Drinking cherryade in Dublin

“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.


Never thought I would see the day

Technology rarely impinges on my parent’s lives. They are simple folk who genuinely once thought that Appletiser was alcoholic, leading to breathless concern when I bought a six-pack at the local newsagents when I could barely reach the counter.

You might think that the internet has penetrated every nook and cranny of our society. For the vast majority, this is indeed the case. Only last week at work, a schoolboy who couldn’t be older than thirteen told me about how he moonlights as a ‘brony’, a male fan of kiddywink telly programme ‘My Little Pony’. He described how he frequents brony forums to discuss the equine happenings and horseplay (ba-dum-dum-tish) of talking, multi-coloured ponies with fellow fans.

I am still amazed that whatever fanciful whim you wish to indulge is there, blinking back at you within 0.01272 seconds of a Google search. But I still found it extraordinary that a young lad could unashamedly announce his love for such a feminine show, knowing there are others out there like him. He might have looked like a normal teenager, with a haircut, skinny jeans and a belief he was somehow important. Yet he has managed to find his niche and feels empowered enough to tell relative strangers something so personal that might open him up to ridicule.

Twenty years ago, he’d have had to pretend he liked Transformers or Power Rangers in order to conform with notional perceptions of what masculinity entails, namely blowing shit up and being a badass. For all that the internet has helped young people like him, my family home never went broadband. It hardly even went Nokia. To them, the internet was a mythical hellish place for paedophiles and porn addicts, not the concern of a parochial Amish dwelling like mine.

It’s not just the world wide web, either. It’s all technology. I receive a voicemail from Mum every six months concerning her new phone. “I can’t work this bloody thing” I hear her mutter, before the connection is lost and I can’t get through for weeks, hearing only a feint bleeping noise when I dial her digits. I once had to watch my Mum texting someone, an agony which really shouldn’t be inflicted on anyone without recourse to the European Court of Human Rights. She was stamping each button at a snail’s pace and hadn’t yet worked out how to turn the sound off, so with every thumbed letter came a noise like a baby angrily stamping on a xylophone.

Mum and Dad came home once, proudly announcing they had begun a course in basic computing. “I just Googled for the first time” Dad said, with wide-eyed wonder, as if he’d just been bungee-jumping in New Zealand. “Although I got a bit of a shock when I searched for your brother’s Christmas presents and typed in ‘Action Man’” he continued.

“I bet you did” I replied, while Mum recounted her first Facebook experience, which didn’t seem to go as planned. “Your Auntie Sarah left me a message but I didn’t know how to reply. When I finally worked out what to do our hour was up” she said, unabashed that it took a full sixty minutes to understand the basic principles of Facebook Chat.

When we got Sky+ I spent countless hours trying to teach them about the recording facilities. “All you do is press this big red button and it will record” I’d intone, directing them to the planner where they could watch recorded shows. “Don’t get all technological on me” Mum would say, reaching for her glasses and asking for a step-by-step diagram and a video tutorial.

Half the reason we never had an internet connection was because they had a teenage boy in their house and knew that giving him free license on the internet would only end in more laundry. To be fair, they had a point. The only X-rated material I could get my hands on were those adverts at the back of magazines with a pouting blonde instructing you to dial her chat line. Either that or a painfully slow mobile browser which loaded one page every twenty minutes when it wasn’t raining. There was never enough time to look up anything on a search engine, so I had to type in a guessed website and hope that I’d be directed to the good, proper biological stuff.

Therefore, it was quite a shock when I arrived home for Christmas and discovered they have Wi-Fi. I entered the living room and there it was, atop the cupboard, shimmering away. “How do I connect?” I asked, knowing it was a lost cause. Mum and Dad looked blank, pretending they didn’t hear me. Besides, they were too busy looking for the fast forward button on the DVD remote control, as they were halfway through an episode of Nordic crime drama ‘The Bridge’. Eventually finding it, they skipped too far ahead, leading to more frantic searching for the rewind option. It would have been quicker to hire a film crew and re-enact the final twenty minutes. “You’ll have to wait ‘til your sister gets in” Mum said when pressed, continuing to cook the Christmas dinner by candlelight and washing my clothes in a mangle.

I suppose I have inherited some of their unintentional backwardness. I’m a huge fan of physical products, shelling out thousands of pounds a year for music I can touch, DVDs I can handle, books I can destroy while reading them in the bath. As I said, the internet is a wonderful thing, giving voice to disenfranchised voices the world over but words on a screen, music as binary code, television box sets watched with a tinny set of laptop speakers, are not for me.

When I picture my life in twenty years, my first wish is for an entertainment library, an extravagant room of alphabetically listed CDs and vinyl and a bookshelf overfilling with things I will never read recommended by people with more cultural capital than me. I envisage walking in, surveying the space and declaring “I’ve made it”. The beautiful, nymphomaniac, Latino wife, the perfectly well-adjusted daughter and son, the fulfilling job doing good in the world… they can wait. I want to pluck a dusty old seven-inch single from my shelving unit and play it on a crackly old gramophone.

So I guess I ‘get’ modern technology because it has been part of my life since I remember, bastard Microsoft Word paperclip included. I still yearn for something physical though, instead of a string of computer code. You can see why my parents getting Wi-Fi is such a life re-evaluating moment for me. It was the one place I was sure I could go without the modern world crushing me from all sides. Now even my haven of medieval values has been usurped by the unstoppable forward march of technology, all for the purpose of watching a YouTube video of a funny cat.