. However, compared to most men, she felt he was on her wavelength. Harry was an ambitious courtier and she was a high-born eighteenth-century aristocrat. He was speaking too much, like a giddy gurgling brook, but he soothed her and she was happy to let him babble on.

He would have preferred to offer a more salubrious setting but he had to seize the moment. A proposal of a longer walk, only as far as the Westbury, may have caused her to change her mind, either immediately or en route. Besides, the quirky nature of McDaid’s provided a certain anonymity.

This is an edited extract from the book “London Irish Dublin English”. You can download it or get a printed copy from Amazon. If you’re in Dublin you can buy it in Sweny’s Chemist Shop (Joycean Museum) in Lincoln Place, near Trinity College.

Deciding to be Irish

15 Sep

Donal’s job transfer from the London office to Dublin seemed ill -advised and badly timed. This was Ireland in the mid-1980’s. The Government was up to its neck in debt. Unemployment stood at 18 per cent and Draconian rates of income tax were inflicted on those fortunate to have a job.

‘You’re mad! Why would you want to go back now? The country is on its knees!  I’ll go back myself someday, but not now.’

Donal was not deterred by these sentiments. His resolve was rock solid, the legacy of several beautiful summers spent on and near his grandfather’s farm in County Cork. This experience had caused him to view Ireland through rose-tinted glasses. His ready-made answer went along the lines of:

‘If every ex-pat Irishman who said “I’ll go back to Ireland someday” actually went back, there’d be about 40 million people living there. I’m prepared to pay the price for living in Ireland right now. Indeed, I’m happy to do so if that price keeps you fair-weather Paddies out of the place!’

He could understand why his Irish-born friends were perplexed by this London-born Irishman’s demonstration of fearless but naïve enthusiasm for Ireland. However, for Donal a holiday or an occasional business trip would never be enough. Dublin was where that he was destined to carry out the day-to-day business of living.

The vast majority of his London work colleagues, on the other hand, did understand his reasons for moving. They saw him as Paddy the Irishman, a moniker with which he was quite happy. He knew that in the Dublin office he would probably be known as John the Englishman, but this did not bother him. He would quickly set about convincing all who cared to listen that his credentials were sound.

‘You guys just woke up one morning and realised that you were born Irish – I had to decide to be Irish and then work at it!’

This is an edited extract from the book “London Irish Dublin English”. You can buy the ebook or printed version on Amazon.

A wannabe Dublin Irish man with a Michael Caine accent

30 Aug

 

Donal did not think that he was in any way different from born and bred Dubliners. Although his accent was London, he believed his Irish DNA would keep him one hundred per cent in tune with all around him.

In fact he definitely did not want to acquire an Irish accent – either by intention or osmosis. He had met a number of Irish people in London who had tried too hard to achieve a local accent. The result was a hilarious mixture of sounds. Whilst he was very amused by this Donal did not want to become a similar source of mirth in reverse.

When he joined London Irish Rugby Club, in the late 1970’s, he was desperate to fit in. After training and a drink, the players helped to clear up the bar. Donal leapt enthusiastically to the task. Then, in a pathetic attempt at an Irish accent, he found himself saying “Are these glasses for the washing” – not even Tom Cruise could have delivered a worse sound and word order. Donal felt guilty, ashamed and naff. He vowed never to do it again.

Besides all that he quite liked his English accent. On a few occasions people remarked that he sounded like Michael Caine. Donal liked this – he thought Michael was a brilliant actor.

In response Donal would offer a more contrived impersonation in which he combined Michael’s “did you know  … not a lot of people know that” technique with a standard music hall joke :-

“Did you know, did you know that every day a man gets knocked over by a London bus? – and he’s getting bloody annoyed at it!”

Donal thought this was a sure-fire winner – the feedback he received was mixed.

When shouting his Michael Caine head off in support of Ireland at a match in the Lansdowne Road stadium, a polite Irishman, sitting next to him, gently inquired as to what part of Ireland he was from and observed that he must have spent a lot of time in England – he was correct.

It was several years later, with the coming of voicemail messages, that he realised just how very English his accent was. In the early days of his time in Dublin this revelation might have shaken his belief that he would totally integrate with the Dubliners but by the time he became aware of it he was already fully settled.

This is an edited extract from “London Irish Dublin Irish”. You can download the eBook or order a printed copy from the Amazon website.

The move from London to Dublin

30 Aug

Donal’s job transfer from the London office to Dublin seemed ill -advised and badly timed.  This was Ireland in the mid-1980s. The Irish Government was up to its neck in debt. Unemployment stood at 18 per cent and Draconian rates of income tax were inflicted on those fortunate to have a job. Moreover, Donal was a born and bred Londoner.

