Continuing on Harry’s Bus..

Why is it that I can’t walk past a “To Let” sign without yearning to scrawl an “i” in the middle? I don’t know, Barnaby, why can’t you? I don’t know either, so we shall proceed with Dublin on the U2 tour.

 

What? Dublin again? That was ages ago. Yes, I know, but I haven’t finished the day out on the bus with Colin and Harry. Well OK, I’ll throw in an anecdote from this morning, then, to keep you up to date: Earl Grey is not spelt Earl Gray. I brought it to an oik’s attention in a cafe earlier when ordering a nice cuppa. He nodded rather impatiently when I pointed out that Lord Grey was, in fact, English, not American. And oughtn’t he to stop squeezing his spots? Oh, it’ll be even more fun when I am old.

So you thought the sun rose in the east, did you? Ha! Well, it does, actually…but only on the spring and autumn equinoxes. For the rest of the year, it pops up its head anywhere from northeast to southeast, shifting in a barely discernible arc as the seasons come and go.

Dry As A Bone

 

Yes, we’re back, if you hadn’t guessed, at the Neolithic Irish site of Newgrange – for Part 2. Now, can you believe that this burial mound has remained watertight – this is Ireland, remember – for 5,200 years? Bone dry, it is – not even traces of a mouse’s urine.

 

At 8.58am on 21st December, the rising sun enters the chamber for a total of seventeen minutes. For the rest of the year, except for a few days either side of the shortest day of the year, it is as black inside as it would be in a very dark, formless place without any light.

 

Oh, you want a better description? OK then, well the habitat of a mole is comparatively teeming with neon; Newgrange is probably too dark even for bats. Wave a hand in front of your face in here, and you won’t notice a thing. We tried it.

Near Miss

Our next stop is Monasterboice, an early Celtic Christian community. En route is that light at the end of the tunnel that we spoke about last week – namely a Scania truck approaching head on, and tooting his hooter. ‘Don’t worry Harry, he’s just being friendly,’ said Colin, appeasing the tourists before a potentially fatal collision.

 

As we passed Slane Castle, I fondly remembered being towed out of the sludge by a giant behemoth of a forklift on a Madonna tour. No, you’re right, that isn’t relevant, and distinctly smacks of name-dropping. Did I tell you that I’ve seen her backstage?

 

Anyway, the village we were visiting is famous for Muiredach’s Cross. We know it belonged to Muiredach – an abbot who kicked the bucket in AD 923 – because he stuck his name on it: ‘M woz ere’, or the 6th century equivalent. ‘The last vandal we had here,’ said Colin, waxing nostalgically, ‘was Oliver Cromwell.’ He glanced upwards, contemplating his lines. ‘Ooh, let’s move on – I’m a bit worried about those clouds.’ I lost the thread a bit after that.

Bible Gnomes

But the Cross itself depicts chapters from the Bible, and one can almost hear a traditional harp resonating down through the centuries. Colin pointed out a faded Adam and Eve in a sculpted version of Chapter One. ‘And in Chapter Two,’ he said poignantly, ‘these little gnomes are having a right ding-dong pulling one another’s beards.’

 

As he pointed out a nearby headstone showing mass emigration within a family from the 1800s, he told us a little factoid: ’72 million people across the globe claim to be Irish. Please don’t encourage them to move back. We’ve enough problems as it is.’

Dublin Day Trip..

‘I’m Colin and our driver today is Harry,’ says our Irish tour guide. ‘Are we ready now, Barbara?’ he continues into a bingo-sized microphone. I wonder if I might have booked a tour for the elderly.

Harry, an old mariner from Estonia, glances repeatedly at “Concentrate! Anticipate!” taped onto the driver window. Gosh, don’t glasses on a rope make people look old? He picks a little wax from his ears.

‘Over the Liffey in a jiffy,’ croons Colin as we pass the oldest pub in Ireland – built in 1198. ‘Now, we’ve been waiting and waiting, and finally Ikea is opening its doors to the public.’ He’s working himself into something of a frenzy here, the microphone resting in the dimple of his chin. ‘Ha ha, another Viking invasion,’ he grins. ‘Anyone from Norway? Ah, we’ve forgiven you, sir.’

