An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: Dublin Airport.

Dublin airport is a unique institution, because it is THE airport for most of the country. The huge majority of the country have used it at some time, and it is a wonderful place to observe the state of the nation. Five years ago, it was where one would see Polish builders (Is there any Polish man under 40 with hair?) departing home for the weekend as this seasons Lithuanian au-pair clacked by in high heels and sprayed on 1980s blue jeans. Today, you see that scene we thought we had banished, as a tearful mammy has to be pulled off a young departing engineer as he reminds her “Mammy, it’s only Vancouver! It’s not the moon!”

You still see the holiday crowd of course, second-degree burn lobster red and shivering as they come through arrivals like they’ve been released from an alien abduction, blinking in disbelief as if knowledge of Irish weather and the power of sunrays was wiped by a Venusian probe from their minds.

Everyone always does the same thing at arrivals, has that milli-second hope that someone came to meet them at the airport. They rarely do.

The ads, normally for mobile phone services, always have a coy tone, hinting at illicit sexual encounters. It would be fun if they took it to the logical conclusion. “Try our new Morning After Pill app!”

Then there are the airline staff, walking with that swagger that says “Yes, we were once impressed by AirportLand too, but now it’s so yesterday.” You can’t help thinking that in every gay nightclub east of Berlin there must be a respected photo of Michael O’Leary, the Great F**king Liberator who gave them all jobs.

Security is always a saga, especially if you, like me, have the ability to always stand behind the person who gets to the X-Ray machine and then decides to see if they have anything in their pockets, liquids on their person, or just realise that they are at an airport. Could we not have an instant “F**king Eejit” queue where they are immediately made stand with all the other dopes? Let them all hold each other up away from us.

Passport Control needs work. You just know that whilst every other border force in the world spends a lot of time working on cultural sensitivity policies and seminars, our lads have been handed a torn corner from The Racing Post with “Keep an eye out for black fellas!” scribbled on it in biro.

Finally, as we board, there’s the always entertaining last scuffle with the fella trying to defy the laws of physics fitting his bag into the metal frame measuring thing, and giving himself a blood clot in the effort, as Helga from Latvia looks on coldly.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: The Day Out to IKEA.

We're all going to IKEA!

We’re all going to IKEA!

It’s still, for the Irish, an event. You don’t just “pop in” to IKEA, but put aside a half day, usually with a “Sure, we can get a bite to eat out there” thrown in. Sitting in the restaurant, you can see the spectrum. The young still-in-love couple, debating, in between nuzzling, what will fit where in their new home together. An inordinate amount of time and coy looks goes into the tour of the bedroom section. Their Polish or Lithuanian counterparts are much less tactile, their relationship almost formal. He looks built to strangle a Soviet infantryman (often the truth) and she looks like a perfume model, striking and bet (yes, bet) into 1980s style jeans that would look ridiculous on anyone else, but with cold, dead eyes that would chill a happy-go-lucky Irishman. He can look, he can want, but he would not want to keep.

Then there’s the couple with kids. Both automatons, dealing with the ever rotating cycle of child needs and demands, barely looking at each other. She gazes off into the distance, morosely recognising that this is her actual life. He uses the opportunity to steal a glance at the gorgeous Pole strutting by in boots normally reserved for a Waffen SS commander.

The journey through the store has two effects. It gives ideas to one group about how to better manage their homes: “I didn’t even know you could buy those hanging things! See! We could hang your mother from the stairs with that!” and reminds the other group of how grotty their home actually is.

When in doubt, some form of  DVD rack-slash-bookshelf is bought. After all, they’ve come all this way and sure they’re practically giving them away and anyway we can always use more shelves. She rolls her eyes at his DIY aspirations. At the food section, a browse ends up with a bar of chocolate for the drive home and a box of what looks like cookies. He’s not sure, but they look like cookies. In IKEA headquarters in the Netherlands (yes is the answer to your question), accountants scratch their heads and wonder just what is the obsession with dog biscuits in the Irish market?

A moment of panic ensues in the car park, as to whether the long cardboard thing will fit in, even with that great solution of Irish men across the world to any spacial problem: “We’ll fold the seat down!”

It eventually fits, as long as she doesn’t mind twisting her body in the passenger seat with the suppleness of the average Phuket lapdancer. The kids are stacked into the back seat like illegal immigrants in a container truck.

