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Monday, May 2, 2011

2nd May - Tom's Diner

It's been over two weeks since I posted - the pull of trying to get the Spring Cleaning done was so great!!!

I did spend three days in Barcelona with friends and that is probably the first time I'd organised a trip away for over 10 years - well, since mine and KP's 40th birthday trip to the home of Guinness. This trip was arranged at the end of my first year MBA exams and with a full time job as well, I was exhausted, but ready for some fun with friends. (names changed to protect the innocent.)

Apart from KP - previously mentioned, there was:
MG, a big buxom blonde, who had grown men quivering when she decided to flirt with them;
MR, an Irish girl, with a typical laid back Irish attitude, even though born in Burton. That was until she got behind the wheel of a car, when 800 years of oppression of her forebears came out in her driving - it was just easier to let her park where she wanted;
LW, who will be enternally grateful to me for finding her a husband - the one and only time I've ever been successful in match-making
RF, a team mate from my hockey side who played full back, but had real aspirations of being a play maker - a spirited run from her, usually ended up with me picking the ball out of the back of my net. Now sadly passed on - a victim of the dreaded C and taken from us too soon.
AJP - my best friend at that time, a woman with amazing charisma, in terms of making things happen around her. More stories will undoubtably be forthcoming, in the life of the blog, but she once talked her way into hospitality at Twickenham, by introducing herself to Matt Dawson, who'd she briefly met 3 years earlier, as 'Remember me Matt, we met at Sutton Coldfield RFC?' I stood outside and waited for 20 minutes gob-smacked.
JP - her quiet sister-in-law, a long suffering rugby wife, with an incredible sense of humour, and an ability to consume immense quantities of Guinness whilst still appearing sober.
AB - another sister-in-law, a successful career woman, who sold investments, when bankers could be trusted to invest your money wisely.
LP - a friend from university, who was once described as being a machine, by another friend's boyfirend, as regardless of lager consumption, lack of sleep, never got a hangover.

We set out on Friday afternoon to Birmingham airport to catch a Ryanair flight. At this time Ryanair was still relatively new and had fabric seats on the plane, and free sick bags. (now the seats are wash down, and the safety instructions are stuck to the seat in front.)

We all turned up with our little carry-on bags, but KP's bag was like the Tardis. This tiny bag had a nightie, washing stuff, toothbrush, and clean undies in, and doubled during the day as a handbag. The Japanese have since developed the idea into Yo Hotels.

LP travelled separately from Cardiff. When we met up with her, she couldn't get over the fact that the G and T she had on the plane cost more than the flight!!! Obviously, from Birmingham, and the number of Irish returning home for the weekend, meant that flights were never that cheap, from there, and our drinks were only one tenth of the price of the flight each.

As we were on a budget, we stayed in a bunkhouse - we must have raised the average age of people staying there that weekend by about 10 years. It did have the advantage of being round the corner from Temple Bar.

Temple Bar then was still a tourist trap, but it was less like 'Ibiza in the rain' and still had the Irish drinking there, and live Irish bands, unlike when I returned there last year (much to my chagrinne as we'd left a good craic elsewhere to go there) the last thing I heard was a soft Irish burr. Germans, French, Chinese, Japanese, Brummie stag and hen nights, and Welsh rugby fans all crushed into a street stained with vomit, and bang bang music booming out of every bar. It was nothing like an authentic Irish pub atmosphere that has been copied all over the world. 20 degrees hotter and it could have been Falaraki.

Needless to say, the pressure of revision meant that I dipped out early and went back to our cosy little bunkhouse early - what a lightweight!!!. Everyone else carried on partying. An Irish fiddle outside one pub, had everyone, but AB, dancing. When she turned to see what everyone else was doing, she walked into a lamp post, and received a black eye for her trouble. Our first tour incident, made worse by the fact that she was changing jobs and employers on the following Monday to land the BIG career move. (Time for leeches methinks).

The following day, the receptionist asked us if our ladies only dorm. could be shared by two blokes. This wasn't really a problem, as there was a mezzanine with two beds, that meant that it was still really all girls together. We all split up to do our own sight seeing in Dublin, but met up at lunch for food - (why when we were drinking Guinness ?) - and Guinness. At this point we lost MR, who 'bumped' into a couple of cousins. (The diaspora that is the Irish nation can find a relative where-ever they are in the world). She wasn't seen again until 5am when she bounced off the walls of the bunkhouse to her bed. (She later told us she'd been drinking with Bono in the Shelbourne.)

(Lonely Planet type tip: an Irish breakfast at Bewley's was awesome then - in the Art Deco style cafe.) We also went to the Guinness Factory, where we discovered that tourists, especially the Japanese, don't like Guinness and so left their free sample behind. This was another tip that Lonely Planet Guides don't tell you about - the best nationalities to mine-sweep beer after. It certainly made our trip to the brewery good value for money.

Some of the 'married' ones wanted to see some tourist attractions to tell their husbands what they seen and done. (yes right girls - the Guinness and Craic were just incidental to the cultural attractions that everyone goes to Dublin for). However, we did go and see the Book of Kells. Well actually we saw the poster outside so that they could describe it to their husbands. Me, being worthy, and cultural, had seen it on a previous visit, and so I could describe the 9th century illuminated manuscript, and the Trinity library that it is hosted in, to them, to relate on. Husbands and ex-husbands - perhaps this was/is the start of the slippery slope to divorce. Meantime we'd actually found a rugby game, and more importantly a bar to drink Guinness in, in the beautiful setting of Trinity University Dublin.

