Tag Archives: Dublin

Leonard Cohen: The Man with the Hat.

A few years back, I started writing a story about a boy with anger management issues. He found himself involved in an adventure that would take him all around Europe, culminating in a big face-off with the bad guys, in Athens. The only things he really cared about was his girlfriend and the music of Leonard Cohen. As part of my research for this still unfinished story I downloaded Cohen’s greatest hits. The only thing I knew about him was his melancholic music, his downbeat lyrics, and a voice that matched both of these attributes. Listening to his songs changed few of my preconceptions; but they stayed with me long after I stopped working on my story.

Tonight I got to see Leonard Cohen perform live for the first time. A friend had seen him on each of the four previous occasions the Canadian visited Ireland. He spoke highly of him, and when a ticket became available he asked me along. Cohen was playing the second of four dates at Dublin’s Kilmainham Hospital, the grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA). It was a cold but dry September evening. 10,000 adoring fans packed themselves into this excellent arena, waiting for The Man himself to appear on stage at exactly 7:15pm. I didn’t know what to expect.

Three and a half hours later, I realised I was in the presence of a beautiful mad man. At 77-years-old, Cohen led from the front, aided by a band of international musicians and singers that have been with him since he began touring again after an extended stay in a Buddhist monastery. (I did say mad, right? But in a good way.) Every song from his greatest hits – if they can be called that – got an airing. Personal favourites like “So Long Marianne”, “Suzanne”, “Tower of Song”, and “Dance Me To The End Of Love” had me in goosebumps. His performance of “Democracy” will go down, for me, as the highlight of the evening.

I can’t continue without mentioning Cohen’s backing singers, Sharon Robinson, co-writer of many of his well-known songs, and the fabulous Webb Sister, Hattie and Charlotte. Each of them got their own moment in the setting September sun, with Robinson’s rendition of “Alexandra Leaving” suitably spine-tingling.

What enamoured me about Cohen was his obvious respect for his musicians. Each time they had a solo to play, he would take off his hat (a Fedora or Trilby, I’m not sure which) and watch them play. He knows he wouldn’t be where he is without them. We know that, too. And we wouldn’t be where we were without Leonard.

I don’t care if he has to wheeled out in a chair the next time he visits – I just want to be there.

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The Daily Whatever: On Strangers in Coffee Shops.

You have an hour to kill, so what else are you going to do but go for a coffee somewhere, right? This is Dublin, and like any major city, there are about as many coffee shops to choose from as there are pubs. But you like Fixx because the staff there make better cappuccinos than Starbucks (which isn’t hard, in all fairness). To them it’s like an art form,

You order, pay for, then collect your cappuccino and sit down to read your book. For once you get a good seat, a comfortable one that you can flump into. You hang your coat on the chair opposite so no one will ask to sit with you. You’re going to be with people all night; all you want is an hour and some space to yourself. Besides, the book you’re reading – 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami – requires concentration; a table to yourself is what you require.

Because your head is dug into a book all you see of the woman who sits on the table next to you is her legs. She’s wearing black tights and black calf-length boots. Your eyes move up and you notice that she’s wearing a grey suit. At that moment, though, you can’t see what she looks like because she’s facing away from you. Her hair is jet black and you suspect she might be foreign, Chinese or Japanese maybe (although she might be a touch too tall to be Oriental).

On her tray she has a small pot of tea, a brown scone, some butter and jam. You go back to your book – but it’s too late; your attention is diverted. Her hair is short but her fringe covers her eyes. You see, however, that she wears glasses. But she’s looking down. First at her phone, as she checks her messages, then at her scone, as she decides whether or not to eat it. She pours her tea but you’re frustrated that you can’t get a look at her face. She may or may not be beautiful.

She doesn’t touch her scone but instead stretches her legs. You spot that she has knobbly knees. But you still can’t see her face. You return to your book.

