Happy Birthday: Life is Long!

I wake to the sound of an alarm. I press snooze in the hope that Monday fucks off for itself. It doesn’t. Monday doesn’t care if you partied hard at the weekend. Nor does it sympathise with you about the fact you feel a little cheated; all week the weekend seemed like a book full of clean blank pages waiting to be filled with wonderful things. Now that book is bounced off your dehydrated head and lands open on a page baring the cold facts; you got drunk and did a few chores; it’s over now and a pressing list of demands awaits. I get outta bed. It’s my birthday. 34 and feeling every bit of it.

It’s a bright cool morning.

I have to catch the train to Bilbao 4 times a week, which means four times a week I am running through the cobbled streets of Portugalete, bag bouncing on my back. Each time I tell myself that I need to leave my house 5 minutes earlier but I’ve been telling myself that four times a week for three weeks now. Still, I haven’t missed a train yet.

On the train everyone silently agrees not to get on each other’s nerves by shutting up and staring at their phones. I check Facebook. There’s a lot of people saying happy birthday. Facebook has prompted them to do so. I do the same when prompted. Everyone must be getting tired of everyone’s birthday.

In Spanish class I start to think that Saturday’s partying has left me brain-damaged. It takes me ages to construct a sentence. I am a little disgusted with myself. Will I ever learn this fucking language? I need to slow down on the weekend boozing. Mind you, I’ve been saying that every Monday for about five years now.

Afterwards my classmates and I go for coffee and cigarettes. None of us are particularly enthused about having to teach kids later on.

‘I don’t know how I’m gonna be all singing and dancing today,’ deadpans Aaron in a droll Newcastle voice, the imprint of a hangover on his face.

‘I hate when you have to tell-off a kid just before you do a song and you’re really angry, but you have to force a fake smile and say ‘Come on everyone! Let’s sing ‘We’re going on a Safari!’ James says.

‘My kids don’t even like songs! And they’re six! I’m there dancing and singing and their eyes are boring through me. I’m 33…34 and I have a hangover. What the fuck is your excuse young fella?’

I drain my coffee and run for the train.

Later, in class, I’m asking my teenagers what they did at the weekend.

‘I hang out with my friends and studied,’ is the standard answer.

They stubbornly refuse to let the conversation go anywhere. Maybe they’re just bored that they are doing the same shit over and over. Life is short, they say. Nay, life is long; Long enough for us all to get into ruts. Long enough for us to get bored. Ashley Madison has it the wrong way round. Life is short. Have an affair. If life really was short would people get bored of their partners and seek out affairs on the internet?

Life is long. Have an affair.

Life is long. Get drunk.

Life is long. Give up alcohol for six months.

Life is long. Live in another country.

Life is long. Take up a new hobby.

Life is long. You may as well have kids.

Life is long. Do something you wouldn’t normally do.

‘Did anyone do anything different?’

‘I went to Bilbao,’ says one pretty girl.

‘Oh really! What did you do there?’

‘Take photos.’

‘Took photos.’


‘Of what?’

She looks at me like she doesn’t understand.

‘Of buildings like the Guggenheim? Of homeless people who possess a tragic wrecked beauty?’ I suggest.

‘No…of each other.  For instagram.’

Now I’m the one who doesn’t understand.

In my next class I have my six year olds doing exercises.

‘Running, running, running, running, jumping, jumping, jumping, jumping, eating, eating, eating, eating, swimming, swimming, swimming, swimming.’

Their enthusiasm and big wide smiles are a pleasant contrast to the guarded, sullen teenagers.

The adults file in. I smile and greet them all. They take their seats – everyone always sits in the same seat. As they settle I notice Martha isn’t here. Odd because she never misses a class. Then there is a knock on the door. Nerea jumps, opens the door and switches off the light. A low flickering candle enters the room. A low chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ begins. My name’s on the cake and all. It’s a pleasant surprise.