Finally home, he goes at it with gusto, thinking that he really should have bought that mini-toolkit they were selling at the cashpoints (“Practically giving them away!”). Nearly taking the finger off twice with the butterknife he uses to turn the screws, he loses his temper and beats the last screw in with the butt of the knife, sucking his other finger to stop the blood. Fortunately, she’s in the garden stopping one child trying to feed the younger one to the dog. He admires his handiwork. She’ll never see the coerced screw, and it’ll be grand as long as nothing too heavy is put on it. Like DVDs. Or books.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: The lonely famous girl.

She's beautiful. Her life has to be perfect, right?

She’s beautiful. Her life has to be perfect, right?

To look at her, you’d think she has it all. She is very beautiful, and there is not a single day that goes by that her image doesn’t appear in VIP or The Star or in an ad campaign. So why is she sitting at home alone on a Friday night with an M&S meal for one and a Downton Abbey marathon on the SkyPlus? She has no shortage of friends, and certainly no shortage of male admirers, indeed all she has to do is walk into any pub or nightclub in Ireland and they’re flocking. But that’s it. They do come flocking, and she can see it in their eyes. The look that recognises her as that girl from that poster/magazine/thing on TV3 and how I’d love to bang her and tell my mates about it. They see a commodity, a mobile bragging right, and she sees they see it too. Last time she gave into a moment of weakness, and woke up in bed with a guy who was pretty fit and seemed pretty grounded, until he tried to take a picture of her whilst she slept. What was even more disturbing was that he couldn’t even see what the problem was, and turned nasty. She’s had boyfriends as famous as her too, and with that came her lovelife as public property and discovering their casual attitude to infidelity on the front of a tabloid as she went shopping with her mother. Her older sister, who didn’t quite inherit the same beautiful gene, loves when she visits, and wants to talk about her glamorous life whilst she, the sister, only has this, pointing at her two kids thrashing the house in front of the telly whilst her boring but loving husband snores loudly in front of the fire after his steak and kidney pie. Her younger niece, approaching ten, is fascinated by her cool auntie and her beautiful photos in ALL the magazines which  she cuts out and keeps in a scrapbook. The niece wants to be just like her when she grows up, which is funny, because she increasingly envies her sister and family and yes, even her boring but loving husband.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: The overly interested in other people’s wife/husband.

They can be both women and men, and you see them at big family events or social gatherings like christenings or communions, and they stand out. Yes, the parents with young kids do make an effort, but it can only be that, with the huge time-devouring monster that is raising children eating up what used to be gym time or getting one’s hair done. But the overly interested, being single, don’t have that pressure. They’re in the gym everyday, and still wear designer labels that are always dry cleaned and look immaculate and most of all don’t have patches of dried baby sick on any of their clothes, or those double rings under the eyes that only a sick child up all night can endow.

Curiously, they’re not really drawn to each other, but to other people’s husbands or wives. Maybe it’s the position of strength they enjoy, a handsome and well turned out man giving a tired and feeling under appreciated young mother that flirtatious look that her husband hasn’t given her in years. Or the attractive, elegant but age appropriate woman with the playful hand on someone else’s husband’s arm, laughing at his jokes, or wearing those health and safety defying heels that his wife gave up after the arrival of their eldest.

They circle the room, like sharks looking for the faintest hint of blood in the water, ready to move in on the former rugby star who still charms but groans at the jowly reflection staring back at him in the mirror, or the previous shiny haired Alex Girl who takes out the former Little Black Dress of choice to look at when she wants to feel really bad about herself.

You can almost hear the Jaws theme in the background.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: The guy they just keep giving TV shows to.

By all accounts, he’s a lovely fella. He’s good looking, slim, tall, well spoken, intelligent. On paper he should be a huge success. Except…what is it? He just doesn’t have it. In short, he’s the Mitt Romney of Irish television. His shows boast “chat”, and “familiar faces” and “much, much more” and are very well produced professionally, and he really works hard at being the cheeky chappy. His gurus are Conan O’Brien and the young David Letterman and maybe Jonathan Ross, and he spends hours watching DVDs of them, trying to find his eureka moment, and distill what they have into something useful, but God love him, it just isn’t happening. When he attempts to develop a “nice to see you…” style catchphrase, it bombs painfully: “I’m good tonight, how are you?” hoping for a “good tonight!” roarback, instead he gets silence and a mutter that sounds like “clucking mildo”.

