Date: 14 February 2016.
Location: Too exhausted to tell you, UK.
What would you do upon arrival in Dublin, seven hours ahead of your friends? You'd charmingly chat to your elderly AirBnB hostess about the myriad literary delights Dublin is uniquely positioned to offer — Joyce, Stoker — and then you'd go to the Guiness factory, wouldn't you? Yeah you would.
In a move that would incur the wrath of my lovely physio, I walk the whole way from our accomodation to the Guiness Storehouse. The weather is suitably grim and certainly accords with with all I'd been told of the city. But, yet, I hadn't been prepared for it at all. The disparity between the Dublin of my mind and the one I now set out to explore is shocking. It's a little like being able to time travel just once, choosing Georgian London in the expectation that you'll turn up in a silken gown and shiny ringlets, trading flirty barbs on the ballroom floor with Mr Knightley — and ending up as a grubby kitchen maid with gambling debts and a Mr Collins. You did know somewhere in your mind, under a locked trapdoor, that you'd gilded the fantasy a touch, but you hadn't allowed yourself to truly think through what the grubby reality might look like.
Dublin is grey. It feels poor and tatty. Surprisingly, for a girl who's been to Varanassi, I find London one of messiest cities I've seen. Dublin is certainly not as bad as London. For one thing, its residents are trained to use bins, something that their English chums have not yet mastered. The river Liffey divides the city's more opulent south from is grimier north and is crossed by several prettyish bridges but, in truth, it patently lacks the splendour of the Thames or, if we're really seeing the comparison in this paragraph through, the mystical majesty of the Ganges.
In the midst of the dull monochromatic fog, the Guiness brewery shines. Ale does good things. I take the tour and wander through seven stories of the stuff. First, I learn about how the ingredients are sourced, then the history of the Guiness family and their famous drink, then wade through the brewing process, learnt to pour the perfect pint, peruse the incredible advertising campaigns that have bestowed upon the brand such notoriety and, finally, get to the top storey: the Gravity Bar. Predictable highlight number 1. Here I get my free pint and enjoy a 360 degree view of Dublin. The bar itself is brilliant (though, unpleasantly packed, even early on a Friday afternoon) but that sense of being underwhelmed persists as I gaze out over this very flat city.
Still, inspired, I have a Guiness with my pub dinner and then pick up a four pack on my way home. It will assist me to wait with patience for the girls to arrive. Arrive they do, bustling into the warmth of our little, perfectly oval Georgian flat around 9pm while the Irish rain whips their ruddy cheeks and the ground outside. Unfortunately Paris basically has the Black Plague and wisely takes herself straight to bed. Unwisely, Kitty and I stay up and drink a bottle of red. Then a Guiness apiece to 'welcome' ourselves to the Republic of Ireland.
I don't know what I've told you about Kitty yet. She's a colleague from work back in Australia who has been shipped off on secondment to our Leeds office for a year. Every Brit I tell this to has a variation around on the same response, 'She knows Leeds isn't London, right?'. Oh, she knows. And she's okay with it, I think. Kitty is one of those girls who, to my mind, seems equally at home with Tanq 10 in hand, flirting with a boy at a Shoreditch bar or, pint to hand, in a teeny Northern pub after rambling about the moor of a misty morning. She has one of those classically pretty English Rose type appearances that would have looked perfectly at home in a sprigged muslin gown as a character in that Jane Austen daydream I was having earlier. We became friends in late 2014. The timing just clicked into place: we found ourselves as colleagues who sat back to back, me just back from India and utterly boggled about what to do next, she having just turned thirty and dumped her longtime boyfriend, equally boggled. Plus we both like fine gins and cheese and cats and our friend and fellow colleague, The Twin — so became a little girl gang. All of this amounts to her seeming the type who could do Leeds just fine.
Come morning we rug up so just our pink cheeks and noses show and see the city. We start with a full Irish breakfast (not as alarming as a 'full Scottsh' but heart-stopping enough) and mimosas (weekend!) and then tour the insanely popular Kilmainham Gaol. The Gaol blows my mind a little. I realise how ridiculously 'lite' is my knowledge of Irish history. There was so much turmoil, so much struggle and so much bloodshed and, yes, I knew all that but I didn't appreciate it until that morning in the freezing cold gaol, the cold from the flagstones burning my feet. Thoroughly depressed from the inside out and the outside in all at once, we wander back to central Dublin and take another wonderful Sandeman walking tour. Our brains continue to expand with appreciation for the nation's dividing axes: the green and the orange, the Catholics and the Protestants, north and south, England and Ireland, freedom and Freedom. And, horrifyingly, why you should never order a Black And Tan. Ever.
That night, Black Plague Paris takes herself to bed — but not before helping Ktty and I to craft a pair of Dublin Bingo Cards. Each card has nine slots, each slot a challenge or item. Drink a whiskey. Find a fiddle. Learn a filthy Irish phrase. Ask an Irishman if he's Catholic or Protestant (dangerous). Find a man named Paddy. Kiss him (more dangerous). We drink wine and go to the Temple Bar area. Around 4am, game over, we merrily return home. From what I can tell, this does not augment Paris's quality of sleep. We'd made of new friends and are eager to — loudly — tell our stories.
Sunday, Valentines Day, begins with an unsurprisingly slow trudge through the grounds of Trinity College. Paris continues to suffer from the Black Plage but Kitty and I now put her sickly palour to shame. At one point I recall that one of the Paddies from last night had mentioned that the remains St Valentine himself are buried in a dusty tomb in a tiny church in Dublin. It had been such a perfect comment, a guileless mix of romance and good catholic boy general knowledge, that I may have snorted Guiness up my nose at the time. In the cold light of day, I use Google to fact check him. He checks out.
So, our last stop in Dublin, on this frosty Valentines Sunday, is to go light candles in the Shrine of Saint Valentine, in his dusty tomb, in a tiny church in Dublin.