Happy Trails

Something Similar: A Black Star on the last Day of School

Something Different: Squat Diddly


Bilbao Metro 4am

I turn the corner and look up. Sure enough, there is a tall pole with the lit red symbol atop. It’s a welcome sight. I walk towards it. I go down a flight of stairs, down a steep escalator, then down another steep escalator. It’s hot. Anymore feckin’ escalators and we’d be at the earth’s core. A train screeches up the track. I quicken my pace and slip my card out of my wallet. I hope it has credit. I see the roof of the train by the platform below. The doors open. A beeping sound warns people to get their asses inside quickly. I run. I swipe my card. The gates open. I take the stairs, sidestepping as fast as I can. But, as I arrive on the platform the train moves off. It screeches in a kind of sneering manner, which I appreciate none-too-much.

The train is like a sideways parting curtain that slowly reveals the other platform and there, casually waiting, are the Bilbao folk that have it sussed. I didn’t miss the train. I’m on the wrong bloody platform. Dumb luck. Anyway, why was I rushing? Even if I had missed the right train there’d be another along in ten minutes. It’s not like I haven’t time to spare; I’ve just wiled away hours drinking in bars.

It’s not the same atmosphere of waiting you get during the day; voices are raised and every now and then someone bursts out laughing. I scan the crowd. Gangs crowd around benches. Well, groups. Gangs sound intimidating. Guys and girls. More guys than girls. There’s one woman who stands alone. It looks like there’s a uniform under her cardigan. A cleaner maybe, mid-fifties on her way home. Her thin lips give her an impatient expression. Two good-looking girls come down the steps and stand in front of an advertisement for an English Academy. Tight jeans and leather jackets.  I consider walking over and striking up a conversation, you know, to practise my Spanish. In the last bar I pushed myself to approach a girl and say ‘Hola. Que tal?’ She rolled her eyes and walked away. I was left standing there like a dick. Thankfully, the lads didn’t see it ( although I could feel some fella in some corner laughing at me). Anyway, I decide not to talk to the two pretty girls on the platform. Well I don’t really decide anything. I just stand there near the bottom of the stairs, waiting like everyone else.

A breeze blows through the station. I look down the tunnel and see a huge square can rattling up the track. People stand and survey the carriages sliding by. There’s a gasp and a screech as the train settles. The doors open. We inch inside, disperse, and find a place to park ours bums. Those already seated gather themselves. I sit on one of the flip down chairs near the door. The cleaner sits on the seat opposite, her two hands clasping the strap of her handbag, her back erect and her eyes alert. She’s primed to bolt at a moment’s notice. The two pretty girls find a space halfway down the carriage, sit down and busy their thumbs with their mobile phones. The train moves on. As we enter the tunnel the engine screeches like a banshee.

I can taste the alcohol in my mouth. I try to figure out how much I had. I lose count after six and conclude that it’s enough to secure a hangover, but also enough to engender the current mood of insouciance. I look at my phone for something to do. I go on Facebook. Photos, videos and comments slide by. If I have time for this it’s a lie to say I don’t have time. I feel an aching dissatisfaction slowly rising. I slip my phone away.

A couple of stops later the cleaning lady leaves and a drunk guy staggers on. It’s like the changing of scenes in an unscripted play. He sits where the lady was and instantly falls asleep; head tilted, mouth open and Adam’s apple protruding. As the train gathers speed his head moves side to side slightly. As it slows again he inches forward. When the doors beep he awakes. Confused, he looks around. His eyes meet mine and narrow in suspicion, as if he’s woken up in some hellish nightmare and I’m to blame. I look away. Eventually he gets his bearings and repositions himself in his chair. People let themselves out, people let themselves in.

The drunk guy keeps himself awake by telling himself a story that seems to both amuse and surprise him. He staggers away at Barakaldo.

‘I have no idea how I got home,’ he will tell his friend’s tomorrow.

The train pushes on. There are now just a few people scattered around the carriage. Everyone’s quiet and tired. On the way in we were nicely presented and curious to see what Saturday night had in store. Now, that curiosity has been spent. I wonder if we’re one step closer to, or one step further away from where we wanna be. Neither, I suppose. Saturday night is more a necessary side-step.

 ‘Portugalete’ announces the electronic voice. People stand and gather by the door. We exit the train and ascend the two flights of stairs and escalator.  A few people grimace as the early morning Autumn chill hits them at the exit.

After five seconds the crowd have vanished. I’m alone on a quiet street surrounded by tall buildings. It’s just a matter of getting to bed. Sleep awaits me there.


