Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Walshes pub, Stoneybatter (a sort of short story)

The stained glass door of Walshes pub in Stoneybatter, Dublin

This began life as a Christmas short story (called “The Twelve Pubs of Christmas”) then evolved into part of Black Marigolds, the second book in the ‘Moss Reid’ series. I’ve snipped it back here, so that it’s fairly self-contained. It takes place in Walshes pub on Manor Street (actually its address is 6-7 Stoneybatter) on 18 December 2013…

Even at the best of times the highways and byways of Smithfield and Stoneybatter can feel like a cross between Hip City and Ballinasloe Horse Fair. It was an even more raggedy confusion this evening.
The homely pub I was in could be confusing too, from its slightly higgledy-piggledy layout to the sharp contrast between the front bar with its ancient wooden snug areas and the refurbed lounge at the back. The pub’s very name could confuse you: “Walshes” in the stained glass windows and doors, plain “Walsh” on the main sign outside.
Walshes. A relaxed kind of place in which Detective Chief Superintendent Foyle could have a quiet snifter; he did here too, in this very pub, in the latest season of Foyle’s War. After an unproductive afternoon and a blackmail case that made no sense, I needed to chill out with a pint. At the bar counter. Because at a table you might have to small-talk with someone opposite; at the counter at least you could be alone with your thoughts. Alone in a crowded bar: it could almost be the title of an art exhibition.
Despite the crowd she’d spotted me already. She was well on too, and sopping wet like most of the customers.
Maggie Dardis was soaked and frazzled – apart from the hair of course, as impeccable as ever: long black hair with an impossibly straight fringe. As for the rest of her, while she might have started off as pretty as a picture (a Renoir, a Monet perhaps) she’d ended up as a Jackson Pollock with the paint still wet.
She’d arrived with more than a dozen fellow reprobates in similar festive attire, in a mad scrum tumbling in the front door of Walshes on a gust of wet leaves and cigarette haze. Outside, the weather couldn’t decide whether to rain, freeze or blow the tops off the houses – so Storm Emily was doing all three at once.
After taking off her big red puffy jacket, Christmas Jumper and light cream beret, Maggie resembled a Santa’s Little Helper. Her bright white T-shirt – with a dodgy pizza-dough typeface listing the names of a dozen local hostelries – came with a red skirt, white tights, red heels, red lipstick, red nail varnish and a Donegal accent.
So Maggie Dardis is on the batter tonight.
She slowly detached herself from the army of renegades and wobbled towards my peaceful patch of wooden counter. I really didn’t need this.
“Reidy! Maurice Reid! Thank the Baby Jesus the week is nearly over,” she said, putting on a Tolka Row accent.
“It’s only Wednesday, Maggie.”
“I know, izz pissing down out there. So. How’s my favouritest divorce detective?”
“Fine. I’ll be back on your case right after the holliers. Promise.”
Since Ireland brought in its divorce laws the Irish weren’t doing things by halves: half the country weren’t talking to each other, another half were separated and a third half had started divorce proceedings.
That would one day include young Mrs Margaret Dardis and her other half, a boring old accountant who specialised in receiverships (or was it insolvencies?). They’d recently split up after five years of arguments, sarcasm and snide remarks. Well, technically speaking more like one long argument lasting five years. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission couldn’t patch that one up, because he and she were as incompatible as chalk and a nice ripe Camembert. It was a long story: after Mr Chalk had hired me to tail Mrs Cheese, Mrs Cheese had hired me to dig for dirt on Mr Chalk, but it was also another story; the next episode could wait till January. Besides, Maggie Dardis couldn’t afford my fees – she usually had to pay in kind by looking after my tech stuff.
“Oh by the way,” I said, “I might have a kinda IT job if yez are interested.”
“Yeah,” she said, or that’s what I think she said. Three fellow party-goers behind her were drowning us out with “Argh Jim lad, shiver me timbers” impersonations.
“Argh Jim lad!” she shouted back at them.
“What?” I said. The joint was getting noisy. Too many pirates. The sardines in this part of the bar were packed as tightly as the departure lounge of a Ryanair regional airport.
“I said yeah, Mossie,” she shouted. “Could do with the spondoolix.”
“It’s a quid pro quo, Maggie. That alright with you? Drop into the office tomorrow and I’ll explain all.”
“Fair enough. I’ll drop in so.”
Talking of which, she looked like she was about to drop her wine glass and small wine bottle: holding them precariously in one hand, leaning against a stool with the other, tottering on a pair of dangerously high heels. Behind her, the Christmas Jumper lights of one Argh Jim Lad became entangled with the dangly bits of another Jim Lad’s jumper. All three Jims were wearing this season’s must-have headgear: blue and white “Coola Boola Christmas”Love/Hate hats.
“What are you lot on exactly?” I asked Maggie.
“Stoneybatter Scoop Trail,” she said.
“And who be the pieces-of-eight pirate lads?” I nodded towards the Argh Jims.
