On Thursday, Patricia and I drove to Dublin (and back) to see younger son Sam perform in his choir, which is in Trinity College, no less. It was a truly lovely concert and a lovely evening and it was very well worth the slightly long, cold, icy, foggy, round trip.
Due to traffic, we arrived in Dublin quite late in the day and so we only had time for a brief stroll up Grafton St. to buy some cheese and other nice Christmas things, before meeting both sons (and David) for pre-show burgers. Sam devoured his burger and rushed off to make ready for the concert, so the four of us had an hour to spare.
“Let’s go to a pub.”
Good idea. I went to college in Dublin myself, many moons ago, and the idea of a warm Dublin pub around Christmas time was both attractive and enticing.
We went to O’Neill’s, no not that one, the other one, and found it incredibly busy. It was, after all, a key pre-Christmas office party night and lots of people were out, in jolly sweaters and reindeer horns, toasting the season. We debated whether we should stay in O’Neill’s, despite the crush, and we decided against it. It was just too busy and, besides, it smelled a bit funky.
We went on to Doyle’s. Yes, that one. Again it was mobbed with happy jolly people. Too many for comfort. Plus, yes you’ve guessed it… it just smelled slightly strange.
Off round the corner to Chaplin’s and this was a bit more like it. Benevolent work-partiers donated a few stools and we found a corner and got some drinks in. It was all very nice… really nice… except…
“I kind of miss when you could smoke in pubs,” I announced to the group, “even though I’ve never smoked myself. Yes it was awful and, yes, your clothes reeked of cigarettes when you went home but there were fringe benefits.”
“The smoke", I explained, getting into my stride on the subject, “it masked other less pleasant smells. Like the whiff of farts that pints of Guinness tend to evoke. After the smoking ban, those things became so much more pronounced.”
I had, in truth, a bit of a bee in my bonnet by this stage. I had been in three fine Dublin pubs, hoping for a warm and convivial time, and in each one I had been assailed by the same strange nose wrinkling smell.
I was getting a bit loud on the subject, a bit animated, when Patricia tugged gently on my sleeve for a quiet word.
“It’s the cheese.”
Patricia dropped her eyes to the shopping bag at the foot of my stool.
“It’s the cheese.”
Suddenly an awful light dawned. What was previous unclear, in a moment, became all too clear. It was me all along. I had mentally berated every pub I went into. Marked them down for their olfactory failings. And all the time it was me. The smelly thing was me. Me and my Grafton Street cheese. (See paragraph two).
I extended my face over the bag on the floor and, even three feet up, I could get the tangy ludicrousness of the cheese inside. Perfectly nice when you knew what it was, not so nice when you mistakenly blamed the pub you’re in.
I folded the bag over and over at the top and quietly sealed all the murky goodness inside. I don’t really blush but if I did I would have.
I kept a weather eye on my bag all through the concert and I think I got away with it, although the companion dog in the aisle in front keep eying me in a meaningful way.
Moral of the story? I guess it’s something like, if you’re going to blame to world for everything that is wrong, just make sure you’re not part of the problem first.
I don't think I've been in a pub for drinkies since I stopped working. My daughter and I regularly met in Wetherspoons in Glasgow pre-COVID for lunch but no alcohol was ever consumed; the place was just conveniently situated, quiet (so conversation could be had) and the food suited our tastes. I have been in a Dublin pub mumble number of years ago when Carrie and I spent a long weekend there back when I was working on Milligan and Murphy. I don't recall any noticeable or distinctive odouriferousness but Carrie would be quick to point out my dire sense of smell. My general feeling when it comes to drinking establishments is that they're best experienced en masse and my happiest memories of pubs and bars (never quite sure what the distinction is) all involve groups; the ones where it's been just me and one other were invariably sadder affairs and I'm not sure I've ever gone for a pint on my own. Growing up in Scotland pub culture was something I felt obliged to embrace but they're not places I feel comfortable in unlike cafés. Groups shielded me, drew attention away from me, let me be quiet and watch.
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