Something Similar; It gets off to a bad start…

Something Different; A Black Star on the last Day of School



It gets off to a bad start…

Portugalete train station. 927am Sunday. The platform is empty. I look up the track – nothing. I listen for a toot or a chug – nothing. The screen is a blur of red letters, but I don’t need it spelt out for me; I’ve misread the timetable and there’s no train coming. Fuck. I exit the train station and start running towards the taxi rank. The clouds are heavy and low and it’s humid. I picture what will happen if I don’t get to San Mames on time; frantic messaging, my friends annoyed faces, hasty rearrangements. I run faster. I feel sweat teasing through my skin. My bag bounces on my back.

The taxi gets me to San Mames bus station on time. My mistake costs €22.

I’m relieved to find that Paul and Bren are also hungover. Their faces are shiny with sweat and there’s a wiff of stale beer.

I throw my bag into the luggage compartment. We board the bus.

Then it gets worse…

Paul spends the journey with his head in his hands, saying very little, except ‘I wanna die.’ Then he announces that he needs a plastic bag. Bren says he has one. Perhaps Bren has forgotten that the moments before puking, with the cold sweats and the stomach’s rising bitter soup, are awful. He seems in no rush at all.

‘Now, which bag do you want? I have a BM bag and an Eroski back. Mind you the Eroski bag has my runners inside. They’re a little smelly so maybe we’ll go for the…oh wait, I have another bag here…’

Paul drops his bottle of water to the floor and pokes his hand through the gap in the seats. Bren gets the hint and provides the asking hand with a bag.

I try to ignore it. I stare straight ahead. I hear the retching and the plopping as the bag fills with the contents of Paul’s troubled stomach. I feel a new film of sweat forming on my skin. I feel my chest tighten. I take deep breaths and hoover in the sickly aroma from the plastic bag. I feel like I’m gonna have a panic attack or something. When we arrive in San Sebastian I hurry off the bus.

I stand against a cool wall and calm myself.  The bus to Biarritz is in thirty minutes.  I’m coming round. I pat down my pockets; passport, wallet, phone, raincoat. Bag?

‘Fuck. My bag!’

I run out to the bus bays but the bus has gone.  On the way to Biarritz, I feel jolts of regret every time I think of something in my bag.

‘No! My new shorts.’

‘Nooo! My swimming togs.’

‘Noooo! My glasses.’

Then it gets a little better…

We stalk the streets of Biarritz like vampires, seeking out shade and wincing in the sun.

‘This is France for God sakes, there must be a good place to eat.’

‘Well, you say that, but I haven’t seen one McDonald’s yet.’

Eventually we settle for a burger bar near the beach.

‘Fuck me,’ Bren says with a mouth full of burger.


‘There are so many hot women.’

Our eyes follow another arse down the street.

‘Yeah. Fuck.’

Fed, we go for beers. Bren is extremely positive.

‘It’s great to get away’

‘I can’t wait for this festival in Bayonne.’

‘These beers are going down nicely.’

The beer and Bren’s positivity steer us out of the hangover towards good times.

Then it gets better again…

Bayonne. The streets are full. Machine gun carrying soldiers walk by in twos and threes. There are snipers silhouetted on the rooftop of the town hall.

We are appropriately attired with white t-shirts and red handkerchiefs. We swagger up to a stall and order a pitcher of beer. The bar man explains that they are about to close so we can have two pitchers of cider for the price of the plastic pitchers; €2. He becomes our new favourite person in the world. We tell him he’s wonderful, Bayonne is wonderful, France is wonderful, the French language is wonderful. He reacts by crinkling his forehead, pouting his lips, shrugging slightly and rocking his head, slightly. He is nonplussed.

Next, a firework display. Its awesomeness shoots energy to our bones. As soon as it finishes the DJ takes the party by the reins. Everyone dances. Everyone sings. The sniper watches over us.

We hold our red handkerchiefs aloft like defiant football fans.


Bayonne 2.jpg
Bayonne festival (Fetes de Bayonne)


And then it gets a bit mental…

The party veers away from the town hall towards the back streets. Bren hooks his arm around a passing girl, swings her in close and plants a kiss on her lips. She pulls back in shock, appraises him, then tilts her head in for more.

