Vidal of Portobello

The Great Institution of Chatham Street (TGI of CS) has standards. It’s the kind of place which encourages a certain level of intelligence and decorum.

I am very much in favour of these standards.

As such, in order to ensure that I continue to be served The Life Enhancing Liquid of Chatham Street, I must pay close attention to my general demeanour and, from to time, take appropriate action.

These are the times when I need a haircut.

On these momentous days I head south through Temple Bar, onto South Great George’s Street, Aungier Street, Wexford Street, Camden Street, South Richmond Street, hang a sharp right onto Lennox Street and shortly afterwards I arrive at my desired destination; The Coolest Hair Salon In The World (TCHSITW).

I enter the TCHSITW and I am greeted by my good friend, Vidal of Portobello.

For mere mortals, getting an appointment with Vidal of Portobello can be something of a challenging experience. He is very much in demand. However he does have his ‘Special Clients’.

I have the extreme good fortune to be one of them.

Starting off downstairs with a soothing shampooing and head massage, I then move back upstairs and settle in for the main event. Cappuccino is served. Sorted.

TCHSITW always has some excellent sounds wafting through the air. Today The Cure are doing their thing as Vidal sets to work.

I’ve known Vidal of Portobello for many years now. He is one of life’s good guys. A family man. Over the years I have had many interesting conversations with Vidal as he meticulously goes about his craft. He’s a well informed guy.

As is the norm, the chat on this day flows from one subject to the next, music to movies, politics to personal, and before I can say ‘The Southside of Dublin is actually quite a nice spot’, I am a new man. My curls are shorter and tidier than before. Respectability has returned.

I thank Vidal for his time and effort, I settle my account, and I carry on about my business.

TGI of CS approve of The New Me.

All is well.

Sergeant Major Saab

I first happened upon Sergeant Major Saab (SMS) in the foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. We had both arrived there for a little Pre Expedition Training. My own upcoming Expedition would not prove overly demanding. The Expedition which lay ahead for SMS seemed quite a challenging prospect. He was heading to the Himalayas and Everest Base Camp. A former patron of the Irish Army, it all turned out to be well within his grasp.

On the day in question we found ourselves facing up to The Mound Known As Lugnaquilla (TMKAL). On a pleasant day I’m quite sure that taking a little wander up TMKAL is a very enjoyable experience.

This was not a pleasant day.

The Heavens opened. The rocks were akin to skating rinks. My feet were up beside my ears and vice versa. And being an individual who has some issues with The Two Spherical Objects On Either Side Of The Nose I found myself in something of a pickle.

I was not a happy camper.

To my rescue came SMS, guiding me safely along and before I could say ‘Hallelujah Brother’, I was ensconced in a nearby hostelry at the bottom of TMKAL sampling a little of the Local Life Enhancing Liquid (LLEL).

In the intervening years I have had many memorable encounters with SMS. We travelled side by side in India and experienced together La Nuit Blanche (LNB – The White Night). LNB has a tendency to occur when sleep is forsaken in place of the LLEL. My Good Self and SMS found ourselves ingesting the melodic sounds of Gilbert O’Sullivan one fine Rishikesh evening and for one reason or another the sleep thing seemed a little inconsequential.

We were scheduled to do some trekking that day. We did not do the trekking.

Recently I had a very pleasant spin on the River Shannon with SMS. He informed me a while back that he had purchased The Boat On The Shannon (TBOTS). In a previous existence I had partaken in a little floating on the Shannon and found it to be a most pleasurable sojourn. On hearing of the purchase by SMS of TBOTS I was somewhat intrigued. Although I was very much in favour of this purchase, I have to admit, knowing SMS as I did, my immediate thought was …is he off his rocker?

And so, with the tiniest of doubts in my mind, I recently joined SMS on TBOTS.

And lo and behold and Abrakebabra, he had done a great job with TBOTS. We kicked off in Ballinamore, parked up in Ballyconnell and duly scoffed the best pub grub in Ireland in The Anglers Rest. A most enjoyable little get together.

SMS – some man for one man.

Smooth As Silk

Smooth As Silk (SAS) is another one of My Skiing Buddies. In fact SAS is the person who had the dubious honour of assisting me on my first ever proper ski run.

Along with a few others who had issues with The Two Spherical Objects On Either Side Of The Nose, I had made my way to the picturesque Austrian Alpine town of Mayrhofen.

Once there I found myself forcing my feet into The Twin Monstrosities Known As Ski Boots (TTMKASB). I then attached TTMKASB to The Long Planks Known As Skis (TLPKAS) and I was duly on my way.

In a manner of speaking.

