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For the first time in five years, I went home for Christmas. It was magic. It had certainly been too long, although it was reassuring to know little enough had changed in many ways. For most Cork people, exile from the ‘Soggy Garden of Eden’ by the Lee still remains the greatest indignity and cross a man could be forced to bear. I had this conversation, or a version of it, approximately six times a night.
“How’s things going there, boy?”
“Yeah, grand. Flying it now. Bought a house, family settled, job is great. I mean, really brilliant.”
“Oh good, good. Still though, when will you be back in Cork?”
“Ah, it’s probably not going to happen. No jobs, very few openings ever come up in my field, and even if they did… sure, you know yourself.”
“I do, I do…”
Then you get the eyes dropping into their pint, the slight clearing of the throat, maybe a little rock up and down on the heels. Sometimes you’ll get the little ‘I’m-really-listening-and-I-feel-so-so-sorry-for-you’ tilt of the head familiar to all cancer sufferers.
If you were to sum up the difference between the Irish and the English in one thing, it would be ATM machines
I know the inner monologue they’re having.
What am I going to say to this fella? I mean, he can’t be happy. He’s not living in Cork and he’s just so resigned to it. Jesus, this is awkward. The poor fella. What the hell am I going to say?
“So. Leeds. That’s Emmerdale Farm isn’t it?”
“It is. Let me get you a drink.”
“Nice one, boy. Murph’s.”
I got to the bar and realised I had only sterling after I’d called the drinks. I explained to the barman, who I was in school with.
“Paudi, I’ve only sterling.”
“Ah, yeah. Roy f***ing Keane there, lah.”
“Do you take cards?”
“Right, I’ll just shoot off to the drinklink.”
I had forgotten that people called me ‘doc’, to differentiate me from my brother-in-law, who has the same name and surname as me. I had forgotten I hated it. It was previously the one place in the world where I didn’t have to be a bloody doctor. I went out into the biblical wind and rain to get cash.
If you were to sum up the difference between the Irish and the English in one thing, it would be ATM machines. If you go to an ATM machine in England, the first thing it asks you is whether you want to see your balance. Of the five or so options on the first page, all bar one include checking your balance. Being Irish, you pick the other one: INSTANT CASH or whatever. The next page asks you how much you want to take out and gives you five options again, £10, £20, £30, £40 and other amount. So you make your choice and it asks you again: Would you like to see your balance? Eh, no, in fact I don’t, and I would’ve thought picking the one option that didn’t include getting my balance would have indicated that, so: NO. Next screen: Would you like a receipt with your balance on it? NO! Just give me the shagging money and let me go back to poisoning myself. Being of Yorkshire, the machine begrudgingly parts with its money. The English watch the money on everything except bombing places in the desert.
You contrast that with an Irish machine. Enter your pin. Do you want the screen in Gaeilge or English? Then the next screen. There are variations on a theme here but the executive summary is that ‘the environment is shagged altogether lads and sure, what would ye be wanting a receipt for or knowing what’s in the account? Sure, go off and enjoy yourself but if ye are intent on destroying the rainforest, I suppose you can press YES now’. This will be the last time your balance is mentioned. Then it offers you the amounts. Usually €20, €40, €50, €100, €150, €200, and another amount. Because you’ve been infected with England, you opt for just the €40.
‘THIS MACHINE ONLY DISPENSES MULTIPLES OF €50.’
I swear, if the lads from the IMF stopped off at Heathrow on their way here and used ATMs in both countries, they’d have figured us out in five minutes.
I go back inside and pay Paudie. It still feels wrong to hand over a higher denomination of note than 10 for two pints, but whatever. The awkwardness of earlier dissolves in the earthy blackness of the stout. I start to enjoy it.
“How do you find the English?”
“They’re fine. Different like, but really lovely, fair people.”
“They are too, in fairness. But you’ll be back, surely?”
“I doubt it, honestly. No jobs. Maybe Dublin.”
Now the look of awkwardness turns into one of outright pity. This is a man who boasts about how long it’s been since he was in Dublin for anything other than a Cork match.
“Sure, what harm,” says he, quietly noting the information away for September Saturday nights when he’s up for the match and in need of a bed.