Sunday, January 24, 2016

Good Friday in The Hideout

Not Good Friday, but a memory from the Hideout in the 50s: Vanessa Liddy, George Speirs, Monica Byrne, Myles and Bobbie Murphy, Jim Byrne, Tommy Wallace and Jim Kelly.
Good Friday was always a special day in The Hideout, It was the day when there was a chance to get things done that couldn't easily be managed during the rest of the year when the place was open from nine in the morning until 11 in the evening every day except Christmas Day. While there were no customers on the Friday commemorating the Crucifixion, the place was always abuzz with activity.

It was the day when cleaning and painting could be done. When the artefacts that filled the walls and shelves were taken down, to be dusted and cleaned in whatever way was appropriate. It was the day when tiles on the floors of the bar and kitchen could be replaced, when new carpets could be laid. When, occasionally, even walls could be knocked down to change the layout of the place, or expand it into a new lounge area that might have been built out the back. Paddy Bathe, who had done most of that building work, was a mighty man with a sledge-hammer on those particular Good Fridays.

It was a day of scrubbing, painting, papering. And since there was generally more work to be done than might be easily managed by those of us who normally worked there, it was a day when there was always a call for volunteers from amongst 'regulars'. There was never a shortage of answers to that call.

Some of the most unlikely among the regular customers claimed skills with paint-brushes, carpentry tools, and more for Good Friday. Some of which claims proved not to be well-founded as the day wore on. A number of these 'volunteer workers' became 'supervisors' at the bar counter rather quickly. Funny thing, we always knew which ones they'd be, yet their bona fides were accepted each year anyhow.

(Oh yes, I do remember the names. But we will be kind with anonymity.)

There were jobs that no one particularly wanted. Among the worst was scrubbing the ceilings with sugar soap to remove the nicotine of a year, prior to repainting. If that wasn't done, the nicotine would burn through the new paint within weeks. Which maybe was one reason I never smoked, figuring that it wasn't doing the lungs of the smokers who caused the brown staining of the ceiling much good. Scrubbing it was dirty, wet, eye-stinging if you didn't wear goggles against the splashes from overhead, and hell on the arms.

The next least popular task was cleaning the artefacts — the heads, ancient tools and weapons, the extraordinary bric a brac which had accumulated over the decades and made the pub such a fascinating place. The solid surface items were OK, probably polished up several times during the year in quiet hours anyhow. The animal heads were less so, full of dust, a lot of which was likely cigarette ash in those days long before the smoking ban. Then there were the carpets. If it wasn't one of the years they were being changed, they had to be deep-cleaned. There was a machine brought in for that, but lots of embedded stuff — tar, grit, gum, and god knows what else — often had to be laboriously lifted off with a putty knife. In the kitchen area, a fundamental scraping of the deposits that couldn't be reached without taking out all the cooking machines was also one of the seriously nasty necessary works of the day.

If Paddy Bathe was in action against an old wall that year, we tried to make sure that was done first, and preferably early in the morning or even after closing the previous night. The amount of dust through the whole place was multiplied, making the cleaning and painting even more awkward. No matter how much the back bar and kitchen areas were covered, it percolated onto, and into, everything.

We tasted that dust too even in the lunch organised for all concerned by my mother and Carmel Kennedy. Always fish, it being Friday, and a special Catholic Friday at that. But it could be washed down with the beer that wasn't available to everyone outside. That did help. Enormously.

Work continued through the afternoon. The 'supervisors' getting less attentive to the work and more talkative on their usual interests, mostly involving golf, horses, dogs ... and all those again. And again. (I've just remembered how boring it often was in the years I worked behind the counter, listening ad nauseum to the multiple replaying of a particular hole of golf, or the rehash of the final furlong of a certain race, or the arguments over the pedigree of a greyhound. A barman does his Purgatory during his lifetime.)

By teatime — another, lighter, meal provided by Carmel — much had been settled. The tree-stump tables with a new top coat of varnish. The embedded cigarette ash and other detritus of the previous year now gone. The sawing of carpenter Ned Maloney and the hammering and plastering of Paddy Bathe done. Most of whatever additions or renovations they had constructed ready for revelation to the punters the next day. Refurbishment of parts of the electrical system — always on a knife-edge in my recollection — completed as far as was possible.

Dad, who had put in as hard a working day as those who worked with him, would settle with the 'supervisors' for a well-deserved Crested Ten or two. Their number likely diminished, as the A- and B-button public phone behind the fireplace would have rung a number of times, spouses wanting their partners back home. It wouldn't be a late night for any of those left — my mother would make sure of that, making her own call at an appropriate time. By eight o'clock or so, the place would be back in the darkness that a Good Friday night in a pub was supposed to be.

I was reminded of all that with the recent calls by vintners — mostly Dublin-based — for a revision of the law that closes a pub on Good Friday. I'm long out of the business, and have no particular interest either way. But I do remember how important it was in our own busy family pub, allowing a brief if hectic interlude. In its own way, it truly marked the transition from winter to spring, with the pub offering a refreshed face to all the next day, ready to start the whole roller coaster all over again.