A Nice Slow One

Author: Herbie Massop

The capture of a man entering the pub and ordering and receiving a drink

The cold November night air unwrapped itself from Christy when he opened the door of his local pub. The hot air that met him tasted of stale cigarette smoke. The sound of glasses being filled along with the deep hum of conversation was welcoming to his ears.

“A nice slow one, Syl,” Christy called to the barman, on his way to his usual seat. Two young bucks moved over to make place for him. At this hour the pub was quiet. He could not understand why these two boys had taken his seat.

“Just keeping it warm for you, Christy. How are you keeping?”

They were a friendly bunch. He had known them all since their childhood. He’d seen them going to their first day in school, their First Communion, taking out their first girlfriend. He caught them smoking their first cigarette, drink their first alcoholic drink and shoot up for the first time. He also remembers the guards taking them away for their first court appearance.

“Hello Ski, when did you come out?” Christy bent down to take off his bicycle clips. This had over the years turned into a performance. He always insisted on taking them off without bending his knees or loosening his overcoat. He straightened his arms over his head as far as they would go, next he’d take a deep breath and bend over. The movement was swift and well practised. The clips came of in one clean swoop before the cap had time to fall off his head.

“This afternoon, four o’clock. Three months off for good behaviour.”

“Did you go to see your Ma yet? She isn’t well. I visited her yesterday in The Meath.”

The overcoat was being taken off and folded in a practised ritualistic manner. The scarf was treated in a similar way and put with the coat. The little parcel was rested in the corner of the seat.

“I did and she is improving, Thank God,” Ski replied

“What are you drinking Mr Lennon?” Ski’s friend asked politely. Christy tried to put a name on the lad. He was Ski’s age, maybe late twenties or early thirties.

“Syl has it brewing,” Christy answered.

He was not feeling very sociable. It was colder on the bike than he had expected and it had not been clever leaving his cardigan off. He looked around the pub. It was a small place, divided into two apartments. The bar was sparsely furnished with vinyl floor tiles beside a little carpeted lounge. The whole place was the colour of old colourless paint, stained by countless years of exposure to cigarette smoke. A big old fashioned television hung in one corner over the bar, with a myriad of leads and cables travelling between the obvious false lowered ceiling and the set. Mice could often be seen travelling up and down them. The picture could be better, but nobody seemed to watch it. Years ago all pubs in the liberties had been this way. Pubs were places where a man could enjoy a consistently good pint, a quiet smoke, good conversation and maybe a game of dominoes or chess. Most bars in this area had been turned into theme bars or noisy music orientated drinking places for the new rich who had moved into the pigeon holes they called luxury apartments and town houses, which over the years had replaced the old tenements.

“Throw me an ounce of plug,” he called to Syl.

A man brought over the tobacco.

“No use you pulling a muscle trying to catch it and me going this way to the jacks.”

“Thanks Jimmy.” Christy had finished cleaning his pipe and cut a few flakes of tobacco from the plug and placed them carefully in the bowl. The flare of the match showed the concentration on his face, when, with a few quick sucks he ignited the tobacco. Out of the inside pocket of his topcoat he produced an evening paper.

“Syl!” he called, pointing the paper at a wall light which had not yet been turned on.

“Just a moment now.” Came the answer

Christy leaned back and let his memories flood his mind.

He could see the people who had passed through this old pub. Many of them dead now, others moved away to the new sprawling corporation estates in the suburbs. Familiar faces looked back at him from the empty seats in the pub. Bridie Magher – she used to sell flowers or tomatoes, anything she could pick up cheap in the markets – from her pram on the corner of South George Street and William Street. The story goes that when one week she had been ill, she was coming back from shopping and met a friend, Mrs Humphries, on the other side of the street.

“Hello Bridie, how are you now?”

“Not bad at all now Mrs.”

“And how is the diarrhoea?”

“Like Bisto, Mrs, getting thicker.”

Christy smiled to himself. This was the kind of lore, which made Dublin famous.

The Maghers were an old fashioned family. So were the Hendricks family. They harkened back to the fifties and imposed the values of those days into the late seventies. The two matriarchs had their own seats in the place, where they held court every weekend. Their husbands took their places at the counter. One by one their children would enter with their wives and children in tow. They kissed the old women and shook hands with their husbands. If, as happened on some occasions, one of the kids or grandchildren had been in trouble with the ‘Law’, they would be stopped from going to their mother:

“What brought the ‘Law’ to your gaff?”

“A squad car, Da.”

Before you could blink, Father’s hand flicked out and clouted the thirty plus year old son a box.

“Sorry Da, You know the way it is. I got caught with stolen jewellery and they brought a summons. I am in court in two weeks time.”

“You gobshite. I thought you would have learned your lesson the last time you were in the ‘Joy’. Go on, apologise to your Mother for making her life a misery. I don’t want to hear of any more trouble from you and I expect you to take your family home early this evening and make sure you stay sober.”

Christy realised that those days were long gone. He watched Syl fill another pint. The news had come on. He couldn’t hear it though. Jimmy was beating something against the counter.

“Go easy with that watch,” he heard Syl say.

“It’s o.k., the watch is shock proof.”

“Maybe so, but the counter isn’t,” Syl replied smartly.

Christy remembered Syl as a market trader in the old Ivy Markets in Francis Street. He used to sell combs and brushes and all that kind of stuff. It is said that one day he was demonstrating a comb made of a new material and it was supposedly unbreakable.

“See Mrs. whatever way you bend it, it won’t break,” he was bending it up and down close to her face. All of a sudden it broke.

“And that’s what it looks like on the inside,” came the instant remark, before anyone could react. Syl had quickly disposed of the faulty comb and sold all his stock… so the story goes.

“Christy, your pint is ready”

Christy walked up.

“Any luck with the women lately?” Harry the local playboy asked him. Harry was at least seventy, but still reckoned he could shift any woman from thirty upward. He used to brag about all the girls he ‘shifted’ at weekends. He was always told that the only way he could shift them was in his car.

“Leave me alone, Harry. I am not in the mood for your filthy innuendo.”

Christy had never married. He prided himself that he had always had enough self-discipline not to fall for the temptations of the flesh. Mind you, Christy’s brother used to maintain that Christy was too mean to entertain women. He used to say that Christy wouldn’t spend the steam of his….. Christy had taken offence and made it his business to go to the pub a little more. Even now he could spend long hours on only two pints.   He had long since retired from work and looked upon this pub as his sitting room.

Syl took the money and handed over the drink.

“Will you be staying for the match later?”

“Who is playing?”

“Man Utd versus Inter Milan in the European Cup. It’s the second leg. United are at home and only one nil down. They have a good chance.”

Christy sipped his pint, in case he’d spill some on the way back to his table.

“I probably will. This is a good pint Syl. Will you turn on that light, so I can read my paper?”

“I will Christy”

Christy was not big on conversation.