Travelling Lockdown Bar Blooze

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy time when miserable.”
Dante Alighieri

Pubs. My mother grew up in one and I’ve personally funded several establishments over the years, freely giving my time and money to ensure their ongoing prosperity. But.

I don’t get out or go out much anymore. Nothing to do with lockdown, no. It’s more to do with getting older, disinterest, and the problems of getting locked on a night out and the unplanned adventures that can ensue.

The people you meet, bump into, folks you see after all these years, or the local plumber you’ve been trying to get a hold of to fix the toilet. On any given night out, that’s all part of the craic. On a weekend in Dungloe last year some of my longtime beer drinking comrades attempted to relive parts of their misspent youth jousting with a few locals from Kincasslagh who behaved poorly in a chip shop. We had to intervene to diffuse an impending melee. In the course of the gung-ho diplomacy one of the younger nightowls told me that he respected old people like me. If he’d hit me a punch in the mouth he couldn’t have stopped me quicker in my tracks. It was funny. And reality.

The vintners in Ireland are desperate to get the pubs up and running and have proposed a series of measures, or half measures, to get things motoring again. Now, frankly the ideas floated propose a vision of going to a bar that I don’t recognise. It’s the pub Jim, but not as we know it.

The new sanitised, hellish and unfortunately necessary vision of a trip to the local is so squeaky clean that a night out with Stepford Wives would be more fun. It sounds like being forced to socialise with people you don’t know times ten. You know like when you end up accidentally part of a girls night out and you scour the bar for a sidekick. You won’t even be able to do that.

Six people only to a table. Everyone must stay seated. Organised visits to the bog. Table service only. Remind you of anything? School dinners. No DJ or live music. Too bad, by the way, about the gig economy. Musicians who are the lifeblood of pubs; the two piece with a chickaboom drum machine; the somber-faced, utterly miserable looking traditional musicians in a corner belting out their sets (they definitely won’t be smiling now); the one man storm-in-a-tee-shirt-Christy-wannabe; the Argyle-jumper-clad accordion player with the long suffering wife dressed in housecoat accompanying gamely on banjo, bodhran and backing vocals, quaffing pints of Smithwicks.

“Please be seated over there. Six to a table. A waitress will be over shortly to give you the Covid Safety announcement. Please do not leave your seats.

When she arrives, haggard from a career in Aer Lingus, the automaton waitress’s instructions are clear, dreary and tired. Borne of necessity.

“The queue to the bathroom is to your left. No more than three occupants at any one time in the Gents. Please observe social distancing by using every second urinal and we ask in particular that you exercise due care when shaking the last few droplets, as you know droplets can spread disease.

“There will be no communal eating or sharing of crisps or nuts at your table. Each patron is requested to purchase and consume their own snacks.

“Customers should not fraternise, flirt with or glad eye any patron at another table. Once assigned a table you must not swap tables to get closer to a nearby acquaintance. Attempts to do this by subterfuge will be resisted. Closed circuit TV surveillance is in place at all times.”

“You are not permitted to go to the bar; all orders will be administered by waiting personnel in a manner befitting social distancing. This requirement will be strictly enforced. All high stools have been removed.

“Any patron displaying signs of intoxication will experience the form of social isolation known as being thrown out and barred. Signs of intoxication will include loud argumentative talking resulting in the release of spittle; such slabbering will be frowned upon because of the droplets. Likewise outbursts of loud solo singing in the absence of proper music is forbidden, many people release droplets when they sing. Sean Nos singing is also strictly prohibited, nothing to do with Coronavirus.”

“Smoking in the smoking area has been decommissioned and patrons are asked not to smoke in the environs as WHO advice suggests compromised lungs may increase your chances of infection.”

It is a vision of hell at the bottom of a glass. Public houses will become rooms where groups just sit and drink. I went into a mining community pub in East Falkirk once that was like that. Linoleum floor, formica tables. It was fucking grim then. The Scots were protesting poll tax and the Miners strike had been and gone, the men sat at these tables, heads bowed, not talking. Drinking.

If you can’t stand at the bar, sit at it or go to it, remove the bar itself to a backroom and make more room for the drinking stations. Bring back snugs, with their service through a hatch, locks on the inside and opportunities for couples to court or priests to drink furtively after mass. Anyone who’s ever been in the Crown in Belfast has experienced a snug session. Cramped and good craic, social isolation it is not.

