Sunday, September 21, 2014

Yorkshire: proper brews and barred schools of magic

Jerry: We hopped a train over to Yorkshire on Monday, where we spent the week in Sheffield as guests of another writer friend, Catherine de Mornay

Some rivalries never die.

Jerry: I know far more English history than I do about modern England, so that picture is funny to me. Despite the fact that I'm perfectly used to municipal seals on public property, it's still surreal to see red and white roses stamped on things as mundane as dumpsters.

Laura: Pay note to Yorkshire Tea's slogan:

"Let's have a proper brew." 

Laura: This is, without doubt, the most British thing to ever happen. Besides this police box:

This is a real thing. It exists. And it is in Sheffield.

Jerry: Catherine lives on the outskirts of Sheffield, at Meadowhall. We took the tram into city centre and spent one afternoon wandering around. The Festival of the Mind was just starting, and although we sadly only caught one day of it (if we'd known we would have planned differently!) there was a cool exhibit at the Winter Gardens and we got to check out the Millenium Gallery. We spent a couple hours poring over the metalwork collection in particular. Sheffield has a long history in metalworking (from being the definitive source of renaissance cutlery to being a major steelworks in WWII) and you know how I get when history meets art.

Laura: Jerry is such a history nerd. I'm pretty sure I've never seen someone so giddy about a collection of spoons before.

Jerry: Actually, I think the coolest thing was the ch√Ętelaine. I didn't even know those existed until now. The word means both a woman in charge of a large household (masculine: ch√Ętelain, the french equivilant of "castellan") and refers to the device that holds her keys and everything else she might need. It's like your faire belt, except small and elegant and orderly. It's illuminating to be reminded of which items used to included in the same "bare minimum necessity" category as "wallet, cell phone, keys" today, such as the household seal. And that well-made scissors were costly enough to be kept strictly on the the lady's person.


Fabric scissors  are STILL a closely-guarded asset.

Laura: My favorite part of the week was discovering England's array of premixed cocktails. Premixed cocktails are generally really depressing. But since public drunkeness is such a thing here, they need ways to discreetly and portably get through their daily commute. Thus, our discovery of cans of Pimms, traditional or with elderflower and blackberries, premixed with lemonade. There were also precanned gin and tonics with cucumber. England knows the way to my heart. 

Pimm's: drinking in the park like a CLASSY hobo.

Jerry: We did spend some of our time in parks not drinking. Catherine lives almost at the top of Wincobank hill, just below an iron age fort. This has taught me two things. One: archeological ruins are way easier to find in documentaries, where they highlight and explain them with CGI. Two: Hills are some kind of goddamn Sisypheun torture device.

Laura: Even by my standards it was pretty torturous. And if there's one thing San Francisco toughens, it's your calf muscles. 

Between this view and those houses: THIRTY MINUTES OF DEATH.

Jerry: Other than that, it was a fairly quiet week of catching up on writing. We had some great face-to-face brainstorming with Catherine, who'd just come back from a writer's confrence full of ideas. Happily Ever After has a whole new list of changes now, and we fleshed out a whole magic system and creation myth for her world.

Laura: They were both very productive. I spent most of the time reading crime-fiction and watching the first episode of American Horror Story (by the way: that show gets better right? I'm not the only one who watched the first episode and thought it was completly ridiculous, am I?)

Jerry: And Catherine's six-year-old daughter, Elle, made us bracelets, which we are both totally still wearing.


Friday we went on to London. Next installment coming soon!


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lancashire pt 2: car boot sales and a medieval pub

Jerry: Last Sunday, our last day in Burscough, Dawn and Paul took us to a car boot sale.

Yes, there's something going on here other than milling around in a parking lot.

Jerry: For those who are not familiar, it's like a yard sale, except all together. Everyone drives their stuff to the same spot, pays for a merchant stall, and sets up outside the boot (American: trunk) of their car. The end result is kind of like an outdoor thrift store. There's also some professional full-time mobile retailers, the way you can have professional ebay sellers alongside casual people just clearing out the attic. I dont know why we don't have these in America. It's brilliant.

