In Northern Ireland, do not be tempted to go to a travel agents if you’re looking a holiday. Your local Foncab driver will tell you all you need to know.
‘I need a night out,’ I tell LSB. ‘You, me, candles. Wine and ambiance.’ I’ve had a headache for 3 weeks- every so often this happens and once I work out I’m not dying I just get properly fed up. Children, and the sounds they generate, are hard to tolerate when you feel that someone has inserted a drill in through your ear and behind your eye sockets. The pain has subsided but bright lights and noise are still an anathema to me. Still, it’s on the wane, and two paracetamol later and a frock on me and I’m good to go. We order a taxi.
‘Out for something to eat?’ asks our Fonacab driver. ‘Lucky for some.’
He grins at me in the mirror. ‘He spoils you rotten love. Good Christmas?’
There are only so many accounts your Christmas that you are willing to relate to strangers, no matter how lovely it was. ‘Grand,’ I mutter. What about yourself?’
‘Glad it’s over,’ he says.
‘Oh dear,’ I reply.
‘F*@king raging I am,’ he goes on. ‘I alwaysgo to Tenerife in January. Something happened this year, and we couldn’t get away. So I’m stuck here, trailing folk round the town. F*@king shite.’
‘Oh. That’s too bad.’ says LSB. ‘I’m sure you’ll get something.’
‘Wife wants to go in June. F*@king June! That’s my lads holiday and I’m not giving that up. I sez to her, we may get down to Thomas Cook because I’ve them vouchers to use. I’m thinking Tunisia, £500, all-inclusive. That’s for two weeks. No one goes there anymore, in case they get shot, but I mean, people are shot in London all the time. Or stabbed, and there’s no shortage of tourists there.’
‘That is the sorry truth,’ I say.
‘In June,’ he goes on, ‘We go out to my dad in Albufeira. Lads’ drinking holiday. We just go boozing for 4 days. Start on the beer at 9 or so. See by the evening? Can’t speak or nothing. When we go for dinner at night I just point at the wee picture. Them wee pictures of the food are great. Young’uns all drink them cocktails. I stick to the beer. But when we were having our fry ups the next morning the wee waiter man sez to me, “What would you like to drink?” and I sez ‘Give us a Pina Colada!’ Lads were near sick. But then we all ordered one. Just have to keep at it, know what I mean?’
Jeepers, I thought I was bad over Christmas, with all those glasses of late afternoon prosecco. I’ve nothing on this chap. I feel like a poster girl for sobriety.
Happily, we are now on the Ormeau Road. I would like a pre-dinner beverage, to give the semblance of a proper evening out. The fact that it is a Wednesday is irrelevant. ‘If you just drop us at the Northern Lights?’ asks LSB.
‘What? Iceland? Are yiz off to Iceland?’
‘No, the pub, that one there,’ says Stevey, pointing.
‘Ah.’ He pulls in. ‘I thought you meant Iceland, where they have those lights, them green ones. Have you been to Iceland?’
‘No,’ says himself. ‘But we were thinking of it.’
I will him to stop prolonging the conversation. My glass of Tempranillo is tantalising close, and yet so far.
‘It’s a dear hole. I’m telling you’.
I have opened the door. He’s off again. The meter is still running, but he’s in full flow. He reallywants to tell us about Iceland.
‘So my mate went last year, so he did. Took everyone out for their tea. The wife and him had nothing fancy and the kids had them wee chicken balls and chips. Guess how much that was, for that, and four cokes?’
‘A hundred,’ I sigh.
‘Ninety eight. Ninety eight quid! For that!’
‘So when we went,. I sez, we’re getting an apartment and I made sure it had a kitchen so I could bring my own food.’
‘Like, tins of stuff?’ I ask.
‘No! Steak, sausages, bacon. The LAT. I just wrapped it in tin foil. Into the bag it went. Never said nothing at customs. And they wouldn’t need to have either. Know how much a pint is? Twelve pounds. TWELVE POUNDS. We bought all our booze in the Duty Free.’
I try to open the door again but he’s really warming to this theme. The meter is still running. We are a couple of soft touches, LSB and myself.
‘Then we got on a bus to see them wee things that come out of the ground.’
‘Aye. F*@king a hundred and eighty pounds to drive round and see some pools, with steam coming out of them. I’m telling you, If you’re going to go, bring your own food and drink, hire a car and follow the bus. DO NOT PAY for the bus.’
‘Thanks very much,’ I say, and make to leave.
‘And the Northern Lights? F*@k that. Do you know what they were going charge us for that trip? Another hundred quid and then the wee man sez to us, it wasn’t guaranteed we’d see them! I was like, you’re telling me, I’ve to pay you to get on a bus, to drive through the dark to hunt for lights we might not see at all? No way mate.’
At this point we made our exit. I was very pleased to sit down, play some chess and stroke a small collie dog whom some fella had brought in with him and he took a fancy to me. I’d like to add to add that having a drink then a meal with wine at Shed does nothing for your headache, but it was still most pleasant to vacate the house for an evening, chat with lovely neighbours and share a steak meal for two, with enough left over to create an Asian beef salad the next evening. Everyone’s a winner, and we’ve some sound travel advice to boot. Fonacab-Travel. You read it here first.