Notes from West London · Sport

Grand Slam

It’s two days late I know, but a belated Happy St Patrick’s Day to you. In Ireland you still have a few hours to commemorate the national saint on this Bank Holiday Monday but the rest of us are done for another year. The next time that St Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday will be 11 years from now (2029) so here in West London we made sure that we observed the occasion appropriately. We had plenty to celebrate too, Ireland’s rugby team completing the Grand Slam in the Six Nations as we hoped they would, by beating England at Twickenham.

I don’t follow rugby as keenly as certain other sports but this was a good year to be following the Ireland team. From that last-minute drop-goal against France in the opening fixture, through victories against Italy, Wales and Scotland, to Saturday’s win against England, it has all gone remarkably smoothly. We watched the game at home and I took my 13-year-old son out to celebrate just before 6pm. We met his godfather in a pub that has no Irish connections and then walked, through a flurry of snow, to the nearest, busiest Irish bar. The band had already started playing by 7 o’clock and we stayed till 9.30pm. By then there was a queue to get into the place – no more souls allowed inside until a few of us had left. I have mostly been off the beer for Lent, and my son has had fewer fizzy drinks and crisps than usual. We made up for it on those few hours on Saturday and were still home before 10pm, having walked through another snow shower. It’s the first time I can recall snow on St Patrick’s Day.

We had started our commemoration early, with the Vigil Mass at St Patrick’s Soho Square at 6 o’clock on Friday evening. It’s the best place to get shamrock in Central London, as I observed in this piece. After a few minutes at Kirsty McColl’s bench, my son, my 11-year-old daughter and I were there with time to spare. It was the first time they’ve been able to read and hear parts of a mass in Gaelic. In 2004 I attended St Patrick’s Day Mass in the same church, in the early weeks of my wife’s fifth pregnancy. The four previous pregnancies had all ended in miscarriage but this one didn’t, and nor did the next one. 14 years later I was sat with both children thinking about that uncertain time, and about the excellent Janis Ian gig that my wife and I attended later that night at the Bush Hall. Back in the present day, out of the blue we met someone we know from our parish, seven miles away, who had never visited this church before. His wife is expecting their first child any day now, at St Mary’s Paddington, where my son and daughter were born. Good luck to them.

The mass, the distribution of shamrock, and chatting to some familiar faces in the dozen or so priests who concelebrated, took us way past 7.30, so we headed out to eat in Soho, rather than making our way nearer home. We walked past the Toucan Bar – best pint of Guinness in town, but no children allowed – and on to Dean Street. We spotted Gary Lineker, which was a cause of much excitement. If there are any decent fish & chip shops in that part of town I don’t know about them, so we headed to Wagamama, had noodle and rice dishes, and shared two flavours of sorbet that I’ve never seen before: pink guava with passion-fruit, and lemongrass. I drank Asahi beer on draft. These are flavours that St Patrick himself would never have tasted, and nor would my own grandparents, born in Ireland either side of 1900.

Last year I was in bed before 10pm on St Patrick’s Day, without even a symbolic drop of drink taken. The year before that I was out way past 2am, leading to a brute of a hangover the next day. This year’s celebrations fell somewhere between those two extremes, and our Friday night shamrock still looks surprisingly healthy on this Monday evening.

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