Some of the most interesting people you will ever meet, you meet at the bar. Conversation and loquaciousness suitably lubricated, the at-the-bar banter is witty and charming and at times irresistible. At other times your bar encounter can be a pure pollute. “would you like a drink?” “No I’m in a round (code leave me alone).”  To a hapless female standing waiting, who ends up with too much head on her beer, the witty interjections, “would you like a flake in that. Do you come here often?” Tactlessness award goes to the man who unwittingly in the old Queen’s Speakeasy asked the girl with one arm to help him carry his round down from the bar.

Standing at a counter I’ve met Pat Cash, Jimeoin, Andy Irvine from Planxty skulling brandy, and Gerry Adams who I told not to take my seat as it was against party policy. Many others. The Bomber Liston, George Best, Pat Spillane, Pat Crerard, Norm from Cheers. It isn’t on the cards anymore, no not for the immediate future. And it can’t be.

The concern is that in trying to keep the industry afloat, Vintners will distil the pub experience from a pint into a shot glass, sanitised. If there’s no atmosphere, no experience there’ll be no people there. Other than the people who are there to drink and drink only.

For now all these seem a distant memory of times past. For the future we need some thinking outside the box, so its not just all about getting locked and out of your box.

The hardcore drinker at the bar traditionally practises social distance easily with a growl and a grunt so no one comes near. The bartender knows by eyebrow lift and subtle hand movement that more porter in required. The reverse nod indicates another half ‘un.

How do I know? A lifetime in bars, I used to sit as a cub beside the daytime drinkers in my uncle’s bar in Omagh. Dipping a finger in the bitter drip tray, a taste of what was to come. Even at the age of five the bar stool was my throne, my platform and my high chair.



Home Work #3 – Triggered in Tesco, Social Distancing in Sainsbury. Lockdown Looms Large.

Standing in a queue outside Tesco the masked stranger in front casually broke wind loudly and forcefully, not a whiff of an apology. Thank the Lord for social distancing in this instance. But since when has it become socially acceptable to Bris Gaoth in this manner in a public arena? When he wasn’t looking inside the store, I deliberately sprayed the hand disinfectant in the direction of his derriere.

The giant extra terrestrial bodypart threatening mankind.

That we are living in unusual times is stating the obvious. This week astronomers revealed that a mile wide haemorrhoid will pass within 3.9 miles of the earth. Well that’s what I heard half sleeping listening on Alexa. When I interrogated Alexa further, it transpired that it was in fact an asteroid and it will be 3.9 million miles, not piles. I had calculated half asleep, that it would be closer to our house than Portrush and was puzzled at the scientists’ apparent complacency. Surely such a large heavenly body would pose a severe risk to mankind? Then I saw an image of the item and it indeed looked like a heavenly body of a different sort. My mind was put at ease.

So. In other news, the Pentagon just casually put it out there that the US Airforce had video footage of three Unidentified Flying Objects. Sure enough the scarcely believable news was backed up by the evidence. But if someone had asked you three months ago which of the following is more likely:

1          The president of America will suggest people inject themselves with disinfectant or

2          The Pentagon will publish detailed images of UFOs.

Which would you have gone for?

There is no point dwelling on Trump because any ridiculing of his antics dates so quickly, as he surpasses his own stupidity daily. It is a sad reflection of American politics that the best counterpoint that anyone can find to Trump is Hillary Rodham Clinton and now Joe Biden. People like Mario Cuomo have something about them in terms of gravitas, a presidential air and some sort of stature about them. Al Pacino would play Cuomo well in the movie of the Covid19 Disaster Movie.

Picture Joe Passmore

Social Isolation

When we look back on these strange times, what will we see? A mere Pangolin or Bat responsible for a change in the way of the world. Airlines grounded, football suspended, pubs and chapels closed. Hand sanitiser everywhere.

Whenever the next generation ask what did you do during the Great Lockdown of 2020 the answer will in large part be ‘Not Much.’ I had contemplated keeping a diary for posterity sake during these times. You see people would like to know what I thought, I kidded myself. A voice for the age. Erudite insight. The Lockdown Journal. But it became apparent early on it would be an exercise in tedium.