For a laugh, he went with a few mates to a tarot card reader. She ran from the tent wailing, seeing him in twenty years time putting a revolver in his mouth during a Late Late tribute to B*witched special, and splashing his brains all over the iPad 7 that now presents the show. Everyone in the audience gets a toaster as compensation.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: The Affair.

The key to illicit excitement.

The key to illicit excitement.

It wasn’t like they had planned it. He was single, out of a messy relationship. She was married with two young kids and a husband who was not by any accounts a bad guy. It just happened. They met at a work related social event, and their eyes, yeah, that corny moment actually happened. When two people look at each other without a word, without even having met each other, and they knew that they wanted each other.

Her boss had introduced them, and they had been careful not to show too much interest in each other, but both knew. When the event had broken up, both had slipped away to another bar in the hotel, and talked, both pretending to be more drunk than they actually were to allow for the excuse of the first kiss.

Her hand had shook in giddy excitement as she had phoned her husband to say that she’d be late, trying to find a little glimmer of anger over his casual acceptance that his wife was giving such a feeble excuse for being late, but she knew the answer. He trusted her, the bastard. In the room, it was like being a teenager again, hungrily wanting and being wanted. When she got home, her husband was snoring his head off and the kids were tucked in.

She had resolved that it had been a one off, a moment of weakness, but it wouldn’t go away. They had met again, her determined to end this before it escalated. He understood, and respected her decision, which made it all the harder, and the reason they ended up in another room again.

How will it end? Will it peter out, the danger finally outweighing the pleasure and the excitement? Possibly, but please, a tiny voice says in the back of her head, don’t let anyone fall in love.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: The couple who argue in public.

We all pretend to be horrified, but have a good goo anyway.

We all pretend to be horrified, but have a good goo anyway.

They’re a treat, aren’t they? They tend to come in two varieties. First, there’s the “F**k you and your whore!” couple, normally fuelled with plenty of drink, where she doesn’t care who knows it, roaring at him about his infidelities and, occasionally, sexual inadequacies. All around the pub, conversations pause not in embarrassment but in an attempt to earwig on this juicy slice of life. He doesn’t put up much of a defence, normally deciding to build a defensive position around a single statement (“But I rang you! I rang you!”) which he believes absolves him of responsibility, or alternatively, he goes on the attack with a minor point that he attempts to magnify (“I saw the way you were lookin’ at him! I saw yez!”). It normally ends with him storming out because “his head is melted” and her realisation that the whole pub has been watching Eastenders: The Live Show. She then attempts to restore a few grammes of dignity by improved posture, walking back to the bar holding her alcopop like she’s a debutante at the Savoy. Kate Midleteon in leopardskin.

Then there’s the middle class couple, who manage the marvellous two-hander of being vicious to each other whilst on no account causing a scene. You’ll see them in professional workplaces, hospitals  or law firms, standing in a corner. He’ll be looking coldly at her, wishing death, she’ll be hissing through gritted teeth. A colleague will pass, and both smile and nod, perhaps  a playful remark, and then back to it. He’ll have an affair with one of the office juniors, her with his best friend.

They’ll stay together, however, for the good of the mortgage, or at least until David McWilliams says that property prices are rebounding.

An Occasional Guide to Modern Life: The Deceased Former Lover.

She got a shock when she stumbled across the news on Facebook. Just a string of random comments and offers of sympathy to his family from friends, some of whom she had known. She was surprised at her own reaction. It had been years, and many relationships ago, and to be honest, she couldn’t remember the last time she had given him a thought. Yet today the memories were strong. The relationship had petered out, two people who hadn’t fought or cheated or disagreed, but just concluded that it was going nowhere. They’d kept in touch for a little while, sent the odd birthday text, just moved away from each other. Now, she’d never bump into him again, see him across a street, maybe even pretend not to see him, none of that would ever happen.

There was a moment when he really mattered to her, a torn strip in her life where he just might have been someone very important to her, or had the potential to be. He’d not been perfect, and was just a little too self obsessed for her liking, but he’d been kind too, and he had always made her laugh. They’d had their own in-jokes, their own words and phrases that meant something just to them. At night, in bed together, she had felt safe, and when she felt cold she knew she could just move close and snuggle against him and his arms would come around her and keep her warm. They’d joked about just how warm he was in bed, a human hot water bottle, she’d said. Now, that heat was gone forever.

