Thursday 23 October 2008

Am I older and wiser or crumbling and madder? Whichever, it’s great not be young!

Still strutting their stuff in their dotage, I wonder if the Rolling Stones might want to change the lyrics of their song ‘Mother’s Little Helper’:
‘What a drag it is getting old!’
might easily be replaced by:
‘What a drag it was being young!’
As a precocious teenager, already an irrepressible scribbler, I kept a diary from the age of 15 to 21. Being even then a heinous control freak, I created around this last-thing-at-night ritual a rigid rule: the entire space of each day must be filled; with what and of how low a standard did not matter, as long as every line was filled with words of some description.
Occasionally I dip in and out of this turbulent collection, and recently revisited the years 1977 and 1978, taking a long sad look at the painfully insecure and wretched teenager that I was then. With unequivocal conviction I can now tell you that I don’t mind being older.
When I was a teenager I felt the need to prove my truths to everyone, and insisted that I was right. The rest of the world was wrong, and I was making sense. As an older man, I believe in exactly the same truths, but harbour no desire whatsoever to change the world to mirror my ideals.
Just ain’t worth it, guv’nor.
In fact, far from wanting to transform the world into a happy fluffy place, I focus simply on my own happiness (which necessarily includes the happiness of several others, lest I sound even more egocentric than usual). Essential to that pursuit is the need to understand the world a little, in all its tawdry glory.
The pure black and white ideals of my youth now live a settled married life with my own elaborate cynicism.
I know what I think is right, and I try to live as close to it as I can.
But our species is insane, and therefore I must limit my expectations to assure my ambition of happiness can be realised.
Of course there’s the obvious downside to getting old. My neck hurts, my belly is explosive; my tooth hurts and where in the past I could happily put all these ailments and as many others as I could dream up into a bag marked ‘Classic Neurotic Jewish Hypochondria’ I now have no choice but to see them as symptoms of my own mortality.
So I’m going to die sooner rather than later. Well, if age has taught me anything, it’s not to worry about what I can’t control, so I’ll let that one go. Discovered years ago that exercise and good eating is more about healthily enjoying the life you’re living, rather than staving off your death for a few more years, months, days.
Age also tempers how much advice you can take. Walking the Prom is my physical and spiritual lifeline, and now somebody’s saying that it’s lethal to walk on flat surfaces, and that we should wear special shoes that make your plates of meat feel like they’re treading on jungle floor.
Yeh but no but no thanks. Been around the block and know now that if it works for me, I’ll stick with it. There doesn’t have to be a right or wrong. There is no absolute.
Why should I listen to this week’s experts when last week they were calling the collapse of Capitalism a ‘Credit Crunch’? Now that I’m older I know that there is absolutely no point in making sense out of the absurdities of this world.
I’m never going to understand a world where ‘genocide’ has become ‘ethnic cleansing’. How did the extermination of entire populations end up sounding like a mango-scented bathroom scrub?
Ah, if only somebody could have told that idealistic and fervent teenager that he’d still believe the same things 30 years on. All that parents and relations ever said was that I would grow out of it, I’d see, ho ho yes; but I didn’t.
I just realised that these were my truths, and the rest of the world was way beyond my control.
It’s all upside down. They euphemise the global financial collapse into an ice cream flavour, and hyperbolise the new comedy show on TV.
You tell me which sounds more important: ‘Credit Crunch’. ‘All New Must See Major Event’.
Given the choice, would I want to be a child now?
Well, I wouldn’t want to be a child in the United States, where a new law allows parents and legal guardians to leave any child up to the age of 19 at hospitals.
The idea of the law was to decriminalise parents who had dumped their children after having their own lives put at risk through violent behaviour. But, as reported by The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, nobody expected such a massive response. On September 13th an 11 year-old was handed over by his grandmother to a hospital in Omaha, because he was, she said, ‘destructive’. On the same day in the same State, a 15 year-old boy was left with authorities in Lincoln, because he was disobedient and a possible gang member. As she explained to the Omaha World Herald:
“I didn’t abandon him. I wanted help for him so when he hits 18 he’s not a menace to society.”
Over the next three days, four more children (a girl of 12, three boys aged 11,15 and 18) were handed over, and the following day Gary Station turned up at Creighton Medical Centre with 9 of his 10 children, saying he could only look after the one since his wife had died in childbirth.
My fellow columnist in Nebraska’s Papillon Times wrote:
“Birth Certificates aren’t receipts. This isn’t a store refund.”
So no thanks. I don’t want to be an abandoned teenager, any more than I want to be an insecure under-experienced youth. Of course I yearn for youthfully robust health, and sometimes I do wish that the first snooze on the sofa of an evening hit a little later than 9.30 (“It’s the fire! It’s the fire!” I exclaim, knowing of course it’s pure age).
And yes, I do feel sorry for you Colyoomistas, who have to suffer grumpy crotchety old geezer rants, but at least they’re honest, which is a lot more than I can say for the often-exaggerated and occasionally entirely fictional sex life I found in those diaries!