Then you give up because you’re fascinated by this woman, this stranger whose face you can’t see. You see a wedding ring on her finger and think, At least her husband knows what she looks like. She picks up her phone and either makes a call or checks for voice mail. She says nothing, in fact there is no reaction at all. She drinks more tea, but this time cuts the scone in two and spreads some butter on it. She takes a nibble and puts it back on the tray. Then she looks down at her lap, and it is then you wonder if she’s upset about something, this woman whose face you can’t see. This woman in a grey suit, wearing black tights to cover her knobbly knees, wearing a long fringe to cover her eyes. You’re still not sure of her nationality, but you suspect she isn’t happy about something because she turns away and stares out the window.

Then she lowers her head again, concentrating on her lap. You think she has closed her eyes. You are utterly entranced by this stranger, and you find this weird because normally you don’t pay too much attention to other people (a strange trait for someone who writes, no?). She nibbles at her scone once more, then returns to her reverie. You are convinced she’s sad.

Then she gathers her coat and bag and heads off to the toilet. You wait for her to come out so you can get a good l00k at her face. But when she does she remains as enigmatic as when she came in. You think she may be beautiful. Sad but beautiful.

You return to your book. You now have thirty minutes to kill.

The Daily Rant: On Halloween.

I just don’t get it, this Halloween business. No, seriously, it’s not because I’m all curmudgeonly or anything. Even as a kid I couldn’t catch on to it.

Maybe it’s because of where I come from and where I live: in Ireland and particularly Dublin, Halloween doesn’t appear to be about children any more. It has been hijacked by adults for games only they can partake in – like drinking, dressing in an overly provocative fashion (there is a time and place for these activities), and acts of wanton violence.

It is the night where all fire and emergency service leave is cancelled. Depending on the weather there can be anything up to a hundred reported incidents of accidents involving fire, theft, and drunk and disorderly behaviour. Just another weekend night, you may say, and I would agree with you – but with a proviso. Most incidents on Halloween are on a larger scale than weekends and our emergency services often find themselves stretched to capacity and sometimes are unable to respond to calls as quickly as they would under normal circumstances. It seems that every idiot comes out on Halloween.

It’s not about Trick and Treat anymore, I fear. It’s all about a minority of imbeciles out to cause the greatest damage in the shortest possible time. I hope parents and guardians keep their young ones safe and sound. I hope it’s a dry evening so they can call on neighbours and friends and play as children should be allowed to. But when the sun sets, you had best lock yourself in, keep your pets indoors if possible, and hope that no one gets hurt. Because someone usually does.

I don’t like Halloween. People can be scarier than the movies. But I do hope you yourself have an enjoyable time out there. Just be careful, okay?

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 63. On a Sense of Community.

Dublin supporters on Hill 16 at Croke Park.

Nothing brings a community together better than a sporting occasion. And nothing unites a community more uniquely than a victory. In much the same way a country can celebrate a major win in competition (Ireland beating England in this year’s Cricket World Cup springs to mind), Dublin’s All-Ireland success over their arch-rivals Kerry last Sunday has brought a smile to the brow-beaten face of Dubliners.

Whether your a fan of GAA or not (I’m ambivalent most of the time), it’s hard not to get caught up in the euphoria a victory can bring. Already we’re looking forward to next year.

 

All-Ireland Mayhem: God Help Us All.

For all but a few of you reading this post, the All-Ireland series means very little. But if you’re Irish, like your GAA, and your county winning the Sam Maguire Cup means more to you than life itself, then the All-Ireland is where it’s at this weekend.

It’s the Battle Royale: The Dubs versus the Kingdom; Dublin against Kerry. The Blues are searching for their first title since 1995, while Kerry are the reigning champions. (Stay awake at the back there, I’ll be asking questions later.) If the Capital City triumph this Sunday, then 16 years of hurt will disappear like cider down a football supporter’s gullet. If they lose, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

You're not a Dub if you don't drink cider.

For me – and for the rest of my workmates – it will be a day that will go down in infamy. Throngs of supporters will convene at Croke Park and its surroundings like Muslims at Mecca. They will be excited, nervous, full of hopes and anticipation, and they will have throats drier than a camel’s arse in a sandstorm. Which is where we bartenders come in. For most of the morning, afternoon and evening (all bloody day actually) we will pump out enough booze to fill the Grand Canyon ten times over: these Dubs are a thirsty lot, let me tell you.