Shopping Mad

Apparently, Ikea has warranted a special meeting of Parliament because the company has breached building-size laws. ‘We’re expecting close to a riot when it opens,’ he adds. ‘Shopping is like a second religion here.’

As we edge out of Dublin, every remnant of building has a story, it seems, and I wonder whether we might return a little bit late for the U2 concert later. ‘No, we have to be back by 5,’ clarifies Colin. ‘Harry has to have his tea.’

Bono: The Best Singer?

The countryside rolls past the coach window, and we’re told that the recession has been particularly acute in Ireland. ‘There’s light at the end of the tunnel. But that could just be a truck coming the other way,’ he says plaintively, unexpectedly launching into rather a splendid lullaby. When we clap, he explains: ‘I don’t want Bono getting all the credit.’ Interestingly, Colin and Bono went to the same Dublin comprehensive, though a few years apart.

Anyway, today’s trip, accompanied by Dutch Petra – I could introduce a U2 driver once a week for a year and still not include them all – is to Newgrange. This burial mound near the River Boyne is the most famous passage tomb in Ireland.

Built 500 years before The Pyramids, and 1000 years before Stonehenge, this is one of the oldest freestanding sites in the world. We’re in the “Cradle of Ireland” here, a land that was once totally forested.

Neolithic Trucking

Just imagine how difficult it would have been to construct such a tomb back then, let alone drag the materials here. It would have been far too labour-intensive just to bury plebs, obviously; this site housed only important members of the Neolithic community. And each of the three megalithic tombs, aligning precisely to the angle of the sun, took up to fifteen years to build.

 

So, let’s say you need to move 2,000 large stones over lumpy ground. And all you have is a crew of short chaps – dropping dead, on average, at 25 years old – who clean their teeth with soot and chewing sticks.

And then consider that it took eighty men four days to drag one four-ton stone from three kilometres away. Yes, I think you’ll agree that trucks were a good invention..

A night off in Krakow..

Krakow is Poland’s second largest city, and certainly its jewel. This is a beautiful city – Google it – deserving more than a long weekend to do it justice.

A snippet from Introducing Krakow reads: ‘accordion players ply trade next to old trouts selling bobble hats and bagels.’ That should whet your appetite.

Need I mention, too, that Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp is a very accessible “attraction” from here? Or the salt mines in the Tatras mountains?

So, while the idea of  visiting percolates, let me take you to the Harris jazz club, situated off the main square. I daren’t try and name the square itself due to one of those odd foreign accents on the “o” and a squiggle on the “l”.

The Malpolski Big Band are firing on all cylinders tonight, striking up a swinging rendition of The Pink Panther theme. Leaning nonchalantly at the bar, talking above the din from eighteen musicians, are “Wrecker”, Paul and Alan – all double drivers, with no responsibilities this evening. We have a night off.

Yes, this is why we do this job. These nights away from chuntering along Europe’s motorways (loaded with rock and roll equipment) is what makes touring worth doing. Well, that and the money.

Alan is merely a nebulous shape tonight, engulfed in cigarette smoke, with just a glowing tip between his teeth. Ironically, smoking only seems to be allowed down here in the cellar – the most poorly-ventilated area. Train platforms open to the elements: no smoking; brick vaulted-arch cellars with no fresh air: yes, can’t see any harm.

Anyway, scanning the cocktail list, contemplating whether to play safe and have a Blowjob, or risk the Jazz Cream, a celebrity wanders in. Nigel Kennedy, the virtuoso violinist, lives here now and seems up for a chat.

After cordial greetings, and  a meeting of knuckles instead of a handshake, I tentatively approach the subject of my Antarctica campaign (for which I need online votes) and hand him a flyer. ‘Come on Nige, you must have loads of friends,’ I add unnecessarily. As it turns out he hasn’t even got a computer any more. This is devastating, and leads to accusations that he is now former A-list and perhaps he now watches snooker in black and white?

