Tag Archives: Maddens Bar

The cab home, Belfast

Maddens Bar (from feilebelfast.com)

So I was drinking last thing  in Maddens bar near the centre of Belfast. I’d stolen off to my favourite nook, away from my excellent sisters and the rest of my family because… Because sometimes you just want a quiet pint. And it’s late. And everyone else is tired. And tomorrow is Christmas Eve. So you slope off alone to a cosy corner where you might fall in with this one or that one, with flutes and fiddles doodling away in the background.

No music this night. No great chat either. Marie or Mairead was next to me at the bar. She was with her friends, and looked too young to be a grandmother. But only two months to go, she told me. And she was excited. Above our heads the ceiling was taking a rare pummelling. “Set dancing,” explained the bloke on the other side of me with the four cans of Guinness in a plastic bag. Rhinos, I thought to myself.

Mairead’s friend was bemoaning the lot of women at Christmas – buy the food, cook the food, buy the presents, wrap the presents – but  determinedly independent, she declared she would never let a man to do it for her. Time for me to go. Happy Christmases from me to them and from them to me.

No cars at the first cab company. ABLE Taxis are next. Just the one car left and it’s about to leave. “Sure, squeeze in that one,” they say. “You can be dropped off on the way back.”  So I try the first back door. Oops. Not this side. The woman in there is not moving over, I thought. Wedged pretty tight already. The bloke at the other side shifted into the middle. Snugly packed, we set off west from the city centre on a cold and snowy night. Two in the front, three in the back.

OK, OK, this is not the Falls Rd mural. This take on CHE is by grafitti artist DOLK. His website is http://www.thegiant.org/wiki/index.php/Dolk You might also want to check out Jim Fitzpatrick http://www.jimfitzpatrick.ie/ who created the iconic Che poster (featured on the T-shirt) from Alberto Korda's original photo.

Up Divis Street, the Lower Falls, past the murals – there’s Che Guevara. (He was behind the bar too, under the Hunger Strike commemmorative hurley stick.) On up the road, past the Falls Baths, Jobs & Benefits, the Falls Library, Bobby Sands and his “Everyone has a role to play in the struggle…” Past Cavendish, which always looks odd to me now without the high walls of the barracks blocking out the light.

The woman in the back is from Sydney, Australia. But she doesn’t know Doyle’s chipper on Circular Quay. The driver has been telling us about his visit there. “Great chips,” he says. “it was set up by an Irish man.” She and the bloke in the middle exchange complicit smiles at the driver’s attempts at familiarity.

First stop just past the top of Broadway. She gets out her door. I offer to let her bloke out my door. Oh, I have it wrong. They’re not together at all. He’s with the bloke in the front passenger seat.

Aussie lady is now on the footpath handing cash through the passenger window. The radio crackles. We hear the cab controller back at base reveal that the Aussie lady’s friend has lost her purse. Would the Aussie lady have it? She does. And when she hears that her purseless friend is now at the depot, she offers to pay her fare for her in advance. Back and forth over the crackling connection goes the consideration of this offer. In the end she hands over the whole purse to our driver, to pass to her friend when he gets back to the depot after dropping off his last passenger.

Or, to put it another way, she hands over her friend’s cash and cards to a nameless man she’s never seen before. Crazy? Naive? I can’t imagine it happening where I live now. But on this Belfast journey it seems the natural thing to do.  Is life so different here? Or maybe, to quote a different wobbly woman overheard earlier in the evening: “It must be the Jagermeisters kicking in.” I go for the first explanation.

Off we go again. I apologise to the bloke beside me in the back for assuming he was with the Australian. “No problem,” says he.  We pass St Kevins. The school looks different from the last time I was here. Up the Glen Road. The shops at Gransha look different too. And it’s very quiet. No people out walking in the cold.

We’re nearly at Coolnasilla. The bloke beside me is gathering his cash to pass forward to his friend. He refuses to accept it. They argue back and forth. Back Seat finally wins by revealing that he actually owes Front Seat a pint for drinking one of his, and that another time he had not bought a round as Front Seat had thought. Front Seat admits he was too drunk to notice and doesn’t remember any of this. But it’s as if Back Seat has been storing up these personal failings so as to be able to use them against himself on just such an occasion as this. So his honesty prevails and Front Seat accepts the contribution towards the cab fare.