Laura:  For you Californians: it's a swapmeet, which apparently aren't things in Chicago. It makes sense, considering there's pretty much no point of the year in Chicago where you want to be standing around outside all day. I got the scotch tasting set for ten Euros at one in Ireland. I looked it up and it was going for about nintey euros on ebay. On ebay. Not even regular retail. So I flew half-way across the world, and in two months I've now gone to two swapmeets (not at all disimilar to the Santee swapmeet). Apparently this is what I do now. I'm the international swapmeet expert.... I'm cool with that.   

Jerry: After lunch and tasting some lovely local cheeses, Paul took us to try some local cask ales at the oldest pub in Lancashire, which dates from 1320 and is a Grade II listed building. For a little perspective, that's during the reign of Edward II.


Laura: It was here that Paul introduced us to bitter + brown and brown + mild. You order half a pint of either an English Bitter or an English Mild  and then you fill the second half of the pint with a bottle of Mann's brown ale. The point of this lab experiment? Apparently this is the "old man drink" in England (along the lines of pulque in Mexico). That kind of disgusting drink that only the old-timers in the shady corner of the dive can still throw back. I've now decided my goal is to find the OMD of every country I go to. We shall record my findings here, so that these beautifully nasty lab-experiments can be saved for posterity. And then I can open a hipster bar.  

Jerry: It wasn't disgusting.

Laura: Well, not to us, but we both voluntarily drink Malort. I suppose the barometer I'm measuring the "old man drink" by is this: if it's presented to you by a gruff, blue-collar old timer with an expectant look on his face like he's sure these young fancy-pants are about to do a spit-take.

This is not a Malort Face.

Jerry: That's a fun thing we're discovering about the culture in the north of England. It's nothing like Americans picture all things British. There's an economic (and resultingly, political) divide between the north and south of England that has been well-documented by people much more educated than we are. I'll therefore stick to the people-level observations that writers and actors are good at: Everyone in Lancashire is of pointedly simple tastes and extremely friendly and hospitable. Everything midwesterners hate about New York, northerners hate about London. Taking us to try local cask ales was the first Paul had realised all the pubs around him do tasting flights, and even that pushed the limits of "posh" for him.


"It's a fair enough idea, if you like that sort of thing."

Laura: To quote Paul: "I don't do posh." That line could basically sum up Lancashire (in a good way). They seem predominently anti-bullshit in the north. I kept thinking my dad and Paul would probably get along great.   

Jerry: We rounded out the day with a lovely traditional Sunday roast made by Dawn's mother, and playing with their parrot. Paul finally forgave us our mutual background working in posh bars when we taught him our whiskey class trick of lighting citrus peels on fire




video
Fortunately, liking fire trancends class politics.

We left for Sheffield Monday morning, which we'll post about next week. Thanks Dawn and Paul Chapman for an excellent week's stay in Burscough!





Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lancashire, chicken, waffles, and whiskey.



Jerry here.

This episode begins with how we're American idiots and forgot how calendars are read in the rest of the civilised world. We made plans with a friend from Scrib, Dawn Chapman, to stay with her and her husband in Burscough, Lancashire, starting Sept 9th. We booked our airfare from Dublin to Manchester and a train from Manchester for 8/9/2014... which is actually 8 September.

Fortunately, our mistakes are at least consistent. We woke up on 8 Septmember, fully believing it was the 9th and caught our flight wiithout ever being corrected... then surprised the hell out of Dawn and her husband by arriving a day early.

Thankfully, they're good sports and hurried to get us anyway. They've set us up very comfortably for the week in a camper parked in front of their house, even going so far as to give us our own wifi hub so we can get caught up on writing stuff - both fiction and the dazzlingy unsexy transcription and copywriting work that's helping fund us while we travel.