I seemed to spend the vast majority of that week flailing around on My Beloved Backside (MBB), wondering deeply about my sanity.

To his eternal credit, SAS is a patient man. He somehow managed to progress me from spending hour upon hour on MBB to the occasional fleeting moment or two when I experienced the beautiful freedom of skiing.

The bug had bitten. I was hooked, lined and sinkered.

I have been skiing for close on 20 years now and I can humbly say that finally I have some idea of what I am actually doing when I put on TLPKAS.

These days I meet up with up SAS on an annual basis. We catch up, share stories and sometimes allow a drop or two of the Local Life Enhancing Liquid to pass our lips. From time to time I have had the good fortune to ski again with SAS.

It’s always an education to observe his silky skis.

The Guinness Pensioner

The Guinness Pensioner (TGP) is one of My Skiing Buddies (MSB). She is the reason that I have found myself putting pen to paper of late (or rather making quite a lot of use of the Notes app on my phone).

In a previous existence many moons ago I had done a little bit of scribbling around and then opted to let it rest.

Last year I found myself having a pleasant little catch up with TGP and The Current Man In Her Life (TCMIHL), in the premises known as The Great Institution of Chatham Street (TGI of CS).

A memorable little encounter saw us rattle through old ski stories and the like. A few days later TGP and TCMIHL made their way back over the Irish Sea to Our Big Brother Across The Water (OBBATW), where they have resided for many years now.

Following her return to OBBATW, My Good Self (MGS) and TGP shared some Electronic Missal Contact (EMC) and agreed to bump into each other on the ski slopes sometime in the not too distant future.

Last January I had the good fortune to be in Vallandry, France. The French Alps.

TGP was also there. It was good to see her again. As is our habit on these happy occasions we did a little zooming around the mountain and also sampled some of the Local Life Enhancing Liquid (LLEL).

One evening before making our way to a nearby hostelry she remarked to me that I had something of a way with words and she urged me to take a stroll down that particular street. I agreed to dust off The Space Between My Ears (TSBME) and give it a go.

A short while later, with much cajoling and assistance from TGP, I found my name in print in The Much Venerated Columns Of The Irish Times (TMVC OTIT).

This was a most pleasing development in my humble existence to date. For many years TVCOTIT were something of a personal bible for MGS. To now be the author of one of those columns was indeed a most celebratory moment for MGS.

I duly informed The Universe And All Of His And Her Mates (TUAAOHAHM).

I was fortunate enough to make it into TVCOTIT a second time and that seemed to be that.

I allowed a bit of dust to gather in TSBME and I drifted back to my efforts towards becoming The One Man Orchestra Of Grafton Street (TOMOOGS).

I maintained EMC with TGP and she would sometimes enquire as to how My Scribbling Career (MSC) was progressing. On hearing that MSC was gathering molecules she immediately ordered me to get going again.

TGP is not a woman to be trifled with.

And so here I am.

That’s what friends are for

Thus far in my helter skelter existence I have never sauntered down the marital path and whispered those brief and Life Changing Words (LCW)- I do.

So, I did not, and the meandering laneways of life have directed me down an alternative avenue.

Being someone who has never uttered the LCW I feel the need for good friends.

In this particular aspect of my hither and thither mortality to date, I have been extremely fortunate. I have many good friends.

I have known The Belgian Boy (TBB) all my life. Like My Good Self (MSG) he has a little issue with The Two Spherical Objects On Either Side Of The Nose (TTSOOESOTN) . In times of crisis it is to TBB that I first turn.

The Dunboyne Dynamo (TDD) is another lifelong acquaintance. TDD is a keen runner and I had much cause to thank him when he encouraged MGS along the way in the lovely Longford Marathon a few years ago.

The Diligent Drumcondra Man (TDDM) has been in my company for over thirty years now. We have travelled together, played music together. He is someone who is always there.

The Monaghan Mushroom (TMM) is also an individual who has his challenges with TTSOOESOTN. A very practical young chap who has fundraised with MGS and occasionally shared the odd drop of Life Enhancing Liquid (LEL) with me.

Then there are My Groupies (MG).

Foremost amongst MG are My Sking Buddies (MSB). I could not partake in an activity I love very much were it not for MSB.

I don’t see my My Golfing Mates (MGM) as much as I used to. When I do catch up with them it’s always a happy reunion.

The main reason that I don’t come across MGM as much as I used to is that I have been spending a bit more time of late with The Musical Maestros (TMM). To a large degree music is my life these Dublin days. A session with TMM is always time well spent.

Finally there is The Good Folk Behind The Bar (TGFBTB). These are the people that keep The Great Institution of Chatham Street (TGI of CS) alive and thriving. No more needs to be said.