Woke Up. Ughhh. Waited for other house occupants to vacate bathroom. Checked news for anything interesting. Tried bathroom again. Still occupied. Check in on the WhatsApp to see if there’s any rumours doing the rounds or funny videos. Back to bathroom, almost left unusable by previous visitor, tremendous fugue & stench. Check WhatsApp again. Mute conversations showing loads of our young club players practicing their skills. Why? For years I’ve been preaching do this at home, been ignored… now its wall to wall dedication. Vacate bog. Hunt for breakfast. Try to avoid a fry every morning or I won’t get out the front door. Work. Fuck about on internet going down a few rabbit holes. Make coffee using the bialetti. The more like tar the better. At various junctures, visit kitchen to observe home schooling children avoiding school work, bluffing on various devices; a while later venture in again to diffuse tension and succeed only in increasing it. Sense of humour in short supply. Hiatus. Sleep. Vacant time. Eat dinner. Read Samuel Beckett (more of that anon), do a quiz on Facebook, do another one, go for a walk, take some photos trying to include the star Menkalinan which seems to follow me wherever I go walking. An interesting but useful fact is that this star – whose name means shoulder of the rein-holder in Arabic, is of such a distance away that it would take me 13,598,428,694.55 years to walk there. Will the lock down be over by then I wonder? I turn for home, listening to music, and the odd Vodcast. It has occurred to me that I could present an interesting Vodcast if fuelled sufficiently eponymously. Home. Watch TV, drink wine / beer. Then Eat, sleep and repeat. It’s all a cliché.

Day 2

See previous entry

Day 6

See previous entry

Day 4 

See previous entry

Day 5 

See previous entry

Day 3

See previous entry

Day 5

See previous entry

So it goes on and continues. The next day. And the next day. And the next day. And the next. And the day after that. Another day passes. And another. Ad infinitum, but hopefully not ad nauseum. Which is why I am not venturing out much. It is easier to remain seated and write stuff like this.

When I do leave Lockdown, venturing abroad, the change in people is marked. You have to consider is this wearing of masks going to become a thing when this pandemic passes? Or will we start wearing some sort of adapted helmet apparatus with built in mask, headphones, eye wear doubling as a tv screen. People seem more cocooned. There is less eye contact. People go about their business, cowed, muted, head down. Brow furrowed and preoccupied. Eye contact is frowned upon. It is almost as if we can spread this damn thing by looking someone in the eye. People soon adapt to the new normal. Well almost. In Tesco, failure to observe their confusing one way system results in glowering scowls from other shoppers getting triggered in the baked bread aisle. Turn right too soon at your peril. Earlier there is a sort of chicane where you can veer recklessly past the veg. One of the Tesco personnel  informed me ‘we are operating a queuing system here can you go round there’ indicated a lengthy snaking detour. My daily step count went up markedly. I was on the horns of a dilemma then when I received a text to get some milk and white wine. The one way system does not allow for haphazard meanders through the store anymore. That is my preferred approach. I didn’t want to ask the Tesco apparatchik could I retrace my steps. Meanwhile he allowed an attractive house wife to disregard the queuing system. She smiled demurely and unloaded a case of wine and two bottles of gin noisily on the conveyer belt.I deposited my goods in the car and returned to join the one way system to obtain the items omitted.

Another day, on an essential visit to LIDL to peruse the middle aisle, I watched one of the locals lustily search through a basket of carrots lifting, handling, looking, returning, rummaging for the next. Mental note to self, not to buy any of them. Indeed be thankful for the plastic wrapping that encases much fresh produce and protects it from the great unwashed hand. The little eco irritant Greta would no doubt be appalled at all the plastic. Just a note there that Covid has done more for the environment than dodging school every Friday ever will.

Wildlife are now roaming the towns and villages like wildfire. We have observed Eagles soaring overhead on thermals. A fox patrolling the middle of the street. Goats on street corners, and corner boys who think they are Goats having to stay in the house.

Of course the problem now is that the novelty of lockdown and working from home is wearing off and patience among the plain people is wearing thin. The concept of the herd immunity is being replaced by a herd mentality as people become complacent, impatient and irritated.

“Fuck this, I haven’t caught the virus, I’m heading out here to meet ones.” The result is that roads have more cars, more people clumping in groups. The worst are those Americans who seem to want to drive as far as is necessary to be offended. The redder the neck the better.

On what basis have the population begun to declare a unilateral declaration of ignorance? The threat of illness and death, really really bad death is still present. On TV the politicians are still required to explain complicated medical terms when they patently don’t know arse from elbow. In the south the propagandists are trying to get as much spin out there to counteract what really is going on. In Westminster, the government is a farce led by another idiot. The future is uncertain. The politicians underwhelming.

