A shot in the foot

A shot in the foot

But make sure it's genuine, warns Michael Jackson
When politicians say things so breathtakingly naïve and stupid as to suggest they are completely out of touch with the people they are supposed to represent, it is possible to sympathise. The loftiness of their job has itself caused their isolation.When I was 12 or 13, a fellow called Pierre Mendés- France found himself prime minister of the eponymous republic. He took it into his head to instruct his countrymen to drink less wine and more milk – and learned just how insecure a French prime minister can be.In the Republic of Ireland, the minister of justice may soon be receiving a poetic dose of his own dispensations.The minister, Michael McDowell, has just told his countrymen to drink less alcohol. He envisages Ireland’s pubs being replaced by cafés, in which the black stuff would be espresso and the ball of malt become biscotti.He believes this would help curb binge drinking. The proposal has met with disbelief in a country whose most famous exports are stout, whiskey and pubs.Not only Ireland but also the rest of the world would be impoverished if social surgery were to hobble this troika.In its own country, stout has lost ground to bland lagers. Recently drinks writer Andrew Jefford and I questioned whether the term ‘lager’ was an honest description for the most popular claimants to the term. As they are lagered for days, rather than weeks or months, I would say not. Binge drinkers drink fake lager.Both stout and Irish whiskey are increasingly appreciated worldwide. About the export of pubs, I am not sure.Why do fake Irish pubs always seem to have bicycles hanging from the ceiling? This is not common practice in Ireland. To have a real pub, you need real customers.Where they were also exported, there are some very fine pubs indeed. One that I have especially enjoyed over the years is Doyle’s, in Jamaica Plain, a neighbourhood of metro Boston. One of its rooms is shrine to the political activities of the Kennedys, whose grandfather did so much for the availability of spirits in difficult times.Another room celebrates Michael Collins, a devotee of fine Cork stout. The pub sponsors a Lesbian softball team called The Switch Hitters. You could not invent it, and that is a good definition of the genuine, as opposed to the fake in any aspect of life.When pubs in the Republic of Ireland were required to close for one hour each day, I found myself in possession of a newly poured generous measure of Paddy in a busy pub in Cork city just as the doors were being secured.No one had left. The police outside found this odd. They started to beat on the door.The publican signalled to his customers that we should crouch below the level of the windows. Our bodies thus folded in the style of Cossack dancers, we somehow propelled ourselves behind him as he led us upstairs to his private quarters, where we were able to continue drinking without our conversation being drowned by the knocking.In the centre of the room, his wife Philomena was ironing shirts. Avoluptuous woman, she had chosen for this task a dress with a plunging neckline. With each gliding movement of the iron, centrifugal force parted her cleavage as though to engulf us.For an assignment in Belfast at the height of The Troubles, I was provided with a driver called Billy. He took me to a famous pub. As the Bushmills flowed, I was anxious to avoid revealing too much familiarity with the northern counties across the border. My late wife was a Catholic from County Sligo.“You look anxious,” said Billy, as I sought to retain control of my nervous chatter. “Don’t worry. I’ll look after you,” he promised. His choice of words did not altogether reassure me. He pulled aside his jacket and pointed to the waistband of his pants. I caught a glimpse of gunmetal in a holster: as genuine as the contents of Philomena’s dress.I worried that he might be aiming for my knees, as per local custom. At the least the Minister of Justice aimed for his own foot.
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