So there it is. My apologies to anyone I have somehow omitted.

My Wonderful World Of Friends (MWWOF)

The Japs

The Great Institution of Chatham Street (TGI of CS) is not open to the masses 24 hours a day. This is a situation that I often have difficulty dealing with. It’s a cross I am obliged to carry. I like to think that I bear this affliction with the utmost grace and dignity.

As such there are occasions when I am forced to be elsewhere on this planet. The occasions when I feel the need for sleep and food.

Not forgetting those times of sporting significance which require my utmost attention in order that I have something of note to relate when I do make my epic journey over the River Liffey and cross the threshold of TGI of CS.

This morning was one such occasion when my undivided attention was called for. Irelands second game in the Rugby World Cup.

The Japs were up.

Japan kicked off the tournament with an expected win over Russia. We demolished the Scots. Time to go head to head with the hosts. The rumble in Shizuoka. The Samurai versus The Shamrocks.

It’s an early kick off. The analysts are confident. The mug of Barry’s tea is in hand. The toast is buttered. I’m all set.

Hugh Cahill and Donal Lenihan are our men on the spot. No technical difficulties this time around, the lads are coming in loud and clear.

Japan start well, almost get a try, miss a penalty. Clearly they have not read the script. Heart beating faster than normal. Ireland hit back. They take the lead. Heart rate returns to square one. Japan get off the mark. Ireland get a second try. Japan come back with two penalties, almost score a try just before half time. Don’t they realise we’re supposed to win? Ireland up 12-9 at the break. What a game.

Second half gets going. Japan miss a chance to draw level. They’re looking good. They get a try, convert it. They’re up 16-12. Heart rate heading back up again. Japan put over another penalty. 19-12. The Emergency Services are on speed dial. Japan almost score a breakaway try and run out deserving winners 19-12.

All of a sudden my wager with Paddy Power is looking decidedly shaky. I am beginning to see why Paddy is a successful businessman and I am not.

The ambulance has just arrived.

Rival Establishments

Strange as it may seem there actually exists Rival Establishments to The Great Institution of Chatham Street (TGI of CS). I have yet to fully comprehend the logic of this situation.

It is not the only thing in life which escapes my comprehension.

Recently a friend spoke to me of one such Establishment. The Rival Establishment of Lord Edward Street (TRE of LES) is located very close to our capitals Civic Offices.

A little too close, by all accounts.

Rumour has it that career related conversations have taken place in TRE of LES which never really should have taken place.

All that aside TRE of LES is a pleasant enough little hostelry. It pales in comparison with TGI of CS but then most, if not all, Establishments fall short of TGI of CS.

Once a month TRE of LES hosts an evening entitled The Sunflower Sessions. It is an evening of poetry and short stories. I am an individual who has been known to relate the occasional story or two, so I decided to venture forth.

Accompanying me on this epic journey was My Friend Vinny (no relation to My Cousin Vinny).

Vinny is a man of many talents. An accomplished runner/singer/songwriter and all round good guy, he recently wrote an excellent poem on life in the tenements of Dublin.

From a vision impaired point of view, entering a Rival Establishment is always something of an issue. Will the barman notice and comprehend my white cane? On this occasion the barman who serves me seems not to notice my cane. His colleague seems to be more tuned in. I get my pint and am directed to a seat whilst I wait for Vinny.

Vinny arrives and after a brief chat with a couple of our northern brethren from Belfast who are sitting near us, we head upstairs to the gig.

It’s mostly poetry, my good self being the sole exception.

Good to be different.

Quality wise, it’s a mixed bag. Some poems vividly draw the listener in to the picture that is being painted. Others do not.

An interesting evening.

We shall return.

Brian, Paddy and Me

Sporting discussions and debates are regular occurrences in The Great Institution of Chatham Street (TGI of CS). It’s that kind of place.

Football, GAA and golf are my personal favourites, having attempted to play all three at various stages of my humble existence (I grew up on Dublin’s northside, rugby seemed to exist only for the more affluent folk on the other side of the River Liffey).

I have also engaged in interesting conversations on cricket, cycling and skiing in TGI of CS as there are people there who are very knowledgeable on these subjects.

Earlier this year I was engaged in one such sporting discussion with Brian, also known as The Cosmopolitan King (at quiet times in TGI of CS, I would often call on Brian to rustle up a cosmopolitan cocktail for me – he always did an excellent job).

That particular conversation related to the upcoming US Masters golf tournament. I expressed the opinion that golf is very much a ‘horses for courses’ sport and that I fancied two former champions, Tiger Woods and Jordan Speith.