For the second night on the trot, I wimped out early. This was a mistake as although I was the first to bed, as the others came in, they woke me to tell me their version of what I'd missed, so in the end, I had the least sleep of everyone. The disturbances obviously included the two blokes coming in at different times as well. We'd seen one of them out and about in the Hairy Lemon (Was that really the name of the pub?) on the pull. Sadly his best efforts failed and he returned to the room, where he went up the metal steps to the mezzanine, to take his trousers off and go to bed. For those ladies who have experienced this, and know what I mean, the taking off of their (male) partner's trousers involved spilling the contents of his pockets all over the floor - a sure sign that beer has been imbibed. This meant that a variety of Irish coinage bounced down the metal steps and over the wooden floor. (there wasn't enough when we picked it up for a round). He then got on his back and snored. Luckily I wasn't the only one to be awoken by the thunderous noise. MG also woke, tried to get back off, couldn't. 'O.F.F.S.' she said, and went up the metal steps to turn him on his side, where the snoring lowered in decibels and we could get back to sleep.

The next day, tired, we decided to get on the open top bus. This really is an experience that exceeds any other open top bus tour anywhere in the world, in terms of the way the tour is delivered. Arthur Guinness's town house was introduced as the home of the Patron Saint of Ireland, and two old ladies struggling to get on the bus were advised by the driver to 'hold onto the Pole', like they were doing in the Lap Dancing Club the night before. It was a beautiful autumn day and we sat on top at the back of the bus. I sat in the corner, so I could lean against the window. The lack of sleep and Guinness was beginning to take it's toll. I began to feel really funny, really headache-y and woozy, and my eyes were itchy and watering. MG shouted - 'K you are on Fire' - the bus's exhaust was faulty and was belching out black smoke all over me. If I wasn't outdoors, I'd have probably died of Carbon Monoxide poisoning. We told the driver who advised us to move seats and he'd fix it when he got back to base. (These days, even in Ireland Elf and Safety  would have probably stopped the journey.)

We got off at the Jameson's Factory, although we cut the crap with the tour and went straight to the cafe for the complementary Irish Coffee. Jeremy Clarkson once said that this was the perfect food, as it had a balanced diet in it - alcohol, fat, sugar and caffeine - it certainly livened us up, and made us feel healthy again.

We had noticed that Ireland were playing Australia at their version of Gaelic Football/Aussie rules at Croke Park. We'd asked about tickets to be told that we wouldn't need them, as it never sold out. For some reason - the lovely day, the fact that it was one all in a series of three games or whatever, when we got there it was sold out. Croke Park is an amazing ground. It soars into the sky with the highest stands I've ever seen anywhere in the world, with perhaps the exception of Durban ABSA Stadium (King's Park). Except on one side, where it is undeveloped. We went in the pub near the ground, to watch on tv, with two other Irishmen who thought they'd get in anyway, and didn't. It was a hurling and Gaelic football pub and had loads of memorabilia and photos around the wall, There was one of the winning Ulster team from the late 70's. MR, of course, was related to one of the players on the photo. (The diaspora effect again). Being a bit of a sporting statto, collecting visits to the ground, I complemented one of the Irish guys on what a fantastic stadium it was, but when were they going to finish off the final side. He politely replied, 'I don't think they will complete it - its history you see.' I am SO sorry Ireland. My foot in mouth really exceeded itself this time. Hill 16 was where the Black and Tans shot at spectators and many were killed, including women and children, during the fight for independence from Britain. We're not told that side of our history, but it's obviously an important part of Irish history. It has been purposely left an undeveloped side of the ground in commemoration of a sad day in both countries' history.

When the Irish rugby side played their whilst Landsdowne Road was being redeveloped into a greenhouse, it took a lot from the GAA to allow English sports to be played there. (Soccer and Rugby). Much was made in the press of England playing there and the reception they would get, because of Hill 16. The RFU arranged a tour of the ground and a history lesson for the players, and a wreath was laid at the foot of the stand by the players. (mmmm it was a Scottish regiment that had fired, in the name of the British Empire, but yet again only the English get the blame - I don't think the Scots laid a wreath when they played there). The reception for both the English team and the National Anthems will go down in rugby folklore for the excellent reception given to both by the Irish. Fair Play.

It reminded me of another story of the England Ireland rugby folk lore. This was told to me by a very drunk Irishman, in Molly Malone's in Richmond. He had a translator, but was moved to tears as he told me his father was there in 1973, and he loved the English because of it. At the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, in 1972, the Welsh and Scottish teams refused to play in Ireland (Dublin) as they were too scared to. (So much for Celtic solidarity, boys). Much was made in the press the following year, that the English wouldn't come. Apart from two players with Forces links, England came to play. All players were given the choice of playing or not. When they walked onto the pitch they got a 5 minute standing ovation for not letting the Terrorists win. (The Irish knew this is different to having a political view on an independent Ireland - sport is above such boundaries, but is often pulled into politics). As was the way in the Seventies, the English were tonked. The English captain afterwards (John Pullen) got a standing ovation again, for his after match dinner speech. 'We may be rubbish, we at least we came'.

Tom's Diner - Suzanne Vega - a song about the comings and goings, watching the world go by, like the Dublin pub experience.

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