Thursday 16 October 2008

I loved my first year in Galway so much, I bought the process!


I am truly sorry for Galwegians, because you never experience arriving in Galway as a blow-in. Your first year in Galway City is one of the finest of your life. I liked it so much I bought the process!

I’ve left and returned to Galway three times, and each time, suitably signposted by attendance at different pubs, my new ‘First Year in Galway’ was embraced as fully and respectfully as it deserved.

When I first arrived, back in 1992, I was living in Lenaboy Avenue. In those pre-Tiger days, the road was far from the gentrified modernised place it is now.

There were three houses in the small street crammed with blow-ins, and we all socialised and drank en masse, falling into what was then Eamonn O’Reilly’s pub, not only because it was the first one we came to, but also because Eamonn was pretty relaxed about his clientele’s hairstyles.

Legendary ‘king for a day’ afternoons spilled into Salt’n’Pepper, and then onto Vaggies, or another of the nightclubs that pumped bass beat into late night Salthill.

When I required escape, I’d flee all the way to Lower Salthill for a late one at the Cottage, back then a cosy stony-walled cavern with a raging fire.

Indeed, there was something special about the Cottage, with Ruth and Bernie making music, Collie and crew enjoying the craic, and although its transformation is a wondrous thing, there was a particular collection of faces and smiles lurking in the old Cottage that you’d not seen since, well, probably since the last time you went there!

But I didn’t leave England to hang around with English blow-ins in Ireland, and so I am to this day eternally grateful to the trio of local Salthill lads, (now Gentlemen all, from toupée to the toenail tip) who took it upon themselves to perform my induction into real Galway life. 

Himself The Body, the Whispering Blue and young Blitz hauled my greenhorn Brit backside into an Tobar, which back then was a wonderful place to be. 

Well, it was, but there were a few characters, cautiously suspicious of this wide-eyed Londoner, who put the fear of god into me.

They didn’t know because I wasn’t about to let them see any weakness, and they never will, because I’ll not identify them.

Suffice to say that many have now mellowed (some even pickled slightly) and each would laugh heartily to think that this harmless auld dribbling scribbler ever held them in such regard.

It felt great to be a part of that period of time in there. During the height of summer, there was a strict ‘no tourist’ rule on the door manned by the late, much-loved and legendary Frank McCarthy.

As a fresh-faced ingenue, I valued my inside track to local life as precious.

The second time I had a ‘First Year in Galway’ came seven years later, after I had lived in Connemara, San Francisco and Sonoma County.

Heartbroken after the failure of my life in America, I embraced my return with a dangerously euphoric enthusiasm.

Years before, Taylor’s Bar had always been one of the Stations of the Crawl from an Tobar towards the clubs of Salthill, but after the States, I settled into Taylor’s as a snail to his shell.

Dangerously close to my room in Claddagh, I drank far too much way too often and revelled in the feeling of being back home.

Taylor’s was really three pubs in one: the back bar was where you might find some music, perchance Dalooney and Robbie and others jigging and reeling up a storm. Tourists always ended up at the back bar, so the vibe was relaxed and for its day, fairly cosmopolitan.

