‘Afternoon Blazing. 2L for you?’ Ossie regards me as a creature of habit. I like to keep him on his toes.
‘No, Guinness please. I’m celebrating Paddy’s Day’. Deliberately I leave it at that, knowing full well that Ossie is in inner turmoil. He vanishes into the next bar, and returns even more puzzled.
“It’s not until Monday? And unless I am very much mistaken you are not a Paddy.”
The time for explanations has come. I just hope he can keep up with me. Actually I understand that my maternal great-grandmother on my father’s side (Don’t worry, Ossie couldn’t quite follow that either!) was from Cork. I proudly claim plastic Paddyhood, being more qualified to play for the Republic than a number of those who have sported the green in recent years.
There is however a tradition to be maintained. When I first left home over thirty years ago I was ‘adopted’ by the landlord and landlady of my new local. ‘Sure a lad of teenage years is taking quite a step’. Pat and Florrie taught me that stereotypes are just plain wrong.
Pat was not six and a half feet tall with curly ginger hair and hands like shovels. He didn’t call everybody ‘sor’. He was five and a half feet tall, middle aged, grey, and once you got to understand his sense of humour he was as good a friend as you could wish for. Not that you would know when a local walked through the door to be greeted with ‘Jesus Christ, not you again!’
Flo was a little more like you would have been led to expect on the face of it. Flame haired and fire in the eyes, and tongue. She taught us anglos to use ‘feck’ instead of our version. ‘It’s not swearing if you use feck when you want to use the other, and I won’t clip you round the ear’.
Looks can be deceptive though, and when you got to know her you learned of a woman with a brilliant mind, who gave up a world of academia to enjoy the social aspects of running a small town pub in another country.
Friends arrived regularly from all over Ireland and Britain, and I learned how to play cards. Pat and his oldest friend Jerry, a former chief inspector in the Met, no less, were the biggest ‘toe-tapping under the table’ rogues a going. Once I worked that out though I used to regularly supplement my income in their company.
So on 17th March 1976 I celebrated my first Paddy’s Day. ‘You will take the day off and be here at half past ten for breakfast. Then it is games and Guinness until you can drink no more pints, then the poteen will appear. You will pay for every other drink and you will have a fecking good time!’
All these years later I still raise a glass of the black stuff to them on the day. ‘But it’s not until Monday, Blazing?’ That is the start of another, much longer tale. Mrs Blazing is being compelled to endure ‘nil by mouth’ on Monday. I can hardly go out and fill my ample gut on the same day, can I?