Our writing den for the week, and the ridiculous hand-knit sweater you were all waiting to see.

Burscough is a lovely village, and the west Lancashire countryside is gorgeous. Dawn's husband Paul is a bus driver, and he gave us a very scenic lift through Southport to Liverpool for a day's exploring. We checked out the World Museum and the Walker Art Gallery and had a picnic lunch (with most of the rest of Liverpool) in St John's Garden's.

Burscough and the Lancashire countryside

Every Renaissance Faire performer who's ever been asked "you mean they wore all that?" and tried to argue that it's cooler in the UK plus the 16th century was mini ice age, etc - it's still drastically cooler, ice age or no. I've never before compared climates so drastically as to complete a hot, sticky closing weekend and get on a plane to Dublin the following morning, but in Dublin the temps ranged from 40-60 F night/day and here they range 45-65F. Without being prompted, both Alan in Dublin and Paul in Burscough commented on how unseasonably warm and sunny it was. It peaked at a whopping 68F at 1pm yesterday, during our picnic.

These ones are for you, mom.

The antiquities exhibit in the World Museum included commentary from Romans on Brittania: "There is not an ounce of silver or profit to be found except in slaves, and the climate is wretched, all mists and fog... still, the soil is good and most things will grow except grapes, olives, and those crops which require the sun."

In the Walker gallery, aside from all the more famous works, this in particular blew my mind... in that it's not a photograph, it's a pre-Raphelite painting.


It's been a relaxing week of wandering about, writing, and very pleasant dinners with Dawn and Paul, so in lieu of any hilarity or drama I'll leave you with the recipie for Jerry and Laura's Kick-Ass Chicken and Waffles that we're making for all of our hosts.  It's the same one we serve for Whiskey Tasting Like A Pro.

Are you hungry yet?

Chicken:

  • Chicken or tofu
  • Masa Cornmeal - we're carrying Maseca around.
  • Blackening spice (mix your own to taste)
  • Buttermilk or whole milk
  • Lemon
  • Eggs
  • Kettle-cooked chips (us) / hand-cut crisps (uk)
  • Frying oil


Can be done with boneless or bone-in, strips or large pieces, skin or no skin. All depends on the depth of the pan you have available, as the chicken must be completely immersed in oil. Also works beautifully with tofu.

Soak the chicken in milk with a squeeze of lemon for fifteen minutes. In a mid-size ziploc bag, combine 50% cornmeal with 50% blackening spice. We make our blackening spice differently each time with whatever is available, but usually it's 25% sugar (brown or raw ideal) 25% salt (seasoned or bacon salt is great) and 50% common bbq-esque spices - black pepper, paprika (smokey spanish paprika is excellent) or ancho chili, cayanne, garlic, onion, organo, rosemary, thyme, basil, etc.  Totally works with Jamican-style jerk spices or whatever inspires you. Toss the chicken in the cornmeal and spice mix to coat. This step can also be done in a bowl if you prefer, but the bag is much more effecient.

Beat 1-2 eggs in a bowl and crush crisps in a large bowl (crush them as fine as you can get them. The bigger the chunks of crisps, the easier they'll fall off in the fryer). Dip coated chicken in egg wash and roll in crushed crisps. Deep fry. (Fully immerse in hot oil.) If you have a deep fryer, fantastic, but totally works in any pot or pan so long as you can safely fill the oil high enough to cover the chicken. If frying in a pan, be sure to handle the chicken with heat resistant tongs such as intended for grilling, or cooking chopsticks - fluted tongs meant for salad get hot fast and are a sure way to burn yourself.

The reason this has no specified quantities is that it can be scaled any way you like. One whole chicken cut into parts, or one package of four-six boneless breast or thighs, or about 1.5 blocks of tofu will serve about 4-6 people and require about 2 eggs, about 1 cup of milk, about 1/2 cup of cornmeal and spice mix, and most of a American family-size bag of crisps (or about 2 bags of the largest size widely available in the UK) and take about a litre of oil to fry.