There’s a guy dancing on top of a barrel. He’s topless and his trousers are down around his ankles. A girl stands under him, arms aloft in praise of the fucks he is not giving. Suddenly, she jumps up, grabs his jocks and tugs. The jocks get stuck around his thighs so he works them down. The crowd respond with a mixture of bemused cheers, laughter and shock at the sight of his penis that hangs there like the trunk of a shy animal. The French girl next to me indicates with a thumb and index finger that she is not impressed with the size of his penis.

There are loads of hands supporting me. They take my weight. My feet leave the ground. I am hoisted up. My feet feel the top of a barrel. The hands leave me. I stand shakily, not quite trusting the barrel. It’s secure. Naked guy is on my left. I give him the thumbs up because I admire his balls. Bren is on my right. I give him the thumbs up because he is making it okay to be here with your trousers still on. Jackson 5 I want you back chimes out of the speakers. I howl approval. The street howls back.


Three buses and a metro join the dots between Bayonne and Portugalete. When I get to my room I close the door, drop my bag on the floor and sigh. How else was it going to end?

Something similar? The Karaoke Delusion Something different? Glimpses into Classrooms

A Black Star on the last Day of School

The 3332 bus pulls up. I board, swipe my card and walk down the aisle. Same glum faces. Dee smiles. I sit next to her.

‘Yaaay! Last day!’ she says.


‘You don’t sound too excited.’

‘Well, I don’t really like the last day of school.’

‘Of course you don’t.’

‘I like the holidays, don’t get me wrong, it’s just the last day. The kids are wired, there are always loose ends to tie up and the kids are wired.’

‘You said the same thing twice.’

‘It’s a salient point.’

‘So what? Entertain them for an hour and then ‘Be Gone Bitches.’

‘Yeah, I suppose.’

We stop at traffic lights. Dee sighs.

‘Only you could be depressed on the last day of school.’

‘It’s just experience. I used to expect to feel this huge rush of relief once the kids walked out the door but I just ended up feeling empty.’

‘It’ll be easy.  We haven’t seen most of the teenagers for weeks. They’re not even gonna show up today.’

‘That’s the other thing. We’ve been teaching them all year, gone beyond the call of duty for some, and then one day they just stop showing up.’

‘Well what did you expect ‘Oh Captain my Captain?’

‘No but a goodbye or thanks would have been nice.’

 ‘I suppose.’

‘I mean not even a shrug or a pout. They just don’t bother showing up.’

‘It’s just teenagers being teenagers. Don’t read too much into it.’

The bus curves a roundabout.

‘I remember when I was teaching in Ireland. It was the last day of sixth class. The kid’s last day in the school ever. And as one of ‘em was leaving he came up to me to say that he didn’t think it was fair because he didn’t get as many sweets as Colm did. I looked at him like ‘Really? Those are your parting words? Eight years in the school. Two with me and that’s all you gotta say.’

‘Well there are lots of jobs where people don’t get any thanks.’ 

‘But –  they all left and I was there on my own. Next thing, two of the girls came back into the class and hugged me.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I said thanks. They said thanks. It was a goodbye. It was lovely.’

‘That’s sweet.’

‘Yeah. ’

We get off at our stop and go to work. Later, we meet for beers.

‘Did you have many?’

‘I had all the kids.’

‘How were they?’

‘Grand. I didn’t expect much, so grand. You?’

 ‘Had the kids. None of the teens. You had Asier and Endika, right?’

‘Yup. They showed up every class this year. Nice lads. Asier is going to study film next September. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a famous director one day. He’s so passionate about film and music. It’s mad that they’re such good friends. I mean Endika isn’t really into music or film. He’s sporty. And he’s tall and thin whereas Asier is- Holy shit!’

I notice Asier and Endika walking up the road. I smile and wave. They wave back and walk towards us.

‘Hi guys. How are you? We were just talking about you two.’

They smile.

‘Brian, we went to the cinema and afterwards we went to the music shop and got you this,’ Endika says and gestures towards Asier.

Asier dips his hand into a plastic bag and produces a CD. David Bowie – Black Star.

I stand up.

‘We had a very good year with you,’ Endika says. Asier nods in agreement.

‘ Jesus. Thank you so much! This is the album we talked about in class – remember – when he died?’

