Taxi talk turns to Garth Brooks and Dublin’s anti-jiving bias
They can’t abide happy culchies coming up and screaming their heads off in Croke Park and dancing around O’Connell Street, the driver told me
‘It wasn’t Garth Brooks that they were afraid of.’ Photograph: Mario Anzuoni/Files/Reuters
I was in the back of a taxi in a seaside town. The sun was shining. The taxi man was telling me his life story.
“I have four sons,” he said, “and I don’t trust any of them.”
“That must be difficult,” I said.
“Not really,” he replied. “They’re all in their 20s, and I have a drink with them every few weeks.”
“Why don’t you trust them?”
“Football,” he said, but he didn’t elaborate and I didn’t feel like teasing out any further details.
“Are you divorced?” I wondered, knowing it’s better to presume people are divorced if they have grown-up children.
“No,” he said. “In fact, I’m with the same woman for 40 years. We ran off together. She was in a convent here in town, and I got hold of her and she got pregnant, and then we went off to England and that was the end of her.
I didn’t feel like teasing out what he meant by “that was the end of her”, so I changed the subject.
“Were you sorry they cancelled the Garth Brooks concerts?”
“Devastated,” he said. “The wife is a great dancer.”
Then he explained to me that jiving is what keeps marriages together. “I mean, men dance like donkeys, but I took lessons because I knew how much the birds enjoyed it,” he said.
“Birds!” I exclaimed in horror, to emphasise my politically correct sensibilities.
“Women,” he added, as clarification, eyeing me in the mirror.
“So you were sorry the concerts were cancelled?” I said, getting the story back on track.
“I had f***in’ tickets,” he said.
“The whole thing was a cock-up,” I said.
“My friend,” he said, “it was no cock-up,” he said, as he gripped the steering wheel and leaned his big, bronze forearm out the open window. The arm had the words “Divine Jesus” tattooed into the skin, beneath a shadow of black hair. We were at traffic lights. The sun was shining, and I could smell his flesh cooking in the heat.
“It’s the old urban-versus-culchie division rearing it’s ugly head again,” he muttered out the window.
“City people don’t like jiving,” he said. “That’s the fundamental problem. It wasn’t Garth Brooks that they were afraid of. It was the anti-jiving mentality in Dublin that forced the cancellation of those concerts.”
“Why would anyone be against jiving?” I wondered.
“They’re all divorced,” he said, as if he was tired trying to explain the point. “And they can’t abide happy culchies coming up with freckled faces and screaming their heads off in Croke Park and dancing around O’Connell Street.
I was tempted to ask him what he thought about divorce, abortion and gay marriage, but the day was too hot to provoke him unnecessarily.
“I’m a ballroom dancer,” he said, as he drove me onwards. “My aunt – she’s dead now – she taught me to foxtrot.”
“You were a musical family.”
“Oh yes, indeed,” he said. “My father was an opera singer.”
We were wheeling around a roundabout at the pier, with the beach in view.
“And the funny thing is,” he said, “I’m a butcher.”
I saw nothing funny in that at all. When we arrived at my hotel, he pointed to a man in a grey suit standing on the steps of the main entrance.
“Do you see that fellow at the door? That’s the boss man. He started off in there washing dishes. And his sister was a lovely woman. But he worked his way up until he owned the place.”
“Fair play to him,” I said.
“Fair play me backside,” the taxi man retorted. “It was him wasted all the money on renovations, gutting the inside of the building. Now the hotel is in Nama. And it was a lovely old hotel at one time. I was the doorman. And one night that bollocks gave me a dig in the kitchen. But I took the smile off his face with a broom handle. Which is when me and the woman went to England.”
The boss man at the door seemed gentle enough to me: a small man with a wan smile.
“Okay so,” I said to the taxi man, as I gave him the fare. “If you were washing dishes in there, tell me how come you became a butcher.”
“England,” he replied. “Thank God for England.”
I got out and he drove away into the hot afternoon and the boss man came down the steps and asked me if he could carry my luggage inside.
“Business or pleasure?” he asked.
“Pleasure,” I said. “I’m on my holidays.”
Next week: Sean Hughes. Michael Harding will return in September