Hardware Street, Melbourne
1998 – 2006
It happened every night. If I worked a Friday or Saturday shift, possibly twice a night. I could deal with the pungent black pudding, the fake Celtic font and pedantic focus on the timing of every pint of Guinness I pulled.
But what I couldn’t deal with, not after eight years of working in an Irish pub, was that god damned song.
The job itself I loved. I would arrive straight from linguistic lectures at university, my bag spilling books. Irish language classes helped me pronounce the names of my workmates: the Aoifes, Tadghs and Saoirses. My own Irish passport came through my Belfast heritage, and it was this accent I loved the most. I turned in an A-grade assignment on Ulster English, which basically involved sitting after knockoff with smoky whiskey and taking notes on the bartenders’ mellifluous northern speech.
I often wrote the phonetic alphabet or Germanic declensions all over the kitchen wall tiles. I would study as I rubbed butter into flour for the apple crumble, my scrawling a source of constant intrigue for the bartenders. I didn’t mind at all. They had three month visas and thick accents: I had recently left a ten year relationship and was free for the first time in my adult life.
Yes, it was a perfect match, that pub and me.
Except for one thing: Van Morrison.
To Tuesday and so slow
Going down to the old mine with a
I’m well aware that in an Irish pub, customers expect Irish music. U2, the Cranberries and Enya were played on a constant loop. Four nights a week these artists were bellowed by the house band. If one of the punker managers were on, we might even get the Pogues. But what most customers wanted, what they demanded, in fact, was a song that rapidly became the bane of my existence: Brown Eyed Girl.
They had to play it. I know they had to play it. But what they also had to do, I made it very clear, was to warn me first. There I’d be with my knockoff pint, trying to scrape beer batter from under my fingernails and flirt with Darragh or Niamh. And then the band would put the call out: Where is she? You know what time it is, honey!
I did. Everyone did. The bartenders put down their tea towels and stood in formation. The customers, tipsy and delighted, raised their pints and waited. I did not disappoint. With a scowl that could scorch the tops of crème brûlée, I would stalk through the bar to the alleyway to glower outside until the song ended. Even the rotting potato peels and pools of stale beer were preferable to hearing it again.
Standing in the sunlight laughing
Hide behind a rainbow’s wall
Slipping and a-sliding
All along the waterfall
With you, my brown-eyed girl
That song is inexplicably deemed a classic: it is impossible to avoid. I’ve heard it at a flea market in Portugal and a bookstore in New Orleans, an Icelandic supermarket and Hong Kong airport. My response, even to this day, is physical. My spine straightens, my fists clench, and my jaw tightens.
I was working on this story in my local pub, side by side with my man, also a writer. And then I heard it from the back room, faint but unmistakable.
We both froze.
‘It’s not, is it?’ I growled. ‘It can’t be.’
It was. Ten years after leaving the scene of the crime, another house band had begun to play Brown Eyed Girl, just as I was writing about how much I hated Brown Eyed Girl.
Do you remember when we used to sing
Sha la la la la la la la la la la dee dah
I put my head in my hands and groaned. Chris laughed “Your anger is poetry, darlin’’, and went back to writing. I could hear the crowd in the band room belt out the lyrics, rowdy and raucous, loving every line.
Postscript: There is no truth to the rumour that The Stereo Stories Band is secretly rehearsing Brown Eyed Girl, to play for Rijn when she reads at the Willy Lit Fest on Saturday 16 June 2018.and again at the Glen Eira Story Telling Festival on Friday 29 June.