Monday, 15 November 2010

Gráinne gets a new job.

When you’ve never experienced it, falling in love seems like quite an intimidating thing. When I was younger I just couldn’t imagine this big complicated feeling, a passion that inspires poets, changes history, starts wars and ends films could ever personally involve me. That said; I’d never really wanted to go out with anyone. The thought of truly getting to know someone had all the attraction of inviting a stranger around for a social root about in my bathroom dustbin. Hey there stranger; person I find sexually attractive, how about popping around and getting to know me in all my wobbly, secondhand, cry when I’m drunk tediousness? And while you’re at it, would you like to see me first thing in the morning too? I don’t even like spending time in my own company, not sober at least, why would I expect anyone else to? No thanks. I’d been born with a port wine stain on my personality, a fermenting, boil of neediness and inadequacy that if brushed with any sort of affection would pop and repulse anyone unlucky enough to be around it.

I was however blessed with low standards and high expectations; I thought the solution was to just go out with someone I didn’t really like for as long as it took for them to accidently stumble over the real me. Then when my game was up, we could shake hands, shrug shoulders and maybe go out for breakfast. The trick was to not to really like anybody then you could never ever be hurt. My only other option was to fall in love with someone who then, immediately, tragically died, never to learn how truly messy my bedroom could get. Then I would have all the glamour of a tragic love affair, a tale I could talk about for ages and a perfect excuse never to have to go out with anyone ever again. But that was the ideal and who could bank on that?

What is unexpected about falling in love is that when it happens, how easy it is. Such a pivotal thing that you secretly yearn for, that people spend their lives aching for and when it happens it’s as easy as falling asleep. Love, this ancient celebrity that cameod in Shakespeare, did the dirt on Vincent Van Gogh, wooed Elizabeth Taylor, is now nuzzling up to you and laughing at your jokes. In the wise words on Cheryl Cole- It’s bonkers, pet!

Two months in and the novelty of working in an Irish bar was wearing off. Already some of the girls from the bar were migrating to teaching. Kelly, an orange faced prematurely middle aged girl in her mid twenties had been the first to jump ship. She had an unnerving habit of sighing before, during and after everything she said, as if too emphasis just how weary of this mortal coil she truly was. Every piece of news, flummery, whisp of gossip was met with furrow browed resignation, as though at the age of 26, literally nothing surprised her anymore. Maybe she was misunderstood, maybe she really had had an exciting life, maybe she was just being slowly poisoned by St. Tropez. Her personality met at that special place on the attitude chart where frumpiness and competitiveness towards all other females met.

Yes, teaching had easy hours and weekends off, but I was no Kelly. I wanted to stay at the Bar with Laura and Ife. Laura was a fumbling girl from Nottingham that had ended up in Madrid en route from her year in Australia. Laura seemed to do most things accidentally and it was her shambliness and honesty that made her so adored by everybody. She had a rueful way of apologising for being rubbish that made you want to buy her a fur coat and a tiara. Whatever you were doing, she assured you, was brilliant, any plans she’d go along with, every fact you told was remarkable, every story fascinating. She was home made flesh, a calm Queen of Hearts to my slightly deranged Princess Margaret. You didn’t just want her as you best friend, you hoped that she considered you hers.

Ife was one of the most confident people I’d ever met. An assistant manager at the bar, back in London she worked as a high powered TV producer and gave off the swagger of impregnable competency. A rock. An island. That was until you got to know her and realised that she displayed her independence with the same pride and vulnerability of a twelve year old showing off their new tree hut. There were also endearing gaps in her general knowledge, like when watching an interview with Shaking Stevens she asked confused, hadn’t he converted to Islam. Or when she matter of factly explained that the reason she’d chosen a trip to Caesars Palace over the Grand Canyon on her last holiday was because, she’d already seen the Grand Canyon on television. Or the period in her life when her close friends were genuinely worried she thought she was going out with Pharrell Williams. Then she stopped being my intimidating new boss and became the friend who I could trust with my life.

Week nights were spent at the bar getting drunk on appropriated wine, Saturday nights at R&B clubs where we were sexually molested on the dance floor to a baseline and every Monday whoever wasn’t working would join Gerard for the weekly pub quiz. There, not only did I improve my general knowledge, I learnt about myself. Like the time a new member of our team had the gall, the rudeness to answer more questions than me and in frustration I hid his chair when he was in the toilet forcing him to join another table. Looking at the glares from my teammates I discovered that I did have a competitive side outside All You Can Eat Buffets after all.

Sometimes we were joined for drinks by the other barmen. Shane was a slightly gawky, graduate who had come to Madrid to study guitar. He was sweet and funny but with an earnestness that became quickly irritating. While I tried to forget I was living in Spain, he stopped just short of wearing a sombrero to work. When I had to ring my landlady to let her know that I was moving out, and regally announced that I needed to borrow someone’s Spanish, he smugly refused. I think he thought he was making a tough to be kind comment on my inability to assimilate into the local culture. Instead it just convinced me he was a smug twat who probably fancied me and was getting a sadomasochistic thrill from making my life difficult for sexual kicks. Who knows, the truth was probably somewhere in the middle. I could only take him in small doses, or diluted with lots of alcohol.