Stop number two. Too icy to turn off into Coolnasilla, so Back Seat wishes us all a Happy Christmas and gets out to walk the rest of the way home.

We’re on higher ground now, and getting higher still as we drive further out of the city to Poleglass. It’s whiter, colder, frostier, icier. Too icy to leave the main road. “Bit too Christmasy,” says the driver.  “I’ll walk from here,” says Front Seat, handing over his own and Back Seat’s contribution.

Now the long descent back into Belfast. I move into the front passenger seat. The driver is Jim. More crackles from the radio. “They want me to hand over the purse to another driver to get it to her,” says Jim. “No way. It’ll stay in my glove box till I get back to the depot.” He apologises for the long detour I’ve been on. “No,” I say, “I’ve enjoyed it.” We laugh about the whole purse business.

“I could tell you some stories,” he says. “I used to be a bus driver. I’ve been hijacked, bus burned out, you name it.”

He tells me his daughter lives abroad. She was once interviewed over the telephone by George Jones on Radio Ulster. They had a long conversation about the humming bees of Costa Rica. Or was it birds? Jim tells me he’s not long off retirement.

Last stop. I pay for the trip out west and back. “Ah, no son. You’ve given me a tenner,” says he. “That’s only five pounds.”

“Purses, passengers, drivers…” I think to myself. “Is everyone so honest here?”

Or maybe it’s just the Jagermeisters kicking in.

La Boca - Belfast's only Argentinian restaurant. It's in Fountain Street. This is the website http://www.labocabelfast.com/index.html I added this because the food is great and so is the proprietor, Pedro. Good music, beer and atmosphere too. (You might even see yet another pic of that famous son of Galway tucked away here too. One of the Lynchs. Ernesto Guevara Lynch de la Serna. Yup, he gets everywhere.)



Filed under life, My Writing

The Charming Men of Ireland

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins

Strike! Abby McGibbon & Vincent Higgins (see below)

I had a problem. It had been on my mind for a while. Something had to be done. I needed help from the Charming Men of Ireland. I’ll introduce you to them in a moment. But first the problem…

The thing is, my wife’s English. (OK, half English. The other half’s Manx. But let’s not quibble.) So she’s English. I’m not saying that’s bad. I like English people. I like England. I even live there. Some of my best friends are English – to quote the classic defence against accusations of racism.

Actually, her Englishness isn’t the problem. That’s fine. It’s what it has led to. And that is, our children are half English. That’s the thing.

Actually, that’s not really it either. If they were only half English that would be fine. Half and half. Who could argue with that? Irish blood English heart is good enough for Morrissey.Ah yes, if only they were merely half English. But when you consider that:

  1. They were born in England.
  2. They live in England.
  3. They have (not surprisingly) English accents.
  4. My son supports an English football team. (OK, that could go for being Irish too.)
  5. They were baptised into the Church of England. (Long story. Another time.)
  6. My son is cricket mad.
  7. He supports the England national football team.

It’s clear I’ve been letting things slip. Thank goodness Ireland has been holding its own in rugby, and that my daughter remains stalwart in declaring her half-Irishness. (I fear though that she could be humouring me because she’s lovely.)

So there’s the problem. No, let’s call it a challenge. To somehow reassert the Irish half, as the English side seems to be doing well enough as it is thank you very much. But I needed help. And I had to go to Ireland to get it. I sought out The Charming Men of Ireland. And here they are:

  • The Latvian/Polish guy at Newgrange – He’s fun. He’s enlightening. (But seemingly not Irish.) He took us through the tunnel into the central chamber of  the prehistoric Newgrange passage grave. The subterranean refuge is  illuminated by the sun for five days in late December. It’s in the Boyne Valley of County Meath. Turn off the main road near Drogheda and head for Donore. Or if you’re an Orangeman, head for you-know-where and  keep going upriver a couple of miles.



If you overcome your claustrophobia and make it into the centre of the mound, look out for the Mickey Mouse logos. (Archaeologists call them tri-spirals or something dull.) And the hundred year old graffiti, including the word Disney. You see? You see? Mickey Mouse suggestion not so silly after all.

And for any Egyptians reading this. Newgrange is about 5,000 years old. That’s older than the pyramids at Giza. By 500 years matey. (Fair enough, I’m not saying Newgrange is better, but you had an extra 500 years to tart up the pyramids. You could have at least invented electricity to light them. I mean, c’mon! Make an effort.)

