We’re dating again, after two barren years. First it was parenthood, then the pandemic. Nights out for dinner and drinks, or cinema weekends in the winter, were replaced with a baby monitor, a lack of babysitter and a cityscape of pubs and restaurants oscillating from closed to open until the bedtime of a baby.
On our escape from the house we bump into neighbours living two doors down.
‘The cinema’s closed, we were going to go see Belfast,’ they tells us. We’d spent the week deliberating between cinema or a meal. We knew the flicks would completely absorb us, bring us out of a Venn diagram of parenthood and pandemic, a world devoid of time or distinction since a time we can barely remember. We’d eaten together every night for two years, had talked to each other till talked had talked itself to death. In the end the choice was made for us. Now we understood why we couldn’t book tickets online.
‘We went for Tapas in the end,’ they explain. But the service was bad: a ten-minute wait for someone to take their order; a disappointing something or other; an overpriced something else. Ah, the old music of Irish complaint. I’ve missed this. Yet I haven’t missed that shared experience of being eluded by the twins customer service and value for money.
Despite the enforced enclosure every night for two years, the meal out together feels like a first: a bottle of wine in a dimly lit room; low music filling our ears; a candle; someone coming every five minutes to check we’re okay and fill our jug; meal options that are simply not available for delivery, or when they are, inevitably cold on arrival. There are new things to talk about as our plates get emptier and our bottle fills with light.
The clock is always ticking in our new, parental world. After dinner, we’ve forty minutes to be home to relieve the babysitter. My better half is happy to go home but sees that perpetual pint glint in my eye. We head to the nearest, local though we wouldn’t consider it our local.
The term local has all changed since we were last here. During the shutdowns we heard impassioned calls for people to shop locally, to remember that spending money locally keeps people we recognise in a job, keeps places we know open. Since we last drank here many bar staff have endured torment. Their work places couldn’t stay open. Many rural pubs have now folded. I look up at the barmen and wonder how much greyer they are.
‘A pint of Beamish please,’ I say giddily to the lounge girl. The young staff have lost out big-time too. How delighted she must be at earning enough for a night out, at being able to have a night out again.
All changed drinks-wise too. There are signs everywhere for Guinness Zero. Do lounge girls even drink on a night out, I ask myself. I asked a barman recently about the new, blackless stuff. ‘It’s like the real stuff, alright,’ he admitted with a nod, ‘but it doesn’t have the soul of Guinness.’
I could write an essay on the difference between Guinness and Beamish. My friends know my views. I’m glad the latter has emerged on the other side of the dry spell, is holding its head up in the battle with the zeros and all-conquering gins. I gulp deeply and soulfully. No lifetime of cans could compare with this.
The Friday burble feels normal. There’s nothing glorious about this pub. This pub could be everywhere and anywhere. Tonight, this Friday night mundanity, in a place people call a local, is extraordinarily ordinary.