Monday 13 May 2013

C’mon y'all! Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

Sometimes you’re just not in the mood; sometimes you just don’t have the time, but it’s not up to you. If you want to walk from Spanish Parade to Cross Street on a sunny midweek afternoon, you have to do the Galway Shuffle. Way back in 2004 this colyoom christened Galway ‘The City of 10,000 Howyas’, but beyond that short sweet “Howya!” there exists a higher level of Galway greeting.

Sitting outside The Quays, I spot a friend of mine walking up the street.
‘Haven’t seen her for ages.’ I think to myself, ‘Must try to catch her and have a chat.’

Fifteen minutes later the chef, artist, restaurateur, author and general Galway legend has only made it as far as Martine’s Wine Bar. Everybody wants to say hello to her, have a wee chat and a hug.

By the time I stand to greet her she’s explaining how she’s already late for an appointment. She’d stopped to talk to people on Wolfe Tone Bridge, and with the sun shining, Quay Street was lined with folk such as myself who were delighted to see her.

If we lived in Hollywood she’d be crying “Everyone wants a piece of me!” but thankfully we live on the shores of a different ocean, where we appreciate the profundity of human contact, and are willing to walk the Quay Street line, shaking hands, kissing mwaaahs and… oh hell, maybe we do live in Hollywood after all!

No. There’s no red carpet on Quay Street. If you’re recognised and talked to, it’s because you’ve a red carpet soul.

Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

If you’re in a hurry, dealing with Howyas is a lot easier than doing the Galway Shuffle. A couple of weeks ago, walking along Dominick Street, I met three Howyas in the tiny distance between the Arts Centre and Bridge Mills. Being a bit of a recluse, I hadn’t been into town all week and it filled me with joy to feel I still belonged, since I’ve moved out of the city yet again.

The sun was shining that day too, so people’s chins were raised, their eyes looking out towards each other, rather than cowed to an Atlantic gale and lashing sideways rain. The weather definitely plays a massive part in Galway life, but no storm is stronger than bonds forged in fun.

My first smiling “Howya!” that morning comes from another English lad, with whom I used to enjoy a chat and a pint, back in the days of Taylor's Bar. As we pass in the street and exchange Howyas, a smile brushes my lips as I remember the slagging he gave me across the street last year.

I’d written a colyoom about the misery I’d experienced being a fat teenager, and as I came down Henry Street, he’d called across from William Street West, his sardonic northern accent the perfect foil to his sandpaper dry wit.

“ ‘Ere, Chaaaarlie! Read that piece you wrote about you being a fat kid. Shocked me it did! Never thought in a million years you’d’ve been a fat kid. Not Charlie, not with his natural athleticism. Shocked me to the core, t’did!”

Passing Aniar I almost knock over yer wan from Galway market. Seemingly plucked intact as an extra from Godfather Part II, he’s sartorially perfect and, as ever, aesthetically beautifully turned out, from flat-capped top to the tip of his arcane bike trailer.

He is an example of a perfect Howya. Such is the complexity and subtlety of life in Galway City, the fact that we’ve barely ever shared a word spares us the compulsory and potentially lengthy Galway Shuffle encounter. Yet because we both have a pretty good idea of who the other is, it’d just be plain rude not to acknowledge that mutual recognition, even though we don’t actually know each other. So another smile and a Howya exchanged puts a bounce in my boots and a smile on his lips, and how bad can that be?

Crossing the road towards Arabica I spot the print shop owner. For years I’d see him in his shop, but back then, clutching a mere three sheets that needed photocopying, I was barely a blemish on his platen. Years later, with much thanks due to his wonderful staff in their main depot, his company has done all of my printing jobs, so we now know each other well enough to be genuine Howyas.

“Howya Charlie!”
“How’s life?”
“Good! Mighty! Yourself?”
“All good mate! See you later!”
“See you.”

How simple is that? How happy am I to be living near a city where I share three friendly smiling greetings with three human beings I only partially know, barely 50 metres out of my car? I’m not even over the river, but as I stroll over O’Brien’s Bridge I know I’m leaving behind the world of the Howya.

I’m entering the dance floor that is Galway City Centre.

Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

On those days when you’re not in the mood you simply have to pretend you haven’t seen a soul you know. They’ll forgive you, because their lives are not void of interest. They aren’t exactly sitting there hoping against hope that you’ll turn up and save their day. They’d have been happy to talk, but hey, no biggie.

Ah, but when you do have time to do the Galway Shuffle, or when you’ve been so missed that you’re given no choice, it’s far from a terrible trial. Outside Fat Freddy’s, hands are outstretched towards me from arms raised to be shaken. Bottoms rise from the mock  wicker chairs outside Tigh Neachtain, where smiles are shared with recollections of shameful times past; where hugs precede new mischief to come.

I’ve lived in London; Melbourne; San Francisco: some of the world’s most wonderful cities, yet there’s nothing anywhere that compares to the sense of comradeship, kinship and caring that awaits those who walk the Quay Street line.

Do do do the Galway Shuffle!

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