Dreams and reality: "Dubliners"
By Parson Thru
Friday. It feels like the weekend. My morning class was cancelled, giving me a sleep-in. What a luxury. I thought I’d lose my dependency on weekends, but it all boils down to the sleep-in.
Customer-satisfaction in my work seems to be moving to the happy side of acceptable, but you’re only as good as your last game and I spent the morning doing end-of-month admin and thinking about next week’s lessons. I've got a new student starting on Tuesday in a class that’s never really come together as a group. I need to think about how to baseline them – sorry if that seems a bit inhuman, it’s a term from a previous life.
Monday is a national holiday, so I’ve got time to reflect on where things are going pedagogically. Fancy words for spending time thinking about teaching.
I finished the admin by early afternoon and collected-up harmonicas, guitar, notepad, pen, Kindle (Kerouac and Dylan) and migrated the whole lot into the lounge as I’ve got the flat to myself for a day or so. I pulled a book from my growing pile – it was Joyce’s “Dubliners”.
When you don’t have time to do the things you want to, you imagine how you could fill four idle days playing guitar, practicing harmonica and reading – or whatever floats your boat. After an hour or so of strumming through “Desolation Row” and furthering my re-acquaintance with the harmonica, I began to tire. Siesta-time.
Don’t you just hate the feeling when your body wants to sleep but your mind wants to play like a spring-tailed puppy? I opened “Dubliners” at the the bookmark, a Camino souvenir carrying a picture of Sant Iago. The depiction is unnervingly similar to a sociology/psychology lecturer I had during the mid-nineties. I wonder if the lecturer knew.
I still couldn’t settle. I felt an urge to sit and read the book in café down in the plaza. I swung out of bed and laced my trainers (brown Chile ‘62 cocoa beans – a sign of appreciation for the efforts of the mechanic, navigator and sometimes MG driver, Weston 2012, thanks Hon).
Five minutes later I was perched at a counter above a pile of sugar wrappers and receipts. I opened the page, retracing the root of the conversation between Mr. O’Connor, Jack and Mr. Henchy by the Committee Room hearth.
It was pleasant on my stool, watching the camareros, but another playful thought had me reading Joyce with a pint of the black stuff in front of me, no doubt engendered by the fact that twelve bottles of stout had just been delivered to the gentlemen by the hearth. There are as many Irish bars in Madrid as in some Irish towns and one of them is an easy walk from the plaza, heading towards the centre along Alcala.
I called at a cash-point along the way for financial replenishment – more imaginary than real.
The “James Joyce” looks a bit of a passing-trade watering-hole, but seemed appropriate. There were three or four tables outside, but I preferred the dark confines of the bar. It was early-doors and pretty empty – staff queueing to serve customers. They all spoke English, though the barman seemed a man of few words. He looked the part, though – tall and handy-looking in a spotless white shirt that wouldn’t have been out of place on O’Connell Street.
I found the spot I was looking for in between two televisions showing a snooker game and the big race of the day. The sound was briefly turned-up as the latter came in for the finish.
I pulled Joyce out again and as the boys in the Committee Room pulled on their bottles of stout I took a swig of mine. It wasn’t bad – a bit “English” maybe. I noticed, though, that the head didn’t adhere to the side of the glass. Feeling charitable, I put it down to the evolution of beer glasses and the addition of an anti-friction additive, designed to cut washing costs and protect the environment.
I sank back into the Committee Room. I hadn’t turned more than three pages when four lads came in off the street and set up camp at the end of the counter. It took a while to tune into their accents through the music. In fact, it took a while to work out they were speaking English, so accustomed am I to hearing Spanish. But I spent nine years in London and, once I had it, I could almost pin the accent down to a post-code. North London. Effing and Jeffing. Shaved heads. Lager jowls. Essex.
I’ve learned that the “C” word gets used a lot in Madrid, but somehow it lacks the venom and spite Londoners manage to give it.
I tried to filter them out but, borrowing from Freud’s theory of suppression, it takes energy. The mind-parasites had already done their work on whatever literary ambience I thought I might find in the “James Joyce”, but I'd seen another Irish pub just off Sol. I drank up.
I found the “Dubliners” bar just where I expected along Calle de Espoz y Mina. Prices are not for the faint-hearted. I took out a five euro note, expecting change and the barmaid repeated the price (I hadn’t been listening – one of my getting-by language strategies). “Cinco-cinquenta.” I dug-out another fifty cents.
There was an empty alcove opposite a TV showing Premier League football and I left my pint on the table while I went to use the aseos. Madrid is a pretty safe city. I had a feeling my drink would be there when I got back. It was.
A group of Americans at the next table were discussing Prince Charles and the fact that his staff number over a hundred. I thought they were missing the point a bit. He also has Cornwall. Let’s not get started on that one.
The jukebox (Spotify?) played The Beatles’ “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”. As the youthful manager collected glasses, I wanted to tell him “I remember this shit from when I was a kid.” but it seemed irrelevant somehow.
Next up, Queen: “Don’t Stop Me Now”. My phone vibrated: messages from Africa – then died. I'd left the new booster battery at home in my work-bag.
I pulled Joyce out of my pocket. For all its cost, the Guinness in “Dubliners” tastes closer to how I remember it in Dublin, Blackrock, Bray and Galway.
The finest pint I ever had, however…
was along the coast from Cork City. That was back in 1979. The barmaid, Katherine Murphy, wrote her phone number on a beer mat.
Everything tastes better with a little nostalgia, don't you think?