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The Power of the Pint.
The Power of the Pint.
The Power of the Pint.
By Nicky Bantham
Arriving at Dublin airport many years ago and being allowed to enter Ireland, on account that I could spell ‘pneumonia’, was what first alerted me to the fact that things were definitely different here. The immigration officer for the day, an officer, Tatler O’ Neil, greeted me with suspicious eyes, after studying the contents of my passport. Then proceeded with a re-enactment of what could only be described as ‘The Spanish Inquisition’.
The entry into the country, renowned for its pub scenes, music, art and literary icons, should have prepared me for the mindset of the community I was about to settle into for the next three months. My first exposure to an Irish pub, filled every fibre of my being with excitement, as I imagined scenes of tin-whistles, Irish dancing, and fiddles, often read about or seen in movies, but not in this pub. It was in a league of its own.
Being one of the oldest public houses in the town, thirty miles outside of Dublin, where ‘decorum’ was as foreign to the locals as I was, this quaint establishment held all the features of an era long forgotten. Known by all who visit it as, ‘home-away-from-home’, where games like, ‘Bingo’ was still played on a weekly basis, the pub’s residents were here, to ‘live- out’ the best scripts they were able to deliver, through the aid of their pints.
Old men sat at the bar, clad in grey-suits, smoking their pipes, pensive for one moment, then unexpectedly bursting into song, like Paddy, the grave-digger, who would often, or rather, too often, do his rendition of ‘Oh Danny boy’, a favourite, but only with him, when his pint consumption had clocked his drinking capacity.
The elderly barman, Mick, who poured his requests for drinks with such proficiency, always made me wonder, whether he had received his training from academies of royal repute, judging by his elegant attire of shirt, tie, cufflinks and neatly combed grey hair. ‘You’re looking well’! A standard line he used to greet patrons entering and making their way to the bar.
‘Yer not looking too bad yerself, Mick. ya scrub up well.’ A voice coming from the corner, totally tuned in to the playful repartee happening at the bar. ‘Tanks very much, I just washed me feet’, laughs the barman, who was known to be the maker or breaker of EVERYONE’s sobriety, should they step out of line.
‘Ya Barred!’, were words I did not understand when I first set foot in this place, but quickly learned the dialect over time, as people like ‘Bigs’, ‘Bugs’,‘Ants’ and Paddy-one-ball’, were regularly flung out the door, by the temperamental owner, who had little tolerance for their drunken onslaught on refusal to serve them. The hilarity for me, seeing them the next time, when their ‘denial- of- entry’ term had been served, and watching them beg and plea to be let back in, as you do, if this ill-fate had befallen you, in this town.
I knew that I was possibly trapped in a time-zone, where Celtics and Vikings were still very much a part of the small town’s make-up, when I first heard the songs coming from the juke-box, planted firmly in the corner close to the pool table. This machine, manned only by the sacrilegious few, and whose rules no one would dare question, served as the pub’s 'holy grail’.
The Dubliners, followed by, The Pogues, then a few intermittent rebel songs, added to the rising spirit of the night, and with each drink , the territorial issues a mere memory. The atmosphere always tense, but filled with expectation, as Margaret,the pub's 'soloist',squinted in one eye and competely tone-deaf, but donning the biggest fan-base there, took pride in how her 'feminine masculinity' intimidated everyone. She once asked me,'Here, do you like Meatloaf'? ‘ Slapping me on the back. I remember looking at her, slightly taken aback since we were talking about music, and answered. ‘Yes, with mash potatoes, Margaret!
Margaret almost crippled herself falling from her chair with laughter, since I didn’t know what else she could be talking about? ‘You eejit, Meatloaf, The band? You know that song, bat from hell’?
My thoughts were not very wholesome at that point, as I stood up to sing,The Irish National Anthem, as it was done each evening at closing time. This was a practise so alien to me, that I could not help but chuckle at the patriotism even I felt, despite the fact that I did not know the words. I mimed, placing my hand over my heart, as everyone else was doing, and watched them sing as if Michael Collins himself were present. My thoughts pondering towards South Africa, our struggles, but with an unfathomable ability to imagine a group from Cape Town or anywhere else in SA for that matter, standing up, after a night in the pub, to sing, Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica.
The barman and creator of 'our escape', poised and militant in his demeanour, looking towards the heavens, as the anthem draws to a close, takes his tea towel, almost robotically and moves towards the door to say goodnight to everyone, with the same warmth in which he had welcomed them. HIs task, unnoticed by many, but clearly pleased with himself as he waves, hugs, and playfully slaps others, watching each character leave this 'den of iniquity', with invincible spirit and accolades that, in their minds, could only be achieved through the power of the pint!
copyright © November 2010