‘Yes. We remember.’

I don’t say much on the bus home. I just keep staring at the CD. I think about them discussing the whole idea, counting their money after the cinema, picking up different CDs in the music shop and the light bulb moment when they saw David Bowie. I think of them going to the academy first to find me. I think of the embarrassed way they approached me. I replay the sentence ‘we had a very good year with you.’ I think about them pushing themselves through all those stages. I’m so glad they did.

David Bowie -Black Star
Something similar? Glimpses into Classrooms Something different? The Karaoke Delusion

A Day at the Beach

PE Store

I’m looking for tools to fend off the two words that I have come to hate the most these past few weeks of summer camp; ‘I’m bored’ (In fact, that’s not true; ‘I’m bored’ would be a welcome use of the English language. The two words I have come to hate the most are ‘No quiero,’ Spanish for ‘I don’t want to’.) I choose six tennis balls, four bats, two softballs and four Frisbees.

Today is our first excursion to the beach and I am hopeful it will be a success.

Take your Seats

The kids arrive. The bus arrives. Excitement grows. Feet move fast. Seats on a bus can be the source of anxiety for kids. For some, it’s where you sit. Squares up the front. Cool kids  at the back. And if you’re in the middle, you’re in the middle.

For others, it’s a fear of sitting on their own.

‘Can I sit next to you?’

I look down at Sofia’s worried face.

‘Of course you can.’

For the three BFFs it’s who is going to be cut loose?

‘I like the two of you the same,’ explains Enara, ‘but we can’t get three seats together.’

Enara understands the unwritten rule regarding bus seats which states; if you are a senior kid with a loud voice and a bullying streak then a backseat is a God given right.

But not everybody is schooled in the rules.

Two little lads are first to board the bus. They are all set for the beach; peak caps, shorts, bags on their backs and smiles on their faces. Their eyes widen as they see all the empty seats.

‘The back seats are free!!’

They run the length of the bus and settle in. Their classmates amble on.

‘Look. Look. It’s us! We’re back here. Come on.’

But their classmates aren’t as keen. They choose a seat near the front or middle.

Then the big boys enter. They are a little late. An absolute dick of a summer camp leader held them back because some girl was crying, or something. The five of them clamour, push and laugh all the way to the back. Three of them take seats.

The other two loom over the little lads. The little lads’ facial expressions have changed from ‘Ain’t life grand’ to ‘Oh Shit!’

Despite this they stand (or sit) their ground. By the time I arrive the big lads are shouting and baring their fists. The bus is moving. I calmly tell them to find another seat. They ignore me and continue shouting at the little lads. I get right up in their faces.

‘Did you hear me? Find another seat! How could you shout at them? They are half your age!’

They skulk off to another seat.

I am an absolute dick of a summer camp leader.

Teacher – Pupil

I take my seat next to Sofia. I’m addled after the back-seat dilemma and I’m hoping the next words out of her mouth will be;

‘Clearly this isn’t a good time for you. You gather yourself and what I wanna do can wait until later.’

Nope, instead she launches into a Spanish lesson.

She points at her hat and says ‘Gorra.’

I say ‘Gorra.’

‘No!’ she says. She shakes her head and wags a finger in my face.



‘No!’ she says and shakes her head and makes a tch, tch sound, as if I’ve been a naughty boy.

I let this pupil –teacher role reversal carry on for a bit and then I hammer her pronunciation of ‘slaughtered’, just to remind her who the grown up is.

La Salvaje Beach, Bilbao


The Beach

The kids are happily occupied, for about twenty minutes. Then the bats, balls and Frisbees get tossed aside. A group approaches me. I brace myself for the dreaded words.

‘Can we do sandcastles?’

‘Yes! That’s a great idea.’

The group walks towards the shoreline. They find their spot, drop to their knees and start clawing at the sand with their hands. There is feverish work with instructions being issued back and forth. I peer over their shoulders and see a drawbridge, a moat, a high defensive wall and a dome tower taking shape.The group consists of boys and girls, a mixture they sometimes resist when I suggest it. Their aim is to build a castle that will stand up to the incoming water.

The water approaches. They watch eagerly.

A wave slides up the shore and casually destroys the castle.

