Monday, October 02, 2006

Guinness, Grooming and Gestalt in Twenty-First Century Dublin

Ceann an CarriaIt seems that one Ben Fenton was visiting Dublin last weekend, and is this morning reporting his impressions of the capital of the Irish nation to the readers of the Daily Telegraph.

It seems that Mr Fenton’s curiosity was piqued by a report that claims the Irish aren’t drinking as much as they did. Happily, the result of Mr Fenton’s investigation is that the Mick puts away just as much porter as he ever did. In fact, you can damn near smell the hops in Fenton's copy, rich as it is in local colour, featuring, as it does, whiskery bucks, half-filled pints of stout, drunks hunched over drinks roaring at each other and a mysterious “mud-spattered Toyota,” which seems to be on loan from an old re-run of Garda Patrol, circa 1982.

That said, An Spailpín Fánach can’t help but think that Mr Fenton missed an important detail in his tour of weekend Dublin, that has to do more with Dubliners themselves than what they’re throwing back.

Last Friday night, for instance, An Spailpín Fánach was taking a few sociables in the Stag’s Head, that well known Dublin hostelry that went for such big money not so long ago. Having taken his initial quart or so, your faithful correspondent descended into the lower parts of the bar, where lower deeds occur. It was time to part company with some of that booze, and shed a tear for Parnell and the Fenian Dead.

There’s not a lot a gentlemen can do once the process of teaming the spuds has begun. The floodgates cannot be closed until the tide has abated, as it were. Although it is considered highly irregular, An Spailpín keeps a discrete but wary eye on his fellow patrons while attending the porcelain – a man is always exposed in these circumstances, and he can’t be too careful. To the left of your constant narrator, there was a young man, a student I would assume, with long hair that looked a little like that of a Rolling Stone about the time the wrinkly rockers recorded Waiting on a Friend in the last seventies. Having successfully replenished the Liffey, the young man looked in the mirror above the porcelain, ran some thoughtful fingers through his hair, and remarked, to his reflection, I suppose, “my hair is just uncontrollable.”

My hair is just uncontrollable. Take up your copy of Dead as Doornails, by Anthony Cronin, his famous memoir of drunken literary Dublin of the 1950s, and see if you can find the bit where Brendan Behan asks Paddy Kavanagh, home from a Olympian session of porter, whiskey, gin and petrol, if his bum looked big in this. Read Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men, and see if you can find the bit where, after Cú Chulainn smears his chin with blackberries so the men of Connacht will consider him old enough to fight, the Hound of Ulster then books himself an appointment to have his back waxed? I don’t think you’ll bloody find it, you know.

It’s no wonder we’re losing the run of ourselves as a nation if all we’re worried about our hair being uncontrollable. Maybe that gasúr ought to cut the damn stuff, and solve it that way? It behoves a man to be practical in matters of grooming. If a man is on the session, he should concentrate on his booze, and leave worrying about his hair to his needlepoint classes. Besides, if friend student was so concerned about grooming – shouldn’t he have washed his hands before running his fingers through his troublesome thatch?

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