As the reality of this new lifestyle loomed large weeks back, I was fortunate to still have some bits and pieces of work to keep me occupied and I’m grateful to those clients big time. I did a deal with myself to make sure I did at least two constructive things every day. So every day, come what may, I would get out for my allocated period of exercise by taking a walk,  and I would read Samuel Beckett. Why Beckett? Well in caring for my elderly mother it was all very real. The creeping decrepitude of old age. The dependency on others. Bowel obsession. Reminiscences. The futile drudgery of every day routine, all captured perfectly. The late Prof Bob Welch, an old friend and colleague at the University once told me that I would appreciate reading Beckett when I was older. He was right.

But in the hope that things will improve, we all have to keep going. To add further variety to the daily monotony I have now resumed guitar playing. It keeps me entertained. As lockdown looms large for another while, we are all surviving. Some better than others. There’s no alternative. As Sam says, I’ll go on. And every morning, the Sun shines having no alternative on the nothing new.







Poster Boys: The Story of the 1916 Proclamation

From Irish Press, Tuesday April 24th 1934

Michael Molloy joined the Irish Volunteers in 1914. In 1915 when James Connolly started his newspaper The Workers’ Republic, he recruited Michael to take charge as compositor in the Printing Office that had been established in the Basement in Liberty Hall.

The existence of an illicit printing press was known to the British authorities, but they were unable to discover its exact location. On occasions the RIC had been forced out of Liberty Hall at gunpoint by Connolly himself and also by Countess Markievicz as they tried to enter via her clothing store. The material being printed under Connolly’s aegis was regarded as seditious and illegal and the RIC were keen to shut it down.

At the time the authorities in Dublin were in censorship mode having also shut down a journal called The Gael and seized all the printing machinery including type.

In planning the events of Easter 1916, the leaders of the Easter Rising had drafted a Proclamation that they agreed would be read from the steps of the GPO announcing the creation of the Irish Republic. The decision was taken to print numerous copies of the Proclamation for distribution across Dublin and farther afield so that the Irish people were aware of the momentous events that were underway.

On Good Friday, James Connolly instructed Michael Molloy, and his two colleagues Christopher Brady and William O’Brien to prepare for the printing of the Proclamation, which he said he needed for Easter Sunday. In briefing his men he told them it would be similar in size to an Auctioneer’s notice and would require the sort of type used in posters.

– He told them that they would print a document “that would live in history.”

In their printing works in Liberty Hall Molloy and his fellow printers did not have enough of the right type to print a Proclamation as specified by Connolly, and following his orders they visited a number of printers in Dublin to acquire suitable type, but were unable to get any. At the third printers, West’s of Capel Street they convinced the printer to lend them all of the Double Great Primer print type that he owned.

The printer concerned, a Mr Graham, was reluctant but acquiesced when told that they were taking the print whether he liked it or not.

The spoils were wheeled back to Liberty Hall in a Hand Cart. Upon learning that his men had been successful, Connolly advised them that he needed them to return to Liberty Hall at 9.00am on Easter Sunday morning to print the Proclamation. He told them that they would print a document “that would live in history.”

As anyone who studied Irish History will know, the Irish Volunteers leader Eoin MacNeill countermanded the order for the Rising on Easter Sunday, following the capture of Roger Casement in Banna Strand. All Volunteers were ordered by O’Neill to stand down.

James Connolly, Padraig Pearse and the other leaders decided to proceed with the insurrection on Easter Monday. Molloy and his fellow printers were instructed to proceed as ordered. To do so, they were handed a handwritten copy of the Proclamation. To dispel any doubts they held as to its provenance, Connolly offered to have it signed by the seven signatories to prove its veracity. As he secured the signatures of the other men, the printers got the printing type and press ready in Liberty Hall to begin their task. The printing press in their possession was a Summit Wharfedale Stop Cylinder Press. 

It is interesting that Molloy for a while had in his possession what would have been the most iconic document in Irish history – a signed handwritten manuscript version of the Proclamation. He later chewed it up and swallowed it after he was captured by British Forces. He wanted to ensure it didn’t pass into enemy hands and may also have realised possession could have led to his execution.

Molloy and his comrades set to work setting the type around 11.00am on Easter Sunday. Not having enough type to complete the entire Proclamation on one sheet, and even then having to repair broken type with wax, and replaced missing letters with replacements from other typefaces, the decision was taken to set and print the document in two halves.