Child Vs Sea

Their reaction seems muted at first. They walk back to our nest of bags and change into their swimming suits. Then, ten of them stand shoulder to shoulder and stare down the sea. On a count of ‘3,2,1 Go!’ they charge forwards shaking their fists and screaming.

A band of pebbles and broken shells, impedes their speed. They pick their way through the minefield. There is a cry of pain as one takes a tumble. I tend to the stricken soldier’s foot and notice the rest of the kids in the camp running past. But once the water wraps around their ankles they freeze. I watch on, fearing a hasty retreat, but soon they are completely engaged with the enemy. There are shrieks and howls and explosions. Their skinny bodies are knocked about by big brutes of waves.  They get back up after every pummelling, or lie face down in the shallows, playing dead.

They re-emerge from the water in twos and threes, cleansed and calmed and happy with what feels like a victory.


They are too hungry to make faces. They unwrap the tinfoil and start eating. They watch the beach scenes before them. A feeling of contentedness settles over all of us.





Cold Comfort

We were in Paula’s kitchen. She had a beer in her hand. She was more interested in the ring pull than its contents. My beer was drained. I wanted to grab another but she was about to say something. Her eyes, a mixture of confusion and sadness, were searching the crumbs on her plate as if they might gather to show her a way outta this situation.

Her throat admitted a trembling sound. Her lip wobbled. Tears rolled down her face.

‘I’ve been working so hard…but for what? What am I doing with my life?’

I had never seen her like this.

It had seemed to me that she never entertained negative thoughts.

Like me, she was relatively new to Bilbao. She moved into a large apartment in Casco Viejo in January and began a new life. She started working in a clinic and secured a side gig in a university.  She created a social life through couch surfing events, dance lessons and Tinder. She made new friends who showed her around the city.

 Then, into the stream of things that seemed to be flowing in the right direction, I jumped.

I liked her instantly. She was beautiful, smart and kind. On the first date my loves and hates of Bilbao made her laugh out loud. On the second she introduced me to two of her new friends. On the third, finally, she kissed me. It was a surprise how uninhibited she was; kissing me passionately in front of the people on the metro platform. I was dazed the whole ride home.

She brought me around Bilbao; to the old town with its labyrinth of narrow streets, to polished bars famed for delicious pintxos, to hidden restaurants stripped of any pretension, to hipster cafes along the riverside and to San Francisco Street, a place that pulsed with an energy more frenetic than anywhere else in the city.

But, in the kitchen that night, she was just bringing me down. She was upset because her career wasn’t progressing as she had hoped.  I tried to take the fact that she was dropping her usual assured optimism and showing a vulnerable side as a positive step forward, but something wouldn’t let me. 

She fiddled with the ring pull on her can. I moved to the chair next to her and put my arm around her. She pulled the ring pull off, dropped it on her plate and sighed. She fingered the busted mouth of the can. I was worried she might cut her finger so I took her hand in mine. She pulled it away and returned to the jagged edges. I felt sorry for her but my sympathy was overridden by a selfish fear – it wasn’t just work that was upsetting her – her feelings towards me had changed.

She wiped the tears from her face, took a deep breath and said;

‘In three weeks things are gonna change- for better or for worse.’

That night I couldn’t sleep. I lay next to her, burdened with an unspoken awareness that she would rather I wasn’t there. She couldn’t sleep either. I could feel her eyes searching the darkness.

 I replayed a conversation we had weeks ago.  We were talking about the dating scene. I was pessimistic.

 ‘I dunno – with all these dating apps, it’s like everybody’s looking over their shoulder – looking out for someone new, instead of giving their current relationship a proper shot. So we end up having lots of relationships and each one leaves us a little more scarred, a little more confused.’

She was more positive.

‘I think it’s a good thing because you meet lots of different people and you know better what you want.’

She threw the covers back and got outta bed. She stopped in the doorway for a moment and her naked body was silhouetted in the light. She looked so beautiful I ached with sadness and yearning. She went to the bathroom. When she got back into bed she sighed. I was losing her. I needed to do something.

‘Are you okay?’


‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. Well, can you move over a bit please?’

‘Of course.’

I moved.


‘Yes thanks.’

I needed her to tell me that it wasn’t me, that she was just upset about work.