“Ah you know. Guys I usedta work with.”
“A pub crawl with a bunch of techie nerds from the IT department and Treasure Island? Lovely. What number are you on?”
“Nine, Mossie. Number n-i-i-i-i–i-n-n-e.”
Somehow she managed to plonk herself on the stool beside me without dropping her drink. So Maggie and co were on the Twelve Pubs of Christmas, and we were pub number nine. No wonder half the pirates looked wrecked.
The “Twelve Pubs” or “Twelve Stations” was a seasonal tradition well past its Use-By date. Once upon a time it was innocent enough, with three simple rules: (1) twelve pints; (2) twelve pubs; (3) on the one night, shortly before Santa and Rudolph came to town. The itinerary kept changing over the years because the pubs of Dublin had this pesky habit of closing down, such as the Belfry across the road (mind you, I’d not been in the Belfry since it was Daly’s Lounge in the Eighties; while it finally had new owners this week they were still painting and decorating).
The pubs kept closing down or opening up again, like the Belfry or the revamped Mulligans gastropub a few doors down. Or the routes of the Twelve Pubs kept evolving to follow more modern tracks and trails through the city, such as the east-west logic of the tram line: the “Daniel Day (Luas) Pub Crawl”. Other pre-dinosaur places were ruled out altogether because they had a “Nah We Don’t Serve Girls Full Stop” rule at all times of the year.
Some historians insisted that the Twelve Pubs tradition originated around Cowtown in the ancient fog of prehistory, and the Stoneybatter Scoop Trail was as authentically local and Stoneybatterish as, say, the Stoneybatter Culture Crawl (which they had to abandon this year due to the mad cost of public liability insurance). Others argued that the Twelve Pubs craze was imported from Texas in 1996. Or that it had started on Manor Street fifteen years ago, then spread like an Internet meme to the southside, to the likes of Doheny & Nesbitts, the Duke, the International, Peter’s Pub, the Old Stand, Doyle’s on College Street, Grogan’s, Kehoe’s, Neary’s, Sinnott’s, McDaid’s, Bruxelles, the Porterhouse on Parliament Street or the other Porterhouse, the Foggy Dew, O’Donohue’s, the Bankers, the Stag’s Head, Turk’s Head and Brazen Head. Not all in that order of course, and not all twenty on the one night.
A big problem was that while the rules had started off simple enough (twelve pubs, one night, near Christmas), each year the rulebook kept getting longer and thicker, in every sense of the word.
For example, if the route involved a tiny establishment such as the Dawson Lounge – a charming little pub, the smallest in Christendom because (to paraphrase Shane MacGowan) Dublin still had “bars big as cars”, in this case the car was a Mini – a new rule might designate said venue as “the quiet pub”: once you order, absolute silence must be maintained at all times as you down your drink. That was fair enough. But some crawls also adopted a strict “single file” rule for traipsing from pub to pub. Or the “walking backwards” rule. Or the no talking about the recession / Man United / NAMA rule. The “no NAMA” bit was fair enough I guess; some people like NAMA but you wouldn’t want to eat a whole one, especially after a feed of pints.
While I knew Maggie could hold her drink, she was still having serious problems holding this one: a glass of white wine in her left hand.
“I thought you were right-handed,” I said.
“Yeah but.”
“Is the rule.”
Oh-oh – dangerous warning sign: nouns and verbs were beginning to drop out of her sentences more quickly than first-year science students at UCD.
“So. This … the left-hand pub,” she said, pulling out a soggy printout. “See? Izz, um, rules.”
This really did call for the reading glasses.
Rules of the 2013 Stoneybatter Scoop Trail
  • Pub #1: All competitors must have a pint ordered by the 4:00 pm deadline, or a shot for every pub missed.
  • Pub #2: At this point all mobiles must be turned off and remain so until the end.
  • Pub #3: Everyone must get a stout (stout drinkers switch to lager).
  • Pub #4: No one can go to the loo.
  • Pub #5: No names or nicknames. Pointing is rude and will also be punished.
  • Pub #6: The pick a mate pub – your colleague must feed you your drink in this pub.
  • Pub #7: The swap shoes pub – swap one shoe with another participant.
  • Pub #8: The fake accent pub – everybody talks like a Yank tourist or a pirate.
  • Pub #9: The left-hand pub – everyone is only allowed to drink with their bad hand, not their good one. (NB penalty drinks must also be drunk with bad hand)
  • Pub #10: The Gaeilge pub. No speaking English. Or politics.
  • Pub #11: The no swearing pub.
  • Pub #12: Sit back and enjoy the sense of achievement, in a mission as epic as Shackleton’s voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia!
“Izz more,” she said. “On other side.” And there go the definite articles. I turned the sheet over.
