It’s a familiar scenario in downtown Dublin. The menu sounds delicious, the food looks delicious, smells delicious, and no doubt it all is delicious, but trying to tell the waitress taking your order or the man behind the counter what you want is like trying to play badminton underwater. Pointing only gets you so far when their grasp of English is sketchy at best and your facility with their native tongue, whatever it happens to be, is non-existent.
Maybe it’s because I’m simply fabulous, or do not dine out often enough, or do not drink heavily enough, but I can’t recall having had any problems making my order known to the staff at my many haunts in downtown Dublin. Perhaps it is my fiendish habit of speaking clearly, and looking at the person while I’m speaking that does the trick. But this is of course a foreign practice, and we should really expect our immigrants (by which I mean our servant folk) to catch every word that falls from our mouths pursued by half a bread roll. And they should do so in the name of equality, no less, just as we should expect pensioners to sprint for the bus in the same way as the rest of us, and so on. No double standards here.
I’m wary of the pitfalls that come with taking an anecdote and then holding this up as TYPICAL OF THE BENIGHTED SOCIETY WE ARE LIVING IN TODAY. Not least because such anecdotes are almost always about some sort of negative event, and as such tend to be placed in the service of such myths as SOCIETY HAS GONE TO THE DOGS, and THE WORLD’S COUPED. This is not to say that such anecdotes can have no wider meaning: the likes of badger baiting and debs balls do not occur in a vacuum, so if a debs ball ends in a spot of badger baiting, or vice-versa, perhaps it does say something interesting about where society is headed (especially for badgers), but it would not be sufficient to allow you to say that such an occurrence is yet one more symptom of the INEXORABLE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION.
With that in mind, I have an anecdote from what happened this weekend. The neighbour who lives behind us has always been a bit of a knob. He is a person who needs to let everyone know that he and his family are having a good time, to the extent that everyone (if they are like me) must end up wondering if he really is enjoying himself, or if his ostentatious celebrations are -perhaps unbeknownst to himself- a means of distracting from a deeper malaise.
To give an example: last year, for his child’s birthday party he hired a bouncing castle for the back garden, as is quite common these days, and he invited round a few friends for a barbecue. Nothing wrong with that. However, he insisted on playing his music very loud, to the extent that no-one else in the area could hear themselves speak. The music was regularly punctuated by loud ‘Yearghh!s’ from the man himself.
After a couple of hours waiting hopefully for him to cop on and turn it down, I could take no more, and I headed round. His partner answered the door, and I asked nicely if they minded turning it down a bit. Oo-kay, she said, in a way that seemed as though I were asking for the cancellation of all fun forever.
An hour and a half later, and the music was still blasting at the same volume. My wife went round this time, and the man came to the door, and said that no, he wasn’t going to turn it down, and that the reason the music was loud was because of the extra noise created by the bouncy castle air pump, and if he turned it down, the children wouldn’t be able to hear it.
So she threatened to call the guards, and he said do what you like, and once she left (she didn’t call them) the music was turned down (but only after a momentary protest blast of even louder music). The curious thing was that the children did not start crying now that they were no longer able to hear The Division Bell by Pink Floyd in all its glory above the noise of the bouncy castle air pump.
So, as I was saying, he is a bit of a tube. But that didn’t prepare me for yesterday afternoon. Once again, they were all having a good time, as his ‘yearghh!s’ were suggesting, but with the music not that loud. And his partner was teaching the child to sing ‘The Wheels on The Bus’.
She’d sung a couple of verses, the driver on the bus, the people on the bus, the horn on the bus. Then, he butts in and says, here, I’ll teach you a verse:
‘The spas on the bus go ngggh nghh bwhhuuh…’
And so on. I’m not sure what to make of it yet.