A Guide to Modern Life: The Older Woman With The Younger Lover.

There’s no denying she’s in her fifties. Maybe early, maybe late, but the lines are there. She’s kept her figure, tall and slim and her legs still pass muster below a certain hemline. Even when she was younger, and was very attractive, she still kept her legs in the Hint Of Things To Come category as opposed to wearing a belt as mini-skirt. She wears glasses now, which she prefers to contacts, and keeps her long brown hair in a ponytail. In her stewardess uniform she has an effect on men, and she knows it.

What her body loses with age she recognises she has gained with life experience. The ability to lock eyes with a younger man, perhaps one of her passengers, forcing him to break eye contact and more often than not blush, that always makes her smile.

Since her divorce, her last three lovers have been younger than her. Lovers, not boyfriends, she hasn’t time for that, the only man in her life being her twenty two year old son in college. Nor is she really interested in men her own age, with their jowls, bulging stomachs and insecurities.

There was the very handsome, almost rugged photojournalist in his late thirties who sat opposite her on the flight from Hong Kong. She’d pretend not to see his eyes running over her for most of the flight, but then watched him, never breaking her look. An hour before landing he was stuttering in the galley giving her his mobile number.

Her most recent was her son’s best friend, who called over to borrow something while her son was away travelling in South America. She had consumed a few glasses of wine, and had always had a soft spot for the beautiful young rugby player. She’d known that he’d always fancied her, an ongoing joke amongst her son’s circle of friends which she’d found flattering.

He’d stayed, taken her offer of wine and let her make him some supper. They’d then watched a DVD, and she had undressed him completely and taken him to her bed. They’d been lovers for three months, him calling around or both taking a weekend away. He’d fallen hopelessly in love with her, and had sobbed uncontrollably as she had broken up with him as college returned. He’d even pleaded with her to marry him, which she could have laughed at cruelly but didn’t, cradling his head in her chest and running her fingers through his hair, in that moment more caring mother than sexual partner. It was for the best, she wanted him to go back to college and live the life of a handsome young man.

She would, with her son, attend his wedding six years later, where he would with a simple glance from the wedding table thank her silently. Her eyes were always her best feature, she thought.

An Occasional Guide to Irish Life: The Terenure Woman Who Aches To Live In Rathgar.

A  Protestant judge living next door. It’s the ultimate South Dublin middle-class accessory and the sign that you’ve arrived in the orange bricked bastion of civilisation that is Rathgar. Look up well-heeled leafy suburb, and Rathgar is what you get. The Bijou Bistro. Howard’s Way. The High School. A piano shop. A piano shop! And for Mary from Terenure it’s the badge of honour. If she could change her name to Mary Rathgar she would. She’d have “I live in Rathgar” tattooed across her forehead if it were big enough.

Not that she’s ashamed to have been born and bred in Terenure, the southside front line between posh south east Dublin and aspirant working class Kimmage. But she’s old enough to remember the great postal code war of 1986, when some lad in the P&T had the idea that putting Terenure in the same postal code as Tallaght wouldn’t trigger outrage, and hysteria over collapsing house prices and how Terenure would be transformed into a dystopian hellhole. “It’ll be John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York” all over again!”, one residents group would-be Snake Plisskin declared. How dare they! Terenure did not look to Tallaght or Kimmage but to Rathgar with its musical society and Church of Ireland Sales of Work (The scones! The traybakes! You just get a better class of person, don’t you? Oh hello Judge Smythe, how are you?). None of your let’s-be-frank common “Bring And Buy Sales” (where the cakes are all bought Teatime Express gateaux) to send Fr Mulcahy’s housekeeper “away to Lourdes” for “her nerves” and recent alarming weight gain.

Of course, it’s just her luck that when Mary finally can move across the invisible dividing line that Terenure finally begins its much threatened gentrification, with its Lotts & Co and Korean burgers and sushi and Base pizza and always worth a peek little village bookshop. But finally, she’s in Rathgar, and eager to integrate, and joining the residents associations and all the rest, especially for the gossip.

“Oh, didn’t you hear? The Smythes are moving to Ranelagh. You simply get a better class of person in Ranelagh. And the restaurants!”