When I was young, flesh pots were few and far between in Cavan
Michael Harding: It was a time of innocence, before the Troubles, before war on the Border
Michael Harding: I hope you’re not going to be like the buck eejit that worked here last summer. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
I was in a bar last week not far from Belturbet. Young lads were knocking back pints. The barman was in his late teens. He stared at me as if he didn’t believe in the existence of people over 25.
I asked for a pint of Guinness. He started pulling it and I could see that he wasn’t experienced.
“Are you here long?” I wondered.
“A few weeks,” he admitted.
“How did you get the job?” I wondered.
“I lied,” he said, cheerfully, as we both looked at the froth belching from the tap.
He told me that the first night he was on duty the bossman went away for a couple of hours. Left him on his own.
“You’ll be alright,” the bossman said. “It’s only Monday.”
“But then someone asked me for a ginger ale,” he told me. “And I didn’t know what a ginger ale was, so I went into the kitchen and googled it.”
To his consternation Google threw up the ingredients for making ginger ale; fresh ginger, organic sugar, fresh lemon and sea salt. After a long time in shock he skyped a friend that used to work in the same pub but was sacked because he had no experience.
The friend told him to swivel his phone camera, so he could guide him into the hallway. And sure enough the little bottles of ginger ale were sitting there in a crate.
When he got back to the bar the customer was fuming.
“What kept you? The customer wondered. “I hope you’re not going to be like the buck eejit that worked here last summer.”
The boy apologised and tried to change the subject.
“I was on the phone to a friend,” he said. “He’s having problems trying to break a horse.”
“And how do you break a horse,” the customer wondered. “Buckets of water,” the boy said.
“Tie buckets of water to the saddle; that’s the trick. That keeps them from lepping.”
Drops of ginger ale were falling one by one into the customer’s brandy glass as he listened with fascination to the young barman.
“I may not know how to pull a pint,” the young lad said to me, after telling me this story, “but I know how to keep the customer happy.”
When my Guinness was ready I went to the corner, and sat listening to him and his mates crowing about what they might get up to, at the weekend in the flesh pots of west Cavan. And by the sound of them I could only imagine that west Cavan was a wonderland of discotheques and honky-tonks.
When I was growing up fleshpots were few and far between in Cavan. In fact there wasn’t a single discotheque in the county apart from Crover House.
And boys would cross any amount of drumlins, lakes, or circumvent a battalion of guards with flash lamps at checkpoints, just to step into the psychedelic strobe lights of that exotic space. Erotic juices crept up through our scarecrow limbs as the night went on, leaving us, eventually, demented in the middle of the night, trying to find our way home.
One night a friend of mine was returning to Cavan town in a Volkswagen and after a few miles the car broke down.
“These yokes are like boats,” someone said. “The engines are in the back.”
So they found the engine and figured out that the cable between the throttle and the accelerator had broken.
They found some bailing twine, and wound it around the throttle and one of them stood on the frame that covered the back wheel, holding tight to the bailing twine that was tied to the throttle, as they car crept cautiously towards Crosskeys.
Every so often the driver would shout out the window, “Slow down you feckking maniac!”
They were so jubilant going through Cavan town after their long 15 mile journey that the horn honked all the way down College Street and past the Garda station at the corner of Abbey Street and the human accelerator waved in triumph, like a circus clown, falling immediately to the ground as the guards rushed out to see what was going on.
It was a time of innocence, before the Troubles. There was no war on the Border. And Guards were not yet nervous of young boys in old motor cars.
I was still savouring this memory when the young barman interrupted my dreams.
“Will you have another pint?” he inquired, as he took away my empty glass. And I said, “Yes, I will.” Because in fairness, he was a fine young man.