Written March 2009
I was walking past the local the other day - and when I say, ‘the local’, please note that it's not actually my local, seeing as I live in Cork now, and also can't afford to drink outside my own kitchen - when something stopped me in my tracks.
There was a window open, and out a'through it came the most marvellous smell - evocative, comforting, akin to the whiff of your mammy's stew or the honk off yer da as he fell in from ‘the building sites’ at half three in the morning. It was . . . warm, if you can imagine a smell being warm. Almost fizzy. I can't describe it adequately, but it took me right back to being seven years old with a mouth full of Cadbury's Purple Snack Bars and cheese n' onion Taytos. It was the smell of the pub. The smell of a properly Irish pub.
‘Ah, come on now,’ you might cry. ‘Sure Ireland is peppered with pubs!’ And you'd be right. There are more pubs in Ireland than there are pairs of oversized knickers hanging off Dickie Rock's coat-tails. But not all of them are proper pubs - the kind of pubs you can celebrate your young fella's confirmation in, the kind of pubs that always serve ‘minerals’ in bottles with straws, the kind of pubs with pool tables camouflaged by reams of little girls wearing ringlets and tiaras and white dresses, sticky-faced babbies, scowly little scuts in Man Utd jerseys . . . A proper, inclusive, what-the-fuck-is-a-snug-sure-let's-bring-the-whole-family-don't-they-have-purple-snack-bars kind of pub.
And those kind of pubs, the kind of pub every working-class Irish child was reared in (and by that I mean every Irish child born before 1990, when the EU/EC/EEC/Whatever eventually consented to our having a middle class), have a particular smell. Not the smell of alcoholism and malnourishment, oh no. There was nothing remiss about bringing your child along to a Saturday afternoon session watching the match; there was bacon and cabbage beforehand, and mass the next morning. So it wasn't the smell of neglect; I'm not being subtly critical of the parenting skills of my parents' generation. No. Not neglect, nor Guinness farts, nor pre health and safety authority cleaning practises. There was a specific, wonderful smell . . . and no amount of flowery prose, no iron grip on the English language, could help you describe it to those who just haven't been there. I actually use it as a way of sizing up new acquaintances.
‘Hi, pleased to meet you. I'm Deirdre, and . . .’
‘HOWYA DEIRDRE WHAT DOES AN IRISH PUB SMELL LIKE TELL ME QUICK!’
And if the answer is anything but, ‘Jaysus, I dunno, kind of warm and fizzy’, I mentally throw them into the box either marked 'Up Own Hole' or 'Intriguing Foreigner' and write the whole episode down to experience.
But seriously. Jokes about how I must have passed the open window to the jacks aside, there is something very homely, very tearily reminiscent about that smell. I could have paused there for a while, breathing in and going, ‘Oh yeah. Those were the days. Getting fifty-p's for the Ghosts N' Goblins table. Bouncing on the odd upholstery.’ But instead I kept walking, afraid of being labelled a flake for inhaling deeply outside a naff little pub with only a skinny smoker and his funny looks for company.
I really miss the '80s, sometimes.