Oh my Guiness!

Trip Start May 25, 2005
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Trip End Ongoing


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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Galway, Galway, pretty pretty Galway.

As I opened my eyes to the bay I decided I just had to explore. There is something primeval about water, so they say. And whoever 'they' was, I have to agree. Perhaps it's the movement, the ever-changing air, or simply the knowledge that it is our life-source. But personally, some of my happiest times / lives have been spent close the good old Aich-two-Oh!

Mmmm! A cooked breakfast, I was getting special treatment. So in true traveller style I ate enough for myself and the rest of the town. My comrades would be proud. Snagging an extra roll and an apple for lunch I headed out.

Maybe the threat of rain was something I would have to get used to. The grey clouds darkened along the waters edge. But there had to be some sunshine too, otherwise how could everything look so healthy and green?

No matter, I was happy as I walked the streets and noted the inordinate deluge of pubs. There would certainly be enough of the good stuff (Guiness) to go around.

The lanes led me wandering around through the older squares and monuments of town. Small shops had undoubtedly made way for the UK giants that nestled in the disguised malls behind. But, enough of the unfamiliar remained to keep me inspired. A cheese shop, a second-hand clothing delight, and an independent record store with some rockers of note (!) in the window.

The place was busy. Folks were on the move and life spilled forth. Music floated along the street, but what was it? Certainly it didn't belong to the Irish. I went to investigate.

After being delayed for some time at one of the longest ROWS of new and used bookstores I had EVER seen (They had Bob Dylan's new autobiography 'No Way Home' in the window) I found the music. Standing in the middle of the street were forty Chinese ladies.

Their formation was unique, like statues in a regimented line looking only forward. They showed no expression, but the music belied their stolidity. As they began a second tune, the director, a women with unbending fingers, lead the way through a mirage of emotions. Their unity was impressive and so sincere in essence. What did it mean? Was this a daily ritual? The bamboo pipes filled the air with the sweet songs and people stopped to watch before continuing along.

As I walked back along the street, the fiddlers were out and setting up their pitches outside their favourite pubs. What a great way to spend the day, busking for pleasure. It brought back memories of cold days spent in Sheffield earning a bob or two. Boy, that tune takes me back, where's my fiddle?

But alas, it was time for the conference.

*****

Later that day I went up to the conference desk.

'Can I help?' said one of the organising committee.

(But that was a Kiwi accent, how confusing!) "Yes, I was wondering if any activities had been organised for tonight. If not I was thinking of trying to get a few folks together for a walk into town!"

'Well, nothing has been formally organised, but we'd be up for that, wouldn't we Kevin?' she raised her head towards the crew who had gathered.

"Well great, I'll come round here at about seven?"

*****

As we rolled out along the street, a group of delegates from four continents, I felt very excited. Here's to a night to remember. Not many of the group had been to Ireland before, and with a line up consisting of people from Oman, the US, South Africa, France and Nigeria, to name but a few, it was bound to be fun.

The streets were packed with jackets dodging the rain. We walked along the High Street, reading the menus of the potential gastronomic delights, asking each pub whether they had a live music session happening later that night. And then we dived into an Italian bistro, having compromised on a menu that everyone could enjoy. Tomatoes, bread and cheese must be an almost universal favourite!

The conversation developed, research talk led from one question to another. I learned so much about so many places in the space of a few short hours. The delegate from Oman was delighted to hear that we knew where his country was located - he smiled from ear to ear,

'Not many people know!'

"Come on" I said, "You're talking to bunch of researchers who have spent time avoiding growing up and trying to get to grips with the geography of planet Earth. Oman is easy! Name another!"

'I've got one', the delegate from France chipped in........ and so it went on.

We moved across the road to one of the local bars. It was packed as the rain had decided to come and play harder. The new anti-smoking rules caused a gangway of disruption, as smokers hung out of each doorway, trying not to get wet, and more importantly, trying not to get their cigarettes wet.

'Excuse me, sorry, sorry, thanks, great, yes, I'm coming through that way, after you!'

Finally we reached the bar,

'Fourteen pints of the black stuff please!'

The barman was ready for us. What else was there to drink! As in every pub I visited in Galway, one bar-tender was on constant Guiness tap. He expertly lined up the syrup filled jars along the bar, and then waited for them to settle before the 'top-up' round began.

'Take a sup on that!'

Fourteen mouths yelled 'Cheers' and for some, the glory of the smooth tasting liquid perfection was revealed for the first time.

"God, that tastes good", I said, talking to one of the organising chaps.

'How long since you had a pint of the good stuff then?'

"Well, you can get it over there, but it just doesn't taste the same somehow. I think this may end up being a long night!"

As I looked around, the familiar pub behaviour I had missed was in full view. There were people jostling at the bar, groups leaning over tables, chatting and laughing to the rafters. Elsewhere, men stood propped up near the picture-lined walls, chatting about the day, the racing, the football. It was a scene I had seen a million times, just not in the company of so many nationalities.

The rain got worse, and this seemed a popular place. More and more people crammed in, so we decided to investigate some music down the lane. Once we had struggled to get out of the thronging doorway there was no turning back. Our spaces were taken before we had fully left. The rain was storming as we ran down the street.

'Sod this!' yelled one of the local lads and ducked under an awning.

"What about the music?"

'Look, it's not going to happen. This is my city and I'm telling you, it's just not going to happen. Now stand there, my cigarette is getting wet!'

So we shuffled into the next bar, dripping from the minutes spent outside. But it was quieter and more homely. I preferred it somehow. The elegant old decoration had a history. The dark wooden benches had seen some tales. And besides, the Guiness was better too.

So, late we strayed as the conversation meandered from the political to the jocular. The stragglers that we were, left the tired behind. So by the time of early morning, once the staff had finished cleaning, we decided to call it a night.

The rain was still streaming, but by then it didn't matter. The drunken warmth was enough to keep us going on the trek back home. We even stopped to look into a small gallery, hung with paintings of the local rocky islands.

"I'd like to live there" I said, pointing at a small wooden bothy in front of the waves.

'Then I'm sure you will one day won'tcha!'

And that's what I liked about the Irish. There was a friendly positivity to their ways. Once they decided that they liked you, it was just like you had known them for years.

What a cracking day in Galway.
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