The middle bar was reserved for a hardcore regulars and hardcore drinkers. Certain stools would be sat on by the same backsides day in and day out, and on those nights when you needed your brain bent and twisted out of shape, there was ample opportunity for crazed Middle Bar Philosophical Debate with a Bulmer's twist.

But on a good night, the heart and soul of Taylor’s floated around the front bar, where a wonderful cross-section of the population mixed it up with wit, flirting and fluttering mischievous mayhem.

Over all the above, the omnipresent eye of one Seamus Mulligan endowed the pub with a singular presence, predictably unpredictable and ever ready to step out and take control with great theatre.

There were many good nights in Taylor’s, just as there were restful afternoons at the counter, nursing a mug of coffee for hours, struggling with the crossword and chatting to Una, whose smile somehow made life better every time it appeared.

But also, before the sepia hue of nostalgia completely rewrites history, there were nights in Taylor’s Bar, when the wind howled naturally outside and gutturally inside the pub, where three and half humans skulked at the bar and the place felt like the waiting room for hell. 

At its best it was perfect.

At its worst, Taylor's was a miserable and wretched place to spend an hour.

By the time I returned from north Mayo, ready to enjoy my third ‘First Year in Galway’, Taylors was a lap dancing club, the cottage was ‘funky’, its regulars some ten years too young for it to be once more my local. An Tobar had become part of the Dew Drop, and I was publess.

Well, no. Joining forces with Grumpy Chef, who just happened to have returned at the same time, we drank the backside off Neachtain’s, somehow managing to dredge up the same joy that we had felt each and every other time we’d returned to the City of the Tribes.

Since the demise of Taylor’s I have failed to find another pub that distinguishes itself as my ‘local’. Despite its definition, your ‘local’ does not need to be the nearest pub to your house (but oh the bliss when it is), but more a place where you feel as at home as you do when you’re at home.

I still enjoy a daytime pint in Neachtain’s, and will always like the Quay’s front bar. Now also I add Sheridan’s at the Docks to my circuit, and over the bridge sup happily at the Blue Note.

Galway has no shortage of good pubs, but however sad and pathetic it sounds, so many years after it closed down, I still miss my local.

Maybe I need to step out and back in again. And then again, maybe not.

My liver could not take a fourth ‘First Year in Galway.’

Saturday 11 October 2008

Patience is a virtue.

Loyal colyoomistas and bloggeristas will have to wait another week for the next Double Vision, as the high-up honchos of the Connacht and City Tribunes have voiced concerns that people might be reading this colyoom online, instead of buying the newspaper.

Naturally, I was just the teensiest bit pleased that they believe this colyoom is selling the paper for them. As soon as this week is past, we will return to weekly postings once more. Until then, keep sending the emails, or posting comments.


Saturday 4 October 2008

Sweet Gene Bin-Cent - he’s the Mallorcan King of the Road!