With Connolly’s approval, and having printed a quantity of 1000 copies of the first half, the type was broken up and the remainder set to complete the bottom half of the Proclamation. The job was finally completed close to midnight on Easter Sunday night. Ironically had the Rising gone ahead as planned, the Proclamation in print form would not have been ready, a footnote that is rarely if ever mentioned in history.

In authentic copies that exist to this day you can see the gap between paragraphs three and four. The use of the letter ‘e’ from a different font is also clear to see in authentic copies of the original, as is the broken type in the letter ‘R’ of Irish Republic and printing of a letter ‘e’ upside down in the last paragraph. The document has other type idiosyncrasies and unusual spacing here and there. Due to the type, the printing in two halves, the idiosyncrasies of the press, many original copies differ slightly in small detail. 

Given the hurried conditions, the potential for an RIC or British raid and the pressure from the leaders to get the work completed it is a remarkable feat of printing. ‘It is a wonder how we produced it at all,’ said Molloy in an interview years later.

On Easter Monday morning it was these posters that were distributed throughout Dublin, and reading from one of them, Padraig Pearse declared an Irish Republic from the steps of the GPO. 

The Rising of course was met with lukewarm indifference in Dublin and it was only with the execution of the leaders, James Connolly in particular, that the public view of the Rising began to change. At that stage, many of the posters had been ripped down in anger by the citizens of Dublin who were unsympathetic to the cause.

In the aftermath of the surrender, British soldiers that stumbled upon the makeshift printing works realised that the Proclamation had been printed there because the type was still set. A number ran off ‘half copies’ made from what remained of the type set on the press as souvenirs. These comprised only the bottom half of the document. 

If you come upon an original copy in your attic, or your grandparents house, you are one of the lucky ones. Despite many reprints and souvenir prints, it is estimated there are around thirty known original copies still in existence.


James Connolly was shot by firing squad on 12 May 1916. As he was injured the British Army Execution Party shot him seated, tied to a chair. His execution in particular and the manner in which it took place provoked outrage in Ireland and even in England and led to a sway in public opinion.

Michael Molloy fought in the Rising and was imprisoned for his part in it. He later worked as a printer for the Irish Independent and gave a witness account of the events he participating in during Easter 1916. It is held in the National Library.

Home Work #2

Home Working #2

What Lies Beneath

I read someone describe on social media how their home working work colleague dressed in work clothing from the waist up for a Zoom meeting. The ‘bottom half’ unwork-clad. Really?… my immediate reaction. Why would you do that. That’s not what working from home is all about.

The thought of putting on an ironed shirt, tie and jacket to sit at your desk with your ‘bottom half’ an unworkable state, in your Y-Fronts, boxers, budgie smugglers, briefs or whatever, as the tie drops and tickles your tackle…well it beggars belief. All you are keeping up is appearances. 

As an experienced home worker for many’s a year, one of the benefits is being safe in the knowledge that what I wear for work and meetings  in the safety of my own home is my business, and no one else’s. People work with me because I can help them, irrespective if I look like a badger’s arse dragged through a hedge backwards. 

I have heard all the rationally argued points that psychologically you need to switch into work mode in your home workspace and therefore changing into your ‘work clothes’ is a good habit. The increasing tyranny of the teleconference makes things trickier. It’s a nonsense. 

Do the people espousing this way of life wear a chef’s attire when fixing their lunch; overalls when leaving out the bin or a maid’s outfit when cleaning the home? Of course they don’t. 

Work attire and business suits, like desks are an office construct, a feature of the formal workplace. It all started with Skype meetings, and now the proliferation of videoconf apps threatens the liberty of long distance workers to wear what they please for the sakes of appearance. 

I have conducted significant and high powered meetings from a range of locations in various states of dishevelment and undress,shaven and hirsute. The sofa of course being one. Often having been woken up thereon by a scheduled call. The throne room another challenging venue, and in passing, a word to the wise, the mute button comes in useful when flushing. 

What the new found home work gurus don’t explain are the practicalities of dressing. For example, in the cold of winter rather than heat the entire house it’s more sense to wear warm outdoor clothing including thermals and gloves. In the summer if it gets warm t-shirt, shorts and your flip flops or sliders. Just in case you’ve to shoot down to the beach. I enjoy contacting clients when I’m at the beach in summer indeed year round. There they are with the suit on in the office fugue, tied up in meetings. 

In these uncertain times, home working means upon us all a little rain must fall. Twenty four hours slips into days. We must endure the wearing and tearing.