As a result of this chat I decided to stroll into the bookmaker Paddy Power and place a wager on both Woods and Speith.

A few days later I returned to Paddy Power and exited the shop with my pocket a little heavier than when I had entered. I had made a net profit of 130 euro.

At this point in proceedings, the wise move is to quit whilst ahead.

It would appear that I am not a wise man.

I have darkened the door of Paddy Power on three subsequent occasions. Rory McIlroy for the US Open. Brooks Koepke for The Open Championship. Kerry to beat the Dubs in the All Ireland Final. Each time Paddy has emerged victorious.

If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.

Following Irelands demolition of Scotland in the Rugby World Cup last Sunday, I became convinced that our name is already engraved on the trophy.

I have returned to Paddy.

We can do it

I have a limited knowledege of Rugby. I watch some of the internationals and the occasional European game. I was actually in Landsdowne Road when Ulster won the Heineken Cup In 1999. But I am far from being well versed on the finer points of the scrum, line out and other such vital matters. Having said all that, it’s World Cup time.

Game on.

Ireland enter the 2019 World Cup as the number one ranked team in the world. For me this is a meaningless statistic. The only thing’s that matter are Ireland progressing past the quarter final stage for the first time ever and of course the team that is in the lead when the final whistle blows on Novembe 2.

Ireland coach Joe Schmidt thus far has done a great job with the team. Grand slam winners 2018. First ever victories over the All Black’s. Fingers are crossed. Toes are bent backward’s. Every hair on my curly head has been straightened. We can do it.

Hosts Japan kick off the tournament against Russia. They’re expected to win. They fulfill expectations.

Australia overcome Fiji, France scrape past Argentina, the All Blacks get the better of the Springboks.

And then It’s our turn. We’re up against the Scots. All the Irish analysts reckon we’ll do the business. But then they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Game kicks off and Irish tv viewers somehow lose their commentators. It’s over to the BBC lads. What’s going on? Did my tv change channels by itself? The Irish lads return, all is well. Technical difficulties.

Ireland take an early lead and go on to dominate the game. They give every impression of being a team who have arrived in top shape. Physically and mentally.

Can we make the semi-final? Yes.

Can we win the tournament. Yes.

Am I losing the run of myself? Probably.

In Joe I trust.

Interesting people

Homeless people are not boring. Yes, they have addiction and/or mental health issues, relationship problems and difficulties managing money. They are many things. Dull is not one of them.

I began my career in homelessness one day when I was perusing my personal bible at that time, The Irish Times. The Times is one of Ireland’s great institution’s. Along with the GAA and a certain licensed premise on Dublin’s Chatham Street.

I was making my way through the letter’s page of The Times one fine day. I read a letter seeking volunteers for Dublin Simon Community. I had a ‘light bulb’ moment. I was off.

A training evening ensued . I was given a choice with regard to my future role. Saturday night in the Shelter was my choice.

The Shelter was a purpose built hostel on Ushers Island, adjacent to the Guinness site on St. James’s Gate. An appropriate location.

I loved my time in the Shelter. I loved the people. Their character. Their contrariness. Their humour.

So much so that I sought full time employment in the area. As luck would have it my employer at the time, Dublin City Council, was expanding its services to homeless people.

I was in.

For many years the Council’s sole response to the homeless problem was the Model Lodging House on Benburb Street. It had little in common with The Westbury Hotel.

In the late1990’s the Model was closed, refurbished and reopened as Oak House. 34 single rooms, six sitting rooms/kitchenette’s, a large dining room, laundry facilities and a pool table thrown in for good measure. A considerable improvement.

It was an all male facility. It was my job to care for the men and try to improve their lives in whatever way possible. I like to think I succeeded. In as much as I could do.

There were many highlight’s, some low times.

Stand out moment was my trip to Old Trafford with Tommy. A passionate lifelong Manchester United fan, Tommy had never been to the Theatre of Dreams. I agreed to bring him if he saved the necessary money. A savings account was opened, the finance was sorted and we were on our way. Before going I popped in to the master tailor of Capel Street, Louis Copeland. I told Louis what was happening and he kindly agreed to dress Tommy for the occasion. No charge.

We opted for the United v Liverpool game as I am a fan of the ‘Pool. Come the big day Tommy looked fantastic. The match was a draw, honour‘s even. Tommy was a happy Red Devil. We had many more subsequent trips to Old Trafford.

Eventually I ran out of steam with homelessness and a few years ago decided to take a wander down a different road. I still bump into some of my old residents from time to time around town. They are always happy to see me. I am always happy to see them.

It was fun while it lasted.

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