“Whisky please” I said to the barman, who noted my English accent and allowed a faint sneer of mischievousness to enter his world.
“I’ve got this brand here” he said, gesturing towards a dusty bottle full of amber liquid taking pride of place in the centre of the bar. “The oldest whiskey this side of the Liffey” he continued, his sales patter working its magic on two inebriated softy, shandy-swilling southerners. For the record, this pair of imbeciles were myself and good mate Chris.
“Go on then” I slurred, coughing up twenty-four euros.
I decided to get away from the stresses of the professional workplace by leaving for Dublin on a 48-hour quest to discover the Irish way of things, which turns out to involve copious amounts of alcohol. Flights and hotel were a steal at £70 so we ventured to Gatwick Airport to board our scheduled Ryanair flight. Before heading to the boarding gate, we took the time to check out Duty Free. We quickly stumbled across a posh alcohol shop. I knew it was posh because I couldn’t see a resigned-looking Pakistani shopkeeper behind the till, restocking Frosty Jacks cider and serving Bacardi to acne-ridden teenagers.
There were two gentleman behind the counter and in-keeping with the store’s Scottish theme, one was wearing a kilt, a fully-blown affair with tasselled sporran and everything. After looking at the prices of a decent bottle of whiskey, easily upwards of £50, we winced and feigned interest for a few more seconds so we didn’t appear rude. Then the kilted gentleman spoke and an Eastern European voice came forth, a throaty Polish or Lithuanian rasp, the kind you hear asking if you would like any salad with your Subway. There I was thinking his kilt was a proud, outward emblem of our cousins north of the border, where in fact he was being forced to wear it to sell brandy to tourists. It’s a flawed business model. Who purchases alcohol based on the vendor’s clothing? “Oh yes, I’ll spunk £100 on a bottle of Jameson’s Irish Best ‘cos some crop-haired Czechoslovakian looks like Michael Flatley”.
A seamless transition from Dublin Airport to Gardiner Street later and we were standing outside our hotel, looking up at our home for the next two nights. The night before we left, I made the classic mistake of Googling “Where not to go in Dublin”. According to the good people of the internet we were staying in a drug-addled, crime-afflicted hotspot, and we could count our-selves lucky if we get non-violently mugged. A number of people mentioned that the north side of the city was a no-go area, the pit of humanity, the puss-filled boil of Ireland’s capital.
On the plane, I was therefore wondering whether dropping into the Irish Sea might be preferable to a night in Beelzebub’s den of iniquity. The reality was thankfully more pleasant, even if the two blokes standing at the hotel’s entrance were giving menacing looks to everyone that passed, their eyes following us into reception with a pained expression I previously associated with haemorrhoids.
Hotel security consisted of the receptionist taking your key when you left and giving it back upon your return. Any Paddy, Murphy or Seamus could have rocked up, said the magic words “214 please” and be handed the keys to our passports, spending money and condom stash (packed more in hope than expectation). Although it would have been a blessing in disguise if they had it off with Chris’ stupid hat.
Our Ground Zero was O’Connell Street, the main thoroughfare north of the river and Europe’s widest street, an interesting fact which nearly glossed over the continuous rain falling on it. From here you could plot days of entertainment. Irish gift shops lined the sidewalks, selling a gawdy mixture of leprechaun-embroidered materials for brain-dead tourists. Slap bang in the middle of O’Connell Street was a huge metal cotton bud, 200 metres high. Quite why this was the focal point of the area is beyond me, as there was nothing else to it, just a tall sliver of silver.
Needing to taste some Irish nightlife, we cannily purchased a bottle of whiskey for our hotel, which was hastily despatched. The accompanying movie to our drinkage was Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Chris and I are serious Harry Potter geeks. We can sustain days of conversation over some minor plot point, when the usual topics of natter run dry. This viewing experience was somewhat different, being broadcast on Irish state channel TG4, which provides terrible Gaelic overdubs. Harry Potter sounded less like the saviour of the wizarding world, more a bored train conductor relaying safety information to passengers. The rest of the ensemble seemed to be voiced by the same person, presumably because only six people still speak Gaelic. The subtitles were little better. Halfway down our bottle of Bushmill’s whiskey, we kept having to look at each other, asking “Did you just see that as well?” as another dodgy translation appeared on screen. “My want Harry. Pass me my want”.
The weather was atrocious so we weren’t too fussed that the film finished at 8pm. Eventually we trekked to O’Shea’s, a pub on the corner of our street. I was decidedly wobbly at this point, so I did the sensible thing and ordered a Kopparberg Mixed Fruit, which went down like a lead balloon with the barman.
“One pint of gay Panda pop for the lady” he said, delicately placing the drink on a quilted napkin with a camp flourish. He relished Chris’ laughter at my humiliation, before turning to him and snorting “I haven’t even started on your fecking hat yet”. The telly was showing Stevenage v Everton in the FA Cup, an uninspiring affair of the highest order. At least it made us drink up and move on, dodging thunderstorms and torrential downpours in the process.
We crossed the river and headed to Temple Bar, the ‘it’ place in Dublin, where you need to be seen, heard and sprawled across the pavement, dribbling vomit into the nearest drain at 3am. I saw a decent looking pub and we had another drink. Still recovering, I went for another pink cider. At the next watering hole, we took our afore-mentioned twelve euro medicine and at this point, my faculties shut up shop.
The next morning, Chris mentioned The Six Nations, adverts for which were adorning every billboard in town. “So that’s what you were talking about last night”.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“With that barman, you talked for ages about playing England or something”.
“Crikey” I replied, noting that I must have made an enormous bosom of myself because my rugby knowledge is minimal at best, extending to the playing equipment – a ball that looks like Will Self’s face and a set of football goalposts with a couple of O’Connell Street cotton buds sticking up from the posts – and the extremely hench players wearing gum shields.
At last knockings, we went for something to eat. Chris opted for a cottage pie, which he repeatedly told the waiter was “the best cottage pie I have ever had in my life”.
“Christ on a bendy bus mate, it’s pastry, meat and some bloody potatoes. The Michelin star might have to be put on hold” I said, sarcasm getting the best of me. By midnight we were full and in no state to go clubbing or even pubbing, so we tramped back to our hotel, thanked the heavens that the drunkard doorman hadn’t stolen our belongings and climbed in to bed for a long, long sleep.