We’re all becoming a bit raucous at this point, talking of going back to the Radisson Hotel for a pee in the trouser press. Paul ends up swapping numbers with Mr. Kennedy, while Alan is less fazed by status: ‘I don’t care a fuck who he is as long as he supports Villa.’ Oh, Heaven help us. Have I mentioned before that I’d ban football if I was in charge?

Wrecker adds: ‘Wahey, right up the Four Seasons, eh, Nige? Vivaldi who?’ On reflection, that might have been me saying that – I’m over my allotted limit of two pints.

Next to Wawel Castle and Planty Park is the Radisson SAS Hotel – home for the night. Well, the rest of them are in here, but I’ve drawn the short straw with the Park Inn round the corner. Still, scoring a free hotel room at all is pretty good going.

We pass reception ram-rod straight, as though nothing more than a small sherry has passed our lips, and head to one of those tiresome rooms that stocks an espresso machine, a daily newspaper, bathrobe and slippers. Paul opens another tin of beer and suggests texting Nigel Kennedy to see if he’s up for  a kick-a-bout in the park tomorrow morning.

Espresso machines are all very well but tea, as you very well know – stop tutting, blast you – is the thing in the early hours. What time is it anyway? ‘Quarter to two,’ suggests Alan, slurring admirably. I wonder if he means quarter to three. He burps. ‘Yeah, three.’

Well, we don’t know what time it is, but it’s late. ‘Do you really want milk?’ Paul asks me. He dials concierge and, in a sober request, states: ‘My mate doesn’t take cream.’ I make throat-slitting gestures at him before collapsing.

The milk never arrived. We never saw Nigel the next day and, as far as I’m aware, none of us urinated in the trouser press…

Load of Old Blarney..

The Kentish horsey honey rang the other night. Wonderfully reversing the status quo, she said: ‘I want Mr. Right Now, not Mr. Right. I’ll get it when I can.’ To set the quote off nicely, I include the chest of another woman entirely.

Tourism

 

Anyway, I promised a little report on Dublin, so here it is: Just yards from the snarling traffic on College Street, ensconced safely under a glass shield, is an ancient tome. Leave leprechaun-embossed tea towels and Guinness-etched souvenirs behind, and enter Trinity Library.

 

Inside, a cool, lugubrious gloom houses the 1200-year-old Book of Kells. A hushed reverence descends as you approach the glass cabinet displaying two of four volumes. If your throat feels dry in awe, think of Brendan Behan who drank only on two occasions: when he was thirsty and when he was not.

 

Fabulous Latin calligraphy, coupled with vivid, medieval Celtic colours depicting symbols of the evangelists, gives the impression that the print is recent. Spend a few minutes scrutinising the extraordinary attention to detail, then bear in mind that this book – thought originally to have come from Scotland for safety – was found dumped unceremoniously in a field near Kells, west of Dublin. Pretty remarkable, then, that it has survived at all.

 

Books, books, books

Talking of books, there are over 200,000 of them in the Trinity Library. All first editions, they span five centuries and a multitude of languages – from Greek and Latin through Old Irish and Aramaic. The smell of ancient cracked vellum pervades the air as you enter, breathing a distant past beneath the barrel-vaulted ceiling.

 

Four-and-a-half miles of shelving in this Long Room must surely require a complex method of codifying the tomes, no? Alphabetical? Categorical? Well, actually, the books are arranged by size: big ones at the bottom, small ones at the top. In order for a student to locate a title, they must first know the dimensions!

 

Good old Ireland

 

Oh, and there is something familiar on the left-hand side. A twenty-nine string willow harp is displayed in a glass case. Only three feet high, it is the oldest surviving Irish harp, but why is it so recognisable? If you’ve ever held a pint of Guinness, you’ll know..

I’ll leave you with a piece of advice from old Mrs. Murphy: ‘ A woman who thinks the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach is aiming that little bit too high.’ Notice I’m saying nothing about apostrophes..