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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

I was just watching the World Cup in the West of Ireland when this man walked into the bar with a donkey.

It wasn't just any old donkey, but one that was clearly supporting Ireland who were beating Saudi Arabia two nil at the time.

It had on its back a distinctive green and orange flag and one of those daft hats you see soccer fans in Japan sporting on the telly as they babble away in thick English accents giving thumbs-up signs after each match.

I'd love to report that none of the real locals who had gathered in the bar by 12.30pm took any notice, but they laughed just as much as I did. The grisly old man who held the rein grinned toothlessly as one or two startled tourists took a picture and I could swear the donkey grinned back and then it was all over. You couldn't make it up, really.

It was a proper Irish bar, called "J. O'Neill's" or something like that, with a dusty shop at the front and a real bell that tinkled when you pushed open the door. They actually sold carbolic soap and the aroma merged with smoke from a wood-burning stove in the corner with a chimney going up through the ceiling. I can tell you though that most of the men in there didn't have a drink. In the best tradition of a Turkish teashop, they sat quietly at the back just watching the TV slung above the bar. Three giggling shopgirls came in wearing World Cup tee-shirts and drank halves of lager and a Swedish tourist and her boyfriend sat at the side and shared a pot of yoghurt she took from her handbag. You could tell they were Scandinavian. Who else would leave at half time? There's nowhere in that part of the world you have to get to in a hurry on a Tuesday afternoon.

When the game was over, most of them went back to work. The girls opened up the gift shop and some of the men returned to a farm and some to a nearby garage a few miles into the limestone Burren near Kinvara, County Clare.

I discovered that barmen the country over were happy to make coffee and charge one Euro in between taking their time over pouring pints of Guinness. I couldn't help finding out that a pint of the black stuff was usually three Euros and fifteen cents (just over £2) and was with you within about five minutes of entering licensed premises. I've found it is the most commonly sought information on my return to the North of England where the price of a pint is a lifelong obsession.

I couldn't have contemplated not being in a bar when I found myself in Ireland when they were on TV in the World Cup. A hotel bedroom or even someone's lounge would have been unthinkable. Well, I wanted to be in a one horse town on that day for once to taste the atmosphere rather than the drink and it was everything I hoped it might be, quite apart from the fact that I actually met the horse.

Sinclair Newton