We will be busier than St. Peter on Judgement Day. We’ll be working flat out to ensure that no thirst goes unquenched because this is what we bartenders do. We will listen to the crap that drunks come out with when one too many has been consumed; we will mop up vomit that’s had the indecency to spew out at importune times; we will smile when we’re abused – because that’s what we bartenders do. We will take money and give out correct change, as well as making sure there’s plenty of ice and bandages, because accidents may happen.

We will open early and close late. We don’t expect to be thanked for our endeavours because we know the boss will look after us after he’s lodged the day’s takings with Brinks Allied.

The Girls in Blue

We will listen patiently to the hundred-and-first rendition of “Come On Ye Boys In Blue” and not complain when another glass is smashed against the wall. We will not laugh when security escort an unruly supporter off the premises (usually head first) and into a waiting police car. We will hope the judge goes easy on him the next morning. We will say prayers when we go to bed that night.

If we make it to bed, that is.

We look forward to doing an honest day’s trade when Dublin win the All-Ireland (which we hope they do). But we hope the supporters make life easy for us and not start any fights. Because we bartenders don’t like fights. We like the simple life. Here’s your pint, there’s your change, now fuck off and leave us alone.

Dublin for Sam!

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 25. On Irish Summers.

In Ireland, you can be certain of two things when it comes to summer.

It will rain. A lot. There may be some days when the sun will split the trees and you step out in your Bermuda shorts. But you will feel like a fool, because it will rain. A lot.

There will be spotty-faced, baseball cap wearing, loud and pestering Italian, French and Spanish students. These people will hijack the streets that were once yours by right and covet bus seats that used to take you home after a long day at work.

You will pray for winter.

Garda Patrol

To Protect, Serve and Make Life Miserable for Publicans

I have a healthy respect for our national police force, the Garda Siochana. By and large, like most law-keeping organisations, they are a hard-working, underpaid and much derided bunch of men and women. They do a tough job in the easiest of times, a practically impossible job when gun control is non-existent in the Republic of Ireland. But that’s not why I write this post today.

Our gardai are tasked with enforcing any number of unworkable laws. The one that sticks in my craw deals with “drinking-up time” in our licensed premises. As it stands at the moment, customers are allowed 30 minutes to finish off their drinks once the bar has closed. On a Saturday night the bar closes at 12.30am, which means that customers must be gone by 1am. All well and good – but this is Ireland we’re talking about here. Customers don’t normally finish ordering their drinks until that time. (Yes, we’re flexible, and we’re not about to turn away business by sticking too close to the law now, are we?) So asking them to leave is a no-no.

Except of course when the gardai come in to say hello.

Chief Wiggum's Irish cousin, Fiachra O'Wiggum

Which they did last night – ten minutes after my boss went off home, leaving me to lock up. Personally I’ve no issue with this. He’s there until all hours most of the week, so I think it’s only fair that he goes off, knowing I have keys to lock up. I normally pull down the shutters to protect whatever people there are inside and to prevent anyone else coming in. But whoever went out without me knowing forgot (or didn’t bother) to pull it down after them. Within moments the boys in blue were inside, causing our locals all sort of mayhem and disharmony. And because I was the one with the keys, it appeared I was the man in charge of the pub. Yay me! Did I know it was an hour over the time? Of course I did. What was I doing about it? Not much, if truth be told. I can’t force their drinks down them.

I went off to make sure that no one was smoking where they shouldn’t be smoking (i.e. anywhere inside the building) and when I came back, I was asked for my details: name, address and date of birth. Quickly retreating into my past and hoping that the gardai hadn’t these details already, I coughed up, letting them know that I was not the manager – just unlucky enough to be a key-holder.

The pub was cleared in ten minutes, and while I enjoy an early night like most bar workers, I felt it was unfair on my customers to be put through this, especially those who couldn’t (or weren’t able to) finish their drinks. We had a 40th birthday party in the pub last night, so it wasn’t exactly clearing out when the police arrived. However, just before they left, one of the cops came over to me and said that they were under orders by the local superintendent to clear out all the pubs in the area, and that there wouldn’t be any prosecution. Not this time, he added. He wished me a good evening, and because of my healthy respect for our hard-working boys in blue I said, “You too, Garda.”

I hope they did – because it’s a jungle out there.