Extra rules …
  1. Minimum one pint or shot per pub – or one mini wine bottle for the girls.
  2. Anyone intending to drink less, please downgrade to the Junior ‘B’ Competition.
  3. No going to the jacks allowed en route from pub to pub. If you’re spotted a shot must be downed at the next pub.
  4. The three designated punishment shots this year are a Jägerbomb, Sambuca or Tequila.
  5. All participants must wear the official T-shirt and a Christmas Jumper. Bonus points for funky ones with flashing lights, reindeer antlers, Santa hats, Mrs Claus dresses etc.
  6. Snitching and catching people out are encouraged.
  7. So are shenanigans, which may be rewarded with bonus points (apart from if said shenanigans result in the ejection of one or more participants).
  8. But please respect the bar staff and other patrons, and this year try to leave the decorations as you found them.
  9. Puking results in instant disqualification.
  10. In the event of any disputes or altercations the Committee’s word is final.
“You’d be half cut by the time you’ve read that,” I said.
“Yeah but haveta have rules, Mossie.”
“No you don’t. In fact that’s my number one rule.”
“Ebeneeeezer, Mossie!”
“Or keep it simple, like ‘Rule #1: avoid A&E’?”
“Lighten up, detecty man.”
“Well I’d rather play something more civilised. Like Chinese Roulette.”
“Whazzat? Like neknominations?”
“Ah no, y’know, it’s … Hey! Watch it,” I said to an awkward bollix in a red suit who almost collided into Maggie. He had a big white beard and long white ponytail and I was sure I’d seen him before somewhere. Santa also appeared to be full of the Christmas spirit tonight; it would explain why he was staggering around looking for a snog or a squeeze – a large red-and-white panda causing pandemonium.
“Thanks,” Maggie said to me. “Creep!” she barked in Santa’s general direction.
“Not one of yours is he?” I asked.
“Course not! Ya gobshite!”
“So what’s the route this year?”
Daft question. Seems they’d started at the Dice Bar on the corner of Queen Street and Benburb Street, and would end up in Hynes’s on Prussia Street. Or maybe vice versa.
“Though we might swish to Kavanagh’s cos it could be bingo night in Hynes’s,” Maggie continued, “and Kavanagh’s hazza smoking area. Half the lads will be dying for a fag by then. Where izz Kavanagh’s?”
“Straight up the street with a new splash of paint. Can’t miss it, Simpsonsyellow. Nearer than Hynes’s too. But whatever you do, don’t do the both of them. That’d be the Thirteen Pubs.”
“Yeah, thirteen unlucky.” More verbs missing in action.
Someone shouted “Rudolph!” The codeword. Somebody else shouted “Down the hatchet!” The pubcrawlers downed their dregs and got up to leave. Or at least tried to; half their legs were suddenly legless.
Maggie glugged back the last of her wine and struggled with her jumper as the Committee gathered up the walking wounded for the long trek to the next venue, O’Gara’s. It was like herding cats. So Tommy O’Gara’s was Pub #10: the speak-Irish pub, no English and no talking politics. A bit contentious, that rule, because O’Gara’s walls had more political pictures than any other pub in Dublin, from a Michael Collins to a repro 1916 Proclamation, not to mention the shrine at the end of the bar to Drumcondra’s prodigal – a portrait of Bertie in a suit and red tie in front of the Mansion House, with dark windswept hair and his mayor’s chain. All the chain was missing was a large bowl at the end of it. I wondered whether O’Gara’s had any Ned Power pics.
Through the stained glass the night sky lit up like a lightning storm. Despite the downpour they were having an identity parade outside, a roll call – the Committee taking pictures for verification purposes. And for blackmail on Facebook.
“C’mon Mossie,” Maggie said. “Fancy joiny us? Night izz young.” I gave a little shake of the head. She gave a pout. “Ah go on go on g’wan.” Maggie Dardis could pout for Ireland and get away with murder. Usually she could, though eight pubs can have a strange effect on pouts.
“Nah,” I said. “You know me. I like to stay put in the one place.”
Yeah, a guest appearance on Who Can Get The Most Pissed And Get Us Chucked Out Of Here ain’t my idea of fun any more. Or drinking games with young ones waddling around Temple Bar wearing zogabongs (the pom-pom antennae things).
Maggie gave another boozy pout.
“No, really,” I said. “Weather’s mad and I’ve tons to do.”
“Christmas chopping?”
“I’m making the Christmas pud. Really. Honest.”
She gave a last pout and finally got the jumper on. Its theme was season four of Love/Hate, with a “Have a Nidgey Christmas!” slogan.
“Enjoy,” I said. “I wish your liver luck, and don’t forget to finish off the night with a great big dirty kebab.”
“Bye Scroooooge.” She picked up her puffy jacket. “You chillax. Catch you tomorrow.”
“Yeah. And don’t forget to bring the definite hiarticles.”
“You what?”
“Ah nothing. Slán. Hey – you forgot the beret.”
 Text and images © walshes-pub-stoneybatterMel Healy, 2014. Not to be reproduced without permission.
This is a work of fiction. All characters and descriptions of events are the products of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental (apart from Storm Emily of course). Check out this music video shot in Walshes.