View from the Bridge: 65

by John Morrison


65: Festivities

It's been one of the wettest Junes in living memory. The local GPs are steeling themselves for the inevitable influx of patients - mostly young, some old enough to know better - suffering from Glastonbury Trenchfoot.

Milltown has its own Midsummer Festival. We followed the usual custom by engaging a second-rate celebrity to open the event. If this was any other festival our choice of luminary might have seemed wilfully provocative. But this is Milltown, and we were convinced that a famous drug-smuggler (star of stage, screen and Crimewatch : known as the man who put the 'smug' into 'smuggling') would give the festival a modicum of street credibility.

We were led to believe he was a reformed man, enjoying a second - and equally lucrative - career as an author, speaker and stalwart of the chat-show circuit. But he reverted to type on arrival in Milltown: ignoring the ribbon and cutting a line of coke instead. When he made an unconvincing appeal to the young folk of Milltown - "Hey kids, take my advice and avoid people who take drugs... like police officers. And if anyone comes up to you and offers you illegal drugs... just say 'How much?'" - he was promptly drummed out of town.

With that unhappy event behind us, the festival is now in full swing. Milltown's cinema has re-opened, following a refit, with a special showing of Titanic. The manager was gratified to see how many of the audience had come, as requested, dressed as Titanic survivors. He wasn't to know they'd just been caught in a sudden shower.

This year we have a variety of street entertainers: amusing enough, no doubt, to those whose idea of entertainment is digging a shallow grave. A clown is performing in the town square: gurning wildly, doing prat-falls, waving a bladder on a stick and frightening small children. We hope someone will come along, do the decent thing, and quietly kick him to death. A mime artist, too, fails to stir the blood. The only thing we'd like to see him mime his way out of is a lead-lined-coffin. Get out of that, you whey-faced buffoon...

An evening of Songs From the Shows will celebrate the derivitive work of Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who bestrides the world of popular music like a colostomy. More sober-sided Milltown folk look forward to the first performance of a brand new symphony - Pretentious Title Number Three - written for cordless drill and car alarm. It promises to be a challenging work: simple yet complex; forthright yet ambiguous; under-stated yet monumental; immensely significant and yet, at the same time, total and unmitigated bollocks.

The pubs of Milltown have suspended their usual moritorium on poetry for the duration of the festival. Except the Grievous Bodily Arms, where a man with a silk cravat, a strange nasal whine and a slim volume of verse would be happy just to get out alive. The pub regulars have a chivalrous code of conduct that precludes them from hitting a man with glasses. But there's really no need, since the butt-end of a pool cue does the job far more effectively.

There's an unwritten rule amongst the drinkers of Milltown: you drink in one unexceptional pub or another, and then sneer at all the other pubs in town. It's like football. You support a team through good times and bad. It's your team, for no better reason than your dad took you to a game at the age of seven. You'll hear nothing bad about your team; you wish only ill to other teams. And it's your local: it's good because you drink there. OK, it's a rather simplistic notion. Then again, getting away from complicated, demanding concepts like relationships, car maintenance and double-entry book-keeping is precisely why we go to pubs in the first place.

There's a pub just outside of Milltown that has missed out on such misplaced loyalty. It's had too many facelifts, too many makeovers: no wonder the locals give the the place a wide berth. It's been an American diner, a tapas bar and - the strangest idea of all - a 'fun pub'. ("Fun?...", snorts the landlord of the Grievous Bodily Arms, "...don't make me laugh..."). Our more impressionable young folk used to stand at the bar - looking as cool as the ravages of acne would allow - swigging self-consciously from a bottle of expensive foreign beer, its neck conveniently plugged with a segment of citrus fruit.

The pub's last incarnation but one was as the Jolly Roger, being stuffed to the gunnels with shipboard junk. Unfortunately, the manager took the pirate theme rather too literally and absconded with both the barmaid and a fortnight's takings.

Since then the pub has gone Irish. It takes a lot of money to recreate the 'distressed' look of a genuine Irish pub, which is what it claims to be. The expensive facelift nonwithstanding, the only authentic touch has been to replace all the decent beers with cold, creamy tasteless crap. The inescapable conclusion, for those who have visited the place, is that genuine Irish pubs are in Ireland ...

The brewery only began to economise when it hired staff. It's entertaining - in a grim, voyeuristic kind of way - to watch an ill-matched team of incompetents and malcontents bring the noble art of catering down to the level of a playground squabble.

A food order should initiate a seamlessly orchestrated series of events, culminating with a rosy-cheeked waitress sliding a hearty plateful under your nose. At Sheamus O'Tooles, however, a food order sets off a series of unconnected events which culminate in blind panic. The kitchen staff give convincing impressions of people who have never prepared a meal before. Every lunchtime seems to end the same way: with sounds of crockery smashing against the wall, screams of recrimination, the slamming of doors, the wail of a fire engine's siren, and the cook - an unshaven man with a grubby vest and singed eyebrows - sitting at the bar cradling a double whisky, trying to stop his hands shaking.

We wonder what the pub is going to turn into next, but we're not optimistic...

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