Weary and bleary-eyed, I’m having my breakfast at the Hotel Mar-i-Vent, in the Mallorcan village of Banyalbufar.
Outside the window the landscape tumbles down steep terraces, past a few small ochre stone houses to the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea.
The German man at the table behind me is talking to the gentle patient waiter in English.
“Zis noise last night? All night the music! So loud all the night long!“
“Yes, and tonight and tomorrow, much big more bang! Much more noise! It is our festival.”
The night before, as the Snapper and I had wandered the length of this charming spotless and welcoming village, we passed lengthy trestle tables adorned with linen cloths, endless bottles, glasses, and locals sat carousing.
Blissful in our ignorance we mentioned how great it was to see locals out, doing their own thing. Unbeknownst to us, they were just getting in the mood to party.
At midnight, the music started, shaking every ancient brick that latched the village to the cliff side. For 5 hours I lay awake listening to a bad covers band playing hits from the 80’s, but I didn’t care, because I was on holiday.
Now that I know the party is going on for the next two nights, I breathe a sigh of relief that today we head east, to take charge of a rented house, wherein we will indulge in some serious chilling.
Much to the Snapper’s bemusement, when on holiday I suddenly become all gregarious and chatty, talking to strangers and sometimes even forging that most heinous of beasts, the holiday friendship. With just such a rush of bonhomie, I turn to console my fellow tourist, but -oops- the geezer behind me is not a geezer at all, but a tall and thin woman, whose heavily made up grease-painted face looks like it has stepped out of a 1930’s Berlin cabaret.
Somewhat shocked, my words stumble as they fall out of my mouth.
“Oh, sorry, I er, he said that the noise will be another two nights, hmm? We are going today. Are you going to stay or coming to go?”
She looks at me with utter contempt, and then, with a really deep bloke’s voice, says
“Going? You are lucky.”
Smiling, I turn back to my lovely view, feeling doubly fortunate. Not only are we leaving today, having thoroughly enjoyed our stay, but also my voice sounds like it has a willy attached somewhere below, and the Snapper’s doesn’t. Hoorah!
Our honeymoon has started really well, after the initial shock of being caught up in the Great Escapes collapse. Lucky again, I suppose, in a weird way, because they cancelled our holiday in Crete and refunded us mere days before going completely bust.
Reminds me of a conversation I heard many years ago in a Connemara pub, involving three auld boy farmers who were debating whether Packie had been lucky.
“Sure and washn’t he lucky to have his heart attack right there, in da hoshpital?“
“And aren’t ye talkin’ bollocks ye gobshite. How can it be lucky to have a heart attack?”
“Sure and aren’t you talkin’ bollocks, because you know very well what I’m saying. I’m saying that he was lucky to have da heart attack while he was visiting da hoshpital, while he was in da place, d’ya’know?”
But I digress.
So far we have been on familiar ground, flying and renting a car, and pootling off to find family-run 3-star hotels away from the resorts. In Portugal and on the Costa Brava we succeeded in finding what we have in the Mar-I-Vent. An old hotel run to modern standards by a family who have worked it for generations and therefore really give a damn. For the price of an Irish B&B, we have the pool, the view, a suite of rooms with balcony, and sheltered betwixt the mountains and the sea, Banyalbufar itself, charming and (before midnight!) quiet as a whisper.
Somewhat trepidatious, we head across the island and settle into our holiday home, which is perfect. Calm descends. I go two whole weeks without checking email and 12 unbelievable days without a newspaper.
At night we drive off to Santanyi, a lovely Mallorcan town with some tourists, rather than a tourist town, which reminds us of Galway, with its medieval streets. Sitting in the plaça, sipping a beer, I finally hit bliss.
Just down the road from our wee house is an excellent cafe-bar, where we eat on the nights when I have partaken of alcohol during the day. Here we find the apocryphal prices of yesteryear, enjoying a pint of beer, two glasses of wine, an escalope of veal with salad and potatoes, herbed chicken breast with salad and chips, almond cake, chocolate cake and two liqueurs, for the staggering total of €26.00.
But not even this fine feast marks the high point of our trip. That award goes to the local bin men, whose whacking great garbage truck zooms past the bar each night, flying around the silent residential streets at ridiculous speeds, with the two lads hanging off the back with their rolled-up fags, looking cool and handsome, like latterday pirates upon the high seas.
Indeed, as the truck reverses at mad velocity down the hill beside the cafe, one of these lads finds the time to wink and smile salaciously at the Snapper, in a way that makes us both roar with laughter.
As a fan of the BBC’s excellent ‘Life on Mars’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ series, I christen the truck driver ‘Sweet Gene Bin-cent’, in honour of anti-hero Gene Hunt.
Nobody else seems to give a damn, but each night we want to stand and cheer with raised arms and loud voices as they roar around the corner and try to beat their own best times.
The only downer on the whole trip came in the shape of Sol Mar car rental, who prey on exhausted and hurried tourists, using extremely high pressure sales tactics to flog hundreds of euros’ extra insurance, and then rip off every customer by insisting that you bring the car back empty (impossible!?), having charged you their price for a non-refundable full fuel tank. As I understand it, the EU is investigating this scam, but take a tip, please, and avoid Sol Mar like the plague.
But don’t avoid Mallorca: just stay away from the resorts, explore and find hidden pirate treasures!