They could be a group of old men in the corner of the pub. If your particularly young, a nipper maybe, they could be teenagers, hanging about a shopping centre. You could be talking about peoples fathers. Yep, they are all auld lads, or old lads for those of you living on the southside of our capital.
For me, as a kid, as for most, auld was everyone who was even a year older. Those middle-aged people were very old and the ones that were pushing 80 or more…. well, they were just ancient, fit for a museum. Working for the family, not in a mafia sort of way, but in the family run pub, I encountered auld lads all day, every day. Some were there to meet up for pint with a friend, some wanted to read the paper and not have to buy it and some just wanted to get away from yer wan, d’aul bag back home. Each of them had their own unique trait, like a football card, but with less lofty cash and shite, and more actual shite, often on their boots. The faces, the wrinkles, the voices, the stories. The laughs, coughs, sneezes and sighs. The jackets, the hats, the wellys and sticks. The farm, the bog, the meadow and the shed.
Each one of them were just the ideal candidate for a story, each and every one. I wanted so badly to film them all, but my folks would have none of it. The fear of offending the customers was too great and it took years to understand. In those years, I’ve seen most of those characters pass away, with them, the craic and one less seat occupied by a real character. I so wish I had secretly filmed them, or recorded some of the stories or jokes. There were stories of generations fighting over land, nope, it doesn’t just happen in the movies. Jokes about some obscene stuff, things you wouldn’t imagine could come from people so polite looking and, well, old. Often the “made up” stories were true, but disguised to save embarrassment. Those were often the really good ones.
Listening to people talk about what life was like, when they were my age. How everything was much more difficult, strict and poor. How they would share a pair of shoes between siblings to walk to school. Teachers would take a dislike to someone or fall out with them, and then take it out on all their kids at school. Lashings, beatings, insults…. all part of education. In fact, I endured the same in school myself, some 50 years later. Thankfully, things have at last improved.
One story that stuck in my mind, was an incident between two neighbours. They had been chatting and buying one another drinks, reminiscing about days of yore. It was all good until one of them mentioned land. It may be an innocent topic to you and I, but in this case, was as harmless as C4, the plastic not the tv channel. Tones changed, eyes widened. They turned to face one another and the volume of the conversation began to rise. I urged them to calm down, and tried to change topic. One chap, looked at me and said “his house is on my land, my fucking land!”. The other auld lad denied this, repeatedly. He tried to explain how his father, or grandfather, I can’t recall, purchased it. “That’s a load of shite. Ye never paid for it, ye fuckin stole it. My father told me all about it. Are you callin my auld lad a fuckin liar ya bollocks?”
Now let me point out that both men were about mid 70s and barely able to move without the help of a stiff breeze, or gravity. Both wore clothes that hadn’t seen any form of detergent or soap in….. ever. The smell of both men was a mix of cow shite, tobacco and their own piss. Nice. Just setting the stage.
Bam. It was like something that should be in a ring, with a ref and being televised. I didn’t see it coming and neither did the auld lad in the corner. There was blood running from his nose before he realised what had just happened. The other fella, lets say the boxer, was about to throw another but I stepped in. It took a surprising amount of effort to move him back and get him to sit down. The bleeder was in shock, total disbelief at what had just happened. “What did ya do that for?” and began sobbing. The boxer was still shouting abuse and started to explain to me the whole land craic all over again, half expecting me to agree with him, as if I was his dad.
All in a days work, auld lads beating the living daylights out of one another, or at least one.
It wasn’t all violence though, there were plenty happy times too. Like any time another fella, lets say George, would be in the place. He would sit at the counter, on a high stool, tap the foot rail with both shoes, whistle and tap the counter with both hands, all in time with what ever was on the radio. In the numerous years he drank in the place, I never remember seeing him upset, never saw him without a smile. “Up she flew and she never lost a feather” was one of his many sayings. I know, beats me too. He would come out with the most obscure stories at times. We would be talking about famous Irish pub topics, such as the weather, when he would spot some attractive woman through the window or on tv. This would be the start of a story about his sexual exploits as a young man. The women, the adventures, the craic. Then he’d tell another story, about another sexual adventure and say it was just the other day. As a girl, closer to my age, would pass the window, he would point out that she’d be one to keep an eye on when I’d be older, as “her mother was mad for ….” then he’d whistle and make this unusual gesture with both hands, like a bird taking off. He was, in my mind, being a young, horny virgin – a true legend! I wanted to be even half that cool when I was his age.
Another auld lad, who’s name I also won’t mention, as he is a living legend, told me many stories. Still does. This is just one of many I’ll hopefully get to share with you all in time.
Across from the pub was a wall, near the centre of our mighty village. On a Sunday, people would travel from miles around, some on bicycles, some by donkey and cart, to come to mass. They would tie the donkeys up at said wall. Handily, some cute hoor had thought of cementing in some horseshoes, into the top of the wall. Ideal for tying up ones donkey. So, these people would then head off to mass. Back in those days, mass was only a “good mass” if it went on for more than an hour. During that hour, this auld lad I mentioned earlier, and his brother, would begin the mischief. Like the rest of the parish, they were expected to be at mass, but they had other plans.
They would each pick a donkey, untie it and point it up the road. Then race. Yes, feckin racing a donkey during mass. Once the race was over, they would return the donkey to the wall, tie it up, give it a drink and stroll in home as if they were in the church with the rest. The look on the faces of the donkeys owners was priceless apparently. When they returned, found the donkey lathered in sweat, just presumed it was too hot and gave it more water. The funny thing is both of those guys both grew up to be highly talented drivers. Top tip, race donkeys every Sunday as a kid, it’ll get you into F1 quicker than spending your youth racing karts.
I could probably fill the internet with stories, many about or somehow involving auld lads, but another time. If I did, I’d be an auld lad myself by the time I’d be finished.
Good luck to ye now, safe home.