The reaction of Donal’s London-based customers to his move fell into one of three categories. Depending on how highly or otherwise they regarded Ireland, their line of questioning went something like:

  • ‘What did you do wrong?’ (This from the customers who felt that moving, or being moved, to Ireland must be some form of punishment meted out by the company’s senior management team.)
  • ‘Are you going there as general manager?’ (Some customers believed a posting to Ireland was like a Victorian civil servant being sent to darkest Africa. Donal would adopt the role of governor of the territory and bring civilisation to it.)
  • ‘Good luck!’ (These customers understood Donal’s rationale for moving to Dublin even if they did not see why he thought it was such a great place. By moving locations within the same company, Donal got to do the same job but in a place where he much preferred to live.)

The vast majority of his London work colleagues, on the other hand, did understand his reasons for moving. They saw him as Paddy the Irishman, a moniker with which he was quite happy. He knew that in the Dublin office he would be known as John the Englishman, but this did not bother him. He would quickly set about convincing all who cared to listen that his credentials were sound.

He would explain thus:-

‘You guys just woke up one morning and realised that you were born Irish – I had to decide to be Irish and then work at it!’

This is an edited extract from the book “London Irish Dublin English” You can download it or order the printed version from the Amazon website.

Ronnie and Len have tea in the Westbury

18 Nov

 

 

Rain, earlier in the day, had prevented Ronnie from taking his usual Saturday morning walk along a road called The Scalp, in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains.

A furrowed brow and a branch broken from a giant wild rhubarb plant, growing by the side of the road, accompanied Ronnie. As his mind wrestled with various weighty matters, the rhubarb cudgel would strike the weeds beside the footpath. Rhubarb was his weapon of choice because he liked the firm but springy action of the stem. It flicked the large leaf forward, thus achieving maximum velocity on impact with the weeds.

At four o’clock Ronnie decided to substitute his morning exercise with a walk around Dublin city centre. The train took him to Pearse Street station. At the corner of Westland Row, Sweny’s chemist shop came into view and reminded him that he planned to buy soap but, as he did not want to carry it around with him on his walk, he deferred this purchase and proceeded directly to the grounds of Trinity College. He caught the last ten minutes of a rugby match but had little interest, being a Gaelic games man. After a few more laps of the playing fields he left the campus by the front gate and turned left. Passing the provost’s house, he proceeded along the length of Grafton Street. On entering St. Stephen’s Green he was very tempted to break off a small branch of a tree to make a thinking cudgel but he was concerned that this might be frowned upon by the gardeners and, besides that, there were no weeds to attack. On the way back to the train station, retracing his steps along Grafton Street, he met Len while passing a flower seller’s stall at the corner with Harry Street.

Len was in ebullient form. He had just completed the procurement of an overcoat at a very satisfactory price. The garment had been identified a couple of weeks previously. Winter would soon be over so Len reckoned this was the time to do a deal. He entered the shop at 6.10pm, 20 minutes before closing time. He engaged the salesman fully for the next 18 minutes, trying on various other coats. Then he struck, when all the staff wanted to shut up shop and go home to their loved ones.

‘Give me 50 pounds off this one and we have a deal.’

What a snip! A double-breasted, Pierre Cardin camel coat with double stitching and 40% cashmere! Arthur Daly and Del Trotter would have been very proud.

Len insisted on buying Ronnie a nice cup of tea to celebrate his success. Whilst walking up Harry Street they spotted a window table on the first floor foyer of Westbury Hotel. They were pleased with this location not only for the view it gave, back along Harry Street, but also because it was quiet and, as they were both drinking tea, it was the furthest point from the bar. That is not to say that they did not enjoy a drink but Len enjoyed it more than Ronnie. The former embraced the mood change it caused. It assisted him when he wanted to be quirky and playful in a social setting. The latter saw it more as a duty. It was an act of camaraderie with his colleagues but should only to be taken in moderation.

This is an edited extract from the book London Irish Dublin English. You can order a hard copy or download the ebook from the Amazon website.

London versus Dublin – some cultural drinking comparisons

13 Aug

During his visits to the London office, Donal observed that lunchtime drinking was far more common than back in Dublin. Emanating from London’s financial district, male Londoners saw nothing strange in downing two or three pints of ale with their lunch on each and every working day of the year. However, having stereo-typed the Irish as being heavier drinkers than themselves, they were surprised when representatives from the Dublin office abstained from drink at lunchtime. When the Londoners asked their Dubliner colleagues why they abstained, the response reassured them that their preconceptions were not too wide of the mark.

‘Sure if we started drinking at lunchtime we’d never stop.’

True or false, this was what they wanted to hear. However, the stereo-typing wasn’t all one-way traffic. For every joke about the Irish being wild and uncouth, there was a counter relating to English conformity and lack of individual spirit.

If the definition of an Irishman was that of a most sophisticated and efficient mechanism for changing Guinness into urine then the way to get ten Englishmen into a mini car was to make one of them the boss and the rest would crawl up his backside. And so on….

