By throwing-out time on a Friday night, the streets resemble a ripped seam or a Hieronymus Bosch painting come to life. The footpaths teem with swaying bodies and grimacing faces. Some are belligerent. Others are content. Others still are lovelorn. Most are drunk. And some… Well, some of us are peckish since you ask. In the bars and clubs from whence we were ejected, dim lighting encouraged coyness and prevarication. Here however, in the unforgiving glare of the late night florescent chip shop, conversations tend to be blunt and to the point. “I’m not going home with you” shrieks the orange-skinned girl at the counter next to me. “You’re a minger!” Ouch. To be fair to the object of her scorn, he did appear to be receiving some encouraging signals up to that point. But the time had obviously come from him to be let down gently. His friends react with thinly veiled glee.
I feel for the guy. I really do. But I can’t help reflecting that a few women over the years could have saved me a considerable amount of time and energy if they had only been as candid.
I study the menu. The nomenclature here is troubling. A Snack Box, for the uninitiated, consists of a deep fried chicken carcass, coated in breadcrumbs, garnished with a slab of scalding, partially-cooked chips and served in a greasy cardboard box. Precisely whose idea of a snack is that, one wonders? Michael Phelps? More problematic again is its elder sibling, the Family Box. That’s essentially the same dish, with additional deep fried body parts, served in a bucket. (Come on, bring the kids – we’ll make a weekend of it! Afterwards we’ll have a game of asbestos frisbee…)
I order the Snack Box for old time’s sake. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t delicious.
Her suitor banished, the young lady with the fake tan plonks down on the empty chair across the table from me, engrossed now in a conversation on her mobile phone. “It was a nightmare, a total nightmare” she’s telling someone. “Aoife got off with this Spanish guy and I was left chatting to these, like, total randomers.” The conversation continues in this vein for a minute or so. On one point, at least, she is quite emphatic. “The place was just full of randomers. It was a total nightmare.”
When she hangs up, I offer her a chip. She declines. “About what you were saying,” I begin. She glares at me. Yeah? “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I happen to be a randomer myself.” She shrugs. “We get an unfair press is all,” I tell her. “Now look, I’d the first to admit that we do occasionally barge into your photographs uninvited. It’s true. We’ve been known overstay our welcome at parties from time to time too. I’m not going to pretend these things don’t happen.”
“But don’t forget the other things we do” I continue. “We hand your wallet into Garda stations when you’re just about to cancel all your cards. We let you hang around with us at music festivals when you get separated from your friends. You’re not the most scintillating company, you know. But we do it anyway. And when you get lost and need directions somewhere, we’re always happy to oblige” She raises an eyebrow. “They may not be the best directions,” I concede. “They may even be the wrong directions. But dammit we do our best!”
We chow in silence for a moment or two. As she slurps her Diet Coke, I rather fancy she’s reexamining her attitudes toward her fellow human being. The phone rings again and she answers it, sounding very relieved to hear from hear from whoever is on the line. “Aoife, oh my God…! You’re where…? Oh, thank you Jesus… I’m in the chipper… Well, hurry will you… There’s some weird guy talking to me, I think he might be a mental case…”
Oh well, nothing ventured and all that…