‘You know the way you said in three weeks time things would change?


‘I hope that in three weeks time – you and I are still together .’

She smiled, kissed me on the lips and said nothing.

If you liked this you might also like; A Bit of Romance

The Karaoke Delusion

It’s Karaoke night in the Donegal and the Irish rebel songs are being blasted out. I feel bemused, embarrassed and a little drunk. The bemusement is due to the fact that I’m watching two Basque men and an English man singing Irish rebel songs. The embarrassment is because I don’t know the words to said songs. And the drunkenness is because I ‘m keeping up my part of the Paddy’s day shtick by swilling Guinness. I’m also wearing a stupid Guinness hat. We’re all wearing stupid Guinness hats.

Suddenly losing interest in the song James walks off stage. The Basque lads carry on. The crowd don’t seem to mind. They are lapping it up – hands are slapping tables, feet are tapping.

 ‘We need to change shit up mate,’ he says.

‘How’d you mean?’

‘We need to try different songs.’

‘I agree. I’m tired of taking a back seat while you guys sing rebel songs.’

‘Surprise our audience, you know, like Dylan!’

I wave a finger in James’ face.

‘Don’t compare us to Dylan; he can’t sing for shit.’

‘How do you follow up a load of Irish rebel songs?’

‘Punch an English man?’

James ignores this. He’s deep in thought.

 ‘I got it!’ he says. ‘What about ‘Work’ by Rihanna?’

‘I don’t know it.’

Mick comes back from the toilet. He is enthused by the change of direction.

‘What about ‘Dancin in the Moonlight’ by Toploader?’ he suggests.

‘No ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ by Thin Lizzy,’ I suggest.

‘I dunno, I don’t wanna spoil a classic,’ Mick says.

‘It didn’t stop you earlier, what with your rendition of Billy Joel,’ James says.

‘It’s not my fault – the lyrics didn’t appear on screen!’

‘Billy Joel was turning in his grave.’

‘He’s still alive you dickhead!’

‘He’ll be fucking next, wait and see.’

Taking charge, James scribbles down a request on a piece of paper and hands it to the barmaid. She accepts it warily and casts her eyes about in the hope the next Adele is somewhere out there. The Basque lads aren’t too enamored with the choice of song and slip out for a cigarette.

‘You’re next,’ the barmaid informs us while we wince in the aftermath of shots.


We take the stage.

The keyboard pours outta the speakers. As we wait for the lyrics to appear James spots a costume inconsistency.

‘Mick, ye cunt. Where’s your fucking hat? D’ya think you’re better than us or something?’

‘I thought we didn’t need it, seen as we we’re not singing rebel tunes.’

  ‘Listen mate, those fucking hats are us. Without them, our audience-‘

 It’s time to sing. I slap James on the back. His microphone thuds off the ground. Mick is offstage looming over a table where the people are shifting and twisting trying to locate his hat. I stare at the yellow line which is charging through the words we’re supposed to be singing.

‘You prick!’ Paul says, once he’s picked up his microphone.

Mick bounds onto the stage with his hat. We make the chorus. Some kind natured audience members clap along. It might be saved yet.

An over enthusiastic Mick launches into verse two. He’s galloping ahead of the yellow line. James and I try to keep time but slur the words.

 James is the first to admit defeat. He pulls the microphone away from his mouth and slumps onto the stool. Mick and I struggle gamely on through the verse but it’s a bowl of soup and we are tackling it with forks.

By the second chorus no-one is clapping along anymore.

A lonely backing track plays verse three. Out of some strange loyalty to the norms of Karaoke we remain on stage and the audience keep looking at us. I’m drunk enough to muddle a song but not sufficiently drunk to feel impervious to embarrassment. James addresses the audience.

‘I’m sorry – we’re sorry. We fucked up. We were trying to do something different, but, you know, we should have just stuck with the rebel songs. But, anyway, while I have you there, I’d like to let you in on an amazing opportunity; I am selling a futon – it’s purple, perfect nick, €100 or nearest offer. I’ll be here until they kick me out or closing time; whichever occurs first. Probably the former, what with the looks the barmaid is giving me. So move fast people. Agur!’

A few minutes later we are invited to leave.


Something Different? What is she like?

Something Similar? It gets off to a bad start…