I had done everything right in my preparation for flying out of Dublin on Thursday afternoon. Following on from my security faux pas when travelling to the north of Ireland the previous week I ensured that my socks were fully functional in keeping my toes covered and that I removed all illicit items from my possession prior to going through security. I timed my departure so that I would reach the airport just short of the two hours they recommend, because nobody ever truly needs two hours in an airport lounge. I was cleared through security leaving exactly the right amount of time to order a Guinness at the bar. I wasn’t drinking Guinness out of any great love for the beer – though it is abundantly true that it tastes superior in Ireland – but moreso because I knew that it would take longer for the barman to pour and so would assist me in wasting a little more time before boarding my flight. Everything was going as smoothly as the rich, creamy head which had settled on the peak of my pint. There was even a surprising and pleasing absence of a hangover from the previous night.
My last night in Dublin felt like an exercise in solitude. There was no Ryan Adams gig after his two exemplary nights at the Olympia Theatre and as a result I found myself chasing the ghosts of past experiences and emotions. I booked myself onto the literary pub crawl I had so enjoyed the last time I was in Dublin, partly because I had ended up so drunk on that occasion that I couldn’t remember much of what was discussed, but mainly because I ended that night in the company of three women from Boston and I was hoping that my luck would repeat itself – and indeed better itself – this time around. I spent a considerable part of Wednesday afternoon revisiting some of my favourite bars in the city, in complete contradiction of my vow to not drink before four o’clock. Though I felt greatly vindicated by this decision when a tremendous rain shower pounded the streets no later than around three o’clock, a sight which I enjoyed with smug interest from a barstool in Brew Dock as hapless pedestrians sprinted by seeking shelter, like the Rolling Stones song.
The rain subsided and I sauntered along to the Black Sheep on Capel Street, where my confident attempt at ordering my favourite IPA on this trip – Full Sail by Galway Bay Brewery – was halted by me both forgetting its name and having my attention stolen mid-sentence by a glimpse of a grisly feature on the ceiling above the bar. How many flies are up there? I pondered as the barmaid presumably began to consider that I might be some sort of incompetent. I didn’t know they still made flypaper. What kind of fly would choose the sweet fragrance of sticky killer paper over the sweet intoxication of the killer drip tray under the beer taps? The barmaid looked at me as though I was someone who had completely forgotten why I was there; which I was. What’s the name of that IPA? I eventually asked as I looked down and to my right and saw it looking back at me. She poured me a pint of Full Sail and I considered whether or not it would be appropriate to ask her about the fly paper. It almost certainly could not be translated as being some kind of a crude pick-up line and she would surely see it as the genuine human curiosity that it is. I settled into my barstool as she continued her duties and I stared up at the fly cemetery which was not entirely dissimilar to some of the exhibits I had seen at the Museum of Archaeology the other day. I’ve heard about flies on sheep, but flies in the Black Sheep? I began to count the number of flies on the paper and the barmaid cannot fail to have noticed my interest in the ceiling. Eighteen, I counted. Though some of them are quite close together. It could be twenty. I glanced around the bar to ascertain whether anybody else had taken such a morbid interest in this memorial. It was just me. How many flies do they want to catch before somebody takes it down? Is it there as a warning to other flies? I decided that the barmaid wouldn’t have any interest in answering these questions and so finished my pint and left.
Suitably lubricated, I went to the Duke Pub for the literary pub crawl in good spirits and with high hopes. The tour was busier, perhaps even busier than when I first went on the crawl seven weeks earlier. There were various different groups of people swarming around the tables and none of them immediately offered any encouragement that the wonderful night I previously enjoyed would be repeated. There were Americans, of course, but they were older and much too dignified to enjoy the drinking aspect of a literary pub crawl. And there were Germans who appeared intelligent enough to recognise that talking to me would only result in awkward issues of translation – them speaking fluent English and me talking some drunken, mangled form of English. I drank alone for the duration of the tour, learning far more about Irish literature than I could ever care to know whilst indulging in my own self-defeat. At one bar I ordered a single Jameson as I sought to rekindle some of the memories of that last night. I handed over €4, believing that to be what the barman asked for. “You’ve only given me €4,” he noted. “How much is it?” I asked with some trepidation. “€8.50,” came the response. I wondered how much I had spent drinking doubles in July.
There was little evidence of a hangover as I approached the gate for my 13.50 flight to Manchester. I had finally mastered the timing of travelling by air. I began to consider all the things I would do with my time when I arrived in Manchester when it was announced that the flight would be delayed by an hour. I stared at my shoes for a while and then back up at the board, hoping that they might have realised that they had made a mistake and removed the red text stating that the plane would be “delayed until 14.50.” They hadn’t. People began to leave the boarding line in search of food or simply a more comfortable place to wait for an hour. I was reluctant and unwilling to give up what I felt was a pretty good spot in the queue, knowing that I could get on board early enough to fit my bag into the overhead locker and be able to reach my window seat without having to suffer those arduous few moments waiting for the two people already sitting there to puff their cheeks and stand up to allow me in.
I glanced around the gate and considered whether it would be worthwhile giving up my fortuitous position in the boarding queue to go and sit next to a young lady who appeared both alone and alluring. I thought about how I struggle to even start a conversation with the person next to me on the plane and imagined it would be significantly more awkward if I ignored scores of empty seats around the lounge to sit beside this sultry solo traveller. How does THAT conversation start?? I concluded that with the enhanced security around airports these days it would be preferable for me not to be the source of some tense scene, and I realised that I was leaving Dublin without having talked to a single person.
My flight eventually arrived into Manchester approximately 102 minutes later than scheduled and I decided to forgo styling my hair into an acceptable appearance in favour heading to the bar closest to my hotel near Piccadilly Station. It was here that I encountered further farce with my currency as the more familiar Sterling coins became mixed with some rogue Euros which I had forgotten were still in my wallet. I fumbled blindly with my fingers and hoped for the best, the coins being offered an insight into my romantic techniques, until I was finally successful in paying for my beer. This scene would be repeated often over the course of three hours, even when my favoured Shindigger IPA ran dry and I was forced to scramble for an alternative. What would you recommend? I asked the barmaid, more in the manner of hoping to appease her disappointment at disappointing me than anything else, because no matter what else you drink it is never the same as the beer you really wanted.
Even with the curtailed drinking hours prior to the gig I felt myself a little unsure of which way I should be walking when I left the O2 Apollo afterwards. I knew it wasn’t a particularly challenging route and that the venue wasn’t far from my hotel, because I had walked it without hesitation no more than two hours earlier, but I felt uncertainty as I surveyed Stockport Road. After some hesitation I decided that I would simply follow the cars travelling in the direction away from the venue, because surely they must know where they’re going. It proved to be a logical logistical solution and within fifteen minutes I was standing at the hotel bar wondering why, in a certain light, the boots I believed to be black now appear to be blue. Maybe blue or navy blue? I pondered this over an expensively poured Jameson and wondered how this establishment deals with their flies.
The Duke – 9 Duke Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
O’Neill’s – 2 Suffolk Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
The International Bar – 23 Wicklow Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
Davy Byrnes – 21 Duke Street (Dublin Literary Pub Crawl)
Piccadilly Tap – Piccadilly Station approach
Motel One – hotel bar
Usher Hall, Edinburgh – tonight