Paul was an architecture student. Unlike us, happy to stay and get quietly pissed, as soon as his shift was over he was off; to meet friends, discover some underground bar he’d read about, or head off to another city for the weekend. He never said much but when he did it was always either sarcastic or taking the piss. We instantly bonded when it became apparent we held Shane, with all his sunny optimism, in equal contempt. He went one better, he didn’t really like anyone who worked in the bar. Apart from me, me he liked. Awkward ribs blossomed into private jokes and soon we could riff for hours on the same subject, as easily and gracefully as ice skaters, whipping past everyone else, giddy with our own speed, spinning with the glee of private laughter. Soon it just became normal for us to sit next to each other, natural to be considered a pair, second nature to seek each other out. He had this killer habit of remembering everything I said, of assuming only I knew what he was talking about, of directing his wisecracks in my direction. He seemed to notice, remember and comment on everything I did and said, in way that made me feel like the most interesting person alive. Things were changing, the thought of seeing him made feel exhilarated and like I wanted to vomit and suddenly I was brushing my hair before work. Days without seeing him felt wasted and were spend chatting to him in my head, collecting stuff to tell him about when I did.

During my first day at my new job at the school Laura texted me to say Paul had been talking about me all morning, and I calmly realised, why one day in ,I already missed him so much.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Working in an Irish Bars for beginners

There are many advantages to working in an Irish bar in a foreign country. You never have to learn their language, you never really have to meet any locals and most importantly, you can still, just about, meet enough new people to convince yourself you’re still having an experience you couldn’t have had at home. It is the microwave meal of foreign travel.

Nobody plans to work in an Irish bar; it’s a waiting room where you pause for life to present its next chapter. People who live abroad are a strange lot anyway. If you’re at home working in a bar, or as a TEFL teacher; people ask questions, wonder what you’re doing next, but if you’re doing the exact same thing, living more or less the same lifestyle in a foreign country, people assume you’re a winner. There are three types of people that you notice working abroad, those there for legitimate career reasons, those pausing for breath, between travels, after uni, a sorbet between youth and responsibility and lost souls, who turn being a foreigner abroad into their entire identity. At home they were just John, but here they are John the Irish Man. They attend Irish nights, listen to trad music, attend Embassy functions, suddenly only James Joyce understands them. Their nationality suddenly makes sense of their life, defines them, excuses all their actions, answers all their questions with the unexpected gratefulness of a diagnosed food intolerance.

The bar I worked in was run by Mathew; a fat pink faced, German school boy of an Irish homosexual. His family owned the entire chain of Irish pubs and Mathew, the runt of the litter, was in charge of ours. We were all terrified of him. He was known to swan into the bar, empty the till, sack a member of staff and disappear for days. He also notoriously, it was whispered, only dated middle aged men that looked like Captain Birds Eye. I ended up living in his flat for two weeks, mid between bolting from Marina’s and moving to another boho dive with a balcony in Lavapies. It was amazing; park views and satellite TV, but I only got to stay there for two weeks before his landlord evicted him. He was that sort of person. Terrified of him, his kindness to this stranger sleeping on his couch made me flinch. In-between hating himself and everyone else, he was as sweet and soft as the fondant fancies he so closely physically resembled.

The real power was Meabh. A tiny, pale wisp of a girl; she may have looked like a frail Victorian ghost but had a disaprooving stare that would terrify any spectral visitor. She had worked at the pub for years and at twenty three had the attitude, wisdom and weariness of someone years older. Initially her toughness, learnt at too young age, frustrated both our attempts at friendships, but over time her kindness and thoughtfulness emerged from her flinty exterior.

Simon was in charge of the late shifts. He was a gorgeous, tanned, shaved head gay man from Manchester, with dry sense of humour and turn of phrase that made you lose your breath. He lived with Gerard in a luxurious flat overlooking Madrid’s transvestite red light district with their pet Chihuahuas. They weren’t a couple but loved and hated each other with all the intensity of one. Gerard spent his weekends drinking and having complicated relationships with South Americans he met in S&M clubs and his weeks as a trade union lawyer fighting for teachers rights in Colombia. After Sunday lunch at their flat, we’d drink gin and tonics, watch the trannies outside and then settle down in front of the only programme on TV in English “Murder She Wrote”. Did you know that nearly every episode ends with Jessica Fletcher pulling a quizzical face? I never really picked up spanish but I did learn that.

The most anticipated customers were the Irish and English lads working in the city. Since none of us spoke Spanish, the those were the only really eligible men, however, they not quite valuing conversation skills as highly as we did, had not only Spanish girls to choose from but every freckly woman’s mortal enemy – the South Americans. The attributes I’d previously considered deal breakers; good sense of humour, being up for the craic, shared knowledge of Neighbours , melted in the hot groomed, sexiness of those girls.

Most of the lads worked for a dodgy local telesales operation that a notorious, but never seen, Irishman ran. Recruited from behind the Irish bars, they were lured with coke, promises of easy money and trips to strip clubs to a business they vaguely described as an investment scheme. The bright eyed boys quickly transformed to loud arrogant customers, visiting their previous place of employment with swaggering wads of cash, the visits diminishing along with their friendliness, until it was vaguely mentioned they’d mysteriously gone back to Ireland, never to be heard of again.

At least we had Lee. A TEFL teacher from Manchester; he was a romantic figure, which even a predilection for pissing in public couldn’t diminish. A spry pixie of a middle-aged man, he had a stunning Spanish girl he cheated on absentmindedly and a twinkle in his eye. When he got drunk, tales from his previous life would seep out. Sad stories of unclaimed children that looked like him, tangled family trees, grim storylines he’d miraculously been able to escape from. Sometimes we were joined by Trevor, a middle-aged man going through a nasty divorce, with an adored daughter who was quite obviously fleecing her lonely Dad. They’d stay late and we’d drink martinis, laugh our legs off and I’d walk home in the night time heat. Was I happy or do I just remember that I was in hindsight? I can’t remember, lets just assume I was, a memory lasting so much longer than the actual moment. Let’s leave me strolling safely home from work, through the stuffy Madrid night, unaware that soon Paul would walk into my life and everything was about to go kaboom! Goodnight Gráinne, save home, enjoy your yoghurt and biscuits in the morning.