  • Donal at Kilmainham Gaol – Yes, I took my children to a prison for their short visit to Dublin. I know. I spoil them. Me: “Look, another plaque.” Them: “Does that mean…” Me: Yes, yet another person was shot there.” The prison feels like a real prison – which it was – rather than a film set – which it is – The Italian Job, The Escapist, Michael Collins.


    Kilmainham Gaol

    Kilmainham Gaol, new wing

    There’s obvious enjoyment to be had shutting each other in small prison cells and holding the door shut. But what made the big grey forbidding jail and its litany of rebellions and executions FUN, was… Yes, it was another Charming Man of Ireland. Donal. The handsome, friendly, accessible communicator who led us around. To be precise, he let my daughter lead us around. So everyone was happy. (A word to Unionists. Don’t expect your existence to be acknowledged till the very last moment of the tour, when the significance of the orange in the green, white and orange of the Irish flag is explained.)

  • The twinklies in the Palace – The three of us dropped in to the Palace bar on Fleet Street in Dublin. I used to drink there when I lived in Dublin. As often happens, the kids were finding it difficult to understand what a group of men were talking about amongst themselves. “Dad, are they talking Irish?” And, for once, the answer was yes. We weren’t in Belfast. It wasn’t just the accents. It was a genuine foreign language that was being spoken. But more importantly, the group of Irish speakers were friendly and twinkly-eyed, and also willing to discuss techniques for using chopsticks in English. So more good vibes.
  • Vincent Higgins – Vincent (see picture at the top) and fellow actor Abby McGibbon were acting in Strike!, the play Vincent wrote to mark the dedication of a stained glass window in Belfast City Hall celebrating the 1907 Dock Strike in the city. The play was commissioned by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). It was funny and clever, and short enough to fit into a weekday lunch hour – about 30 minutes long. The plan was to take it on tour round factories, but as Vincent told me, they couldn’t find enough factories, so they’ve branched out. Apart from his playwriting prowess, acting skill and general geniality, the most charming things about Vincent are his irresistible smile and very fine singing voice.
  • That bloke at the bar in Maddens – My sister was finding it difficult to get a pint at the bar of my favourite pub in Belfast. No barman was there to be seen. Not upstairs. Not in the basement. Not outside having a fag. But no problem. Another customer nipped round to pour her a Guinness. Isn’t that charming? I thought so. Especially as the Guinness was for me. (Oh, it turned out he was in the toilet. Seems reasonable.)
  • David at No Alibis bookshop in Belfast – Botanic Avenue is a great place for books. War on Want has an excellent Irish section. The cancer shop and an Oxfam also sell books. But there’s an excellent specialist crime bookstore called No Alibis – as often mentioned on CrimeScene NI. Good atmosphere. Good range of imports not usually available in the UK. And wandering the aisles is David, whose charming welcome almost had me accepting a cup of tea before I caught a grip on myself. A narrow escape. (See previous post.) Another Charming Man of Ireland.

So to all you Charming Men of Ireland, thanks for the timely boost.

My children will now be returning to England wearing green sports tops that are nothing to do with England or anything English. That’s thanks to my sister. (Admittedly the sports tops have nothing to do with Ireland either. They’re Canadian. But one step at a time, right?)

PS: To any charming men in Ireland who feel passed over, ignored, snubbed or forgotten, I have two responses. One: Maybe you’re not quite as charming as you think you are. Better work a bit harder at it, mate. Two: A charming man like yourself is too good to share. I have to keep back some information for my personal benefit. Choose whichever response is most appropriate to your own case.

PPS: To any charming women in Ireland feeling aggrieved, passed over, ignored, etc, etc. Yes, of course there are charming women in Ireland. The whole place is coming down with them. But keep in mind that I’m over in Ireland with the children on my own. Wife back in England. So naturally I haven’t been meeting, encountering, palavering or otherwise hobnobbing with any women. Apart from my Mum and other relations.

PPPS: The Latvian/Polish guy. He had an Irish accent, but was obviously foreign. Latvia, Poland, somewhere like that. As it turned out, when I asked him, the somewhere like that was Kerry. He just had a cold.


Filed under life, theatre