Donal had holistic experience of this international banter. Born and bred in London, declaring himself an Irishman and then living in Dublin, he received it from both sides. Rarely was he given the opportunity to explain that the banter did not apply to him. He just had to suck it up. This could be very frustrating.

Christmas Eve in Dublin was one of those rare days when the momentum of lunchtime was maintained for the rest of the day. Some left the office for lunch without clearing their desks. Their plan was to take it easy over lunch and do another hour’s work before heading for the pub. For some this plan worked out, but for others it didn’t.

When they returned to the open plan office, any slip of hand or lip was immediately pounced upon by the self-appointed drink police who, smugly or begrudgingly, remained super-vigilant for the afternoon. If a returnee so much as slightly stumbled on taking his seat or slurred just one syllable, a voice, which sounded like it came from a megaphone across the street, would make the following announcement.

“Please back away from your desk. Do not touch your keyboard. Do not speak into your phone. Put your jacket on, raise both hands and keep them visible at all times. Now please leave the office immediately and return to whence you came. We’ll take it from here. You will be issued with further instructions after Christmas.”

This is an edited extract from “London Irish Dublin English”. You can buy the paperback or e-book version on the Amazon website.

Deciding to be Irish

6 May

Donal’s job transfer from the London office to Dublin seemed ill -advised and badly timed. This was Ireland in the mid-1980’s. The Government was up to its neck in debt. Unemployment stood at 18 per cent and Draconian rates of income tax were inflicted on those fortunate to have a job.

‘You’re mad! Why would you want to go back now? The country is on its knees!  I’ll go back myself someday, but not now.’

Donal was not deterred by these sentiments. His resolve was rock solid, the legacy of several beautiful summers spent on and near his grandfather’s farm in County Cork. This experience had caused him to view Ireland through rose-tinted glasses. His ready-made answer went along the lines of:

‘If every ex-pat Irishman who said “I’ll go back to Ireland someday” actually went back, there’d be about 40 million people living there. I’m prepared to pay the price for living in Ireland right now. Indeed, I’m happy to do so if that price keeps you fair-weather Paddies out of the place!’

He could understand why his Irish-born friends were perplexed by this London-born Irishman’s demonstration of fearless but naïve enthusiasm for Ireland. However, for Donal a holiday or an occasional business trip would never be enough. Dublin was where that he was destined to carry out the day-to-day business of living.

The vast majority of his London work colleagues, on the other hand, did understand his reasons for moving. They saw him as Paddy the Irishman, a moniker with which he was quite happy. He knew that in the Dublin office he would probably be known as John the Englishman, but this did not bother him. He would quickly set about convincing all who cared to listen that his credentials were sound.

‘You guys just woke up one morning and realised that you were born Irish – I had to decide to be Irish and then work at it!’

This is an edited extract from the book “London Irish Dublin English”. You can buy the ebook or printed version on Amazon.

A wannabe Irish man with a Michael Caine accent docks in Dun Laoghaire on St. Patrick’s Day

17 Mar

He’d finally done it. He had achieved his ambition to live in Dublin and what better day to start this adventure than on St Patrick’s Day?

As the ferry docked, Donal surveyed the magnificent coastal facade of Dun Laoghaire. His arrival may not have had the pomp and ceremony of Queen Victoria’s but this was different. He considered himself a man of the people. Although his accent was London, he believed his Irish DNA would keep him one hundred per cent in tune with all around him.

In fact he definitely did not want to acquire an Irish accent – either by intention or osmosis. He had met a number of Irish people in London who had tried too hard to achieve a local accent. The result was a hilarious mixture of sounds. Whilst he was very amused by this Donal did not want to become a similar source of mirth in reverse.

Paradoxically, this wannabe Irish man quite liked his English accent. On a few occasions people remarked that he sounded like Michael Caine. Donal liked this – he thought Michael was a brilliant actor.

In response Donal would offer a more contrived impersonation in which he combined Michael’s “did you know  … not a lot of people know that” technique with a standard music hall joke :-

“Did you know, did you know that every day a man gets knocked over by a London bus? – and he’s getting bloody annoyed at it!”

Donal thought this was a sure-fire winner – the feedback he received was mixed.

On the following day he went to the Ireland v England rugby match at Lansdowne Road. While  shouting his Michael Caine head off in support of Ireland a polite Irishman, sitting next to him, gently inquired as to what part of Ireland he was from and observed that he must have spent a lot of time in England – he was correct.

It was several years later, with the coming of voicemail messages, that he realised just how very English his accent was. In the early days of his time in Dublin this revelation might have shaken his belief that he would totally integrate with the Dubliners but by the time he became aware of it he was already fully settled.

This is an edited extract from the book “London Irish Dublin Irish”. Photo0108 (1)