The only.

Pancakes or waffles:

  • Eggs
  • Masa Cornmeal - we're carrying Maseca around.
  • Wheat Flour - as in flour that comes from wheat. Can be whole grain wheat, brown, white, whatever you like. (optional)
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Milk
  • baking soda
  • Oil or spray oil


Beat egg(s) in bowl. Per one egg, approximately a half-cup to a cup of cornmeal makes batter for 2-4 people. Can be done with 100% cornmeal or up to 50% flour. Wheat flour will make the pancakes fluffier but dilute the awesome cornbread taste. Adjust according to preference and gluten tolerance. Add one tablespoon to 1/2 cup sugar depending on taste. We prefer 100% cornmeal with just a spoonful of sugar, but those used to American pancakes may prefer up to 50% flour and a half-cup sugar. A pinch of salt and add milk, stirring, until it makes a pleasantly batter-like consistancy. Add baking soda a teaspoon at a time until it is a bit bubbly in the bowl and rises the amount you want in the pan. (There is no way to explain what "good" batter looks like until you've tried it in person - put  dollop in the pan and see if you like how it turns out. More milk = thinner battrer, such as for crepes. More baking soda = more bubbles, more rise.) 

Can be used in a waffle iron if you have one or in a pan if you don't. If you're using a waffle iron, don't forget to generously spray each side with some kind of aerosol oil. The first pancake is the "trial" or "sacrificial" one - in which you determine if you've got the pan set at the right heat or if you're going to burn it, if you've got the batter thin enough for satisfactory spread or too thin, if you like the amount of rise or want to add more baking soda, if you like the sweetness level in the final product. Unlike with bread or cake (or god forbid, scones)  which will be ruined if mixed too much, you can keep adjusting quantities and trying another test dollop until you have the batter as you like it.

Asian, yet distinctly American - oh Huy Fong, how we love you.


Salsa brava / spicy tomato aoli:

  • Mayonnaise or salad cream
  • Hot sauce (we tend to use sriracha, sambal, or similar Asian ones, but will work with any hot sauce)
  • Ketchup or tomato paste
  • Maple syrup, honey or sugar (optional)


1:1:1 creamy base, hot sauce, and tomato component. Mix thoroughly. Adjust or sweeten as desired. Start with a VERY small amount, like 1 teaspoon of each ingredient for four-six people. A little goes a long way, and as you adjust by adding more of one thing or another you'll quickly find you've made enough for a year.

This might be the best thing produced in America.

Maple Syrup:

Don't fuck around. Get the really good, grade B, organic, small production stuff. Bourbon barrel aged is always a plus. Yes, it should cost like $20 USD for a 375 ml bottle.  We're currently dragging two bottles of BLiS around Europe.

Everywhere I travel, this is what I bring to represent myself and Chicago.

Whiskey:

Also don't fuck around. You want a high quality small production bourbon or other American whiskey. We're currently carrying bottles of Koval Oat and Millet. Other favourites include High West and Michter's.

Now stack it up and make it pretty: waffles and pancakes arranged artistically on bottom, chicken piled high on top, drizzle with kickass maple syrup, top chicken with dabs of aoli, and maybe even sprinkle green onions or chives if you're feeling really fancy. Serve with some goddamn whiskey and toast each other as follows: "'Murcia!"

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The squat houses and soup kitchens of Dublin

Jerry: In the last two months, Laura has been regaling me with tales of her adventures in the squat houses and soup kitchens of Dublin. The way she's phrased things, I was beginning to worry I'd find her huddled under a bridge with a bad case of scurvy.

Ireland, as described by Laura.

Laura: That was the impression I was trying to give. Anything to raise my street-cred.

Jerry: In general, workaway hosts are people with small businesses who need part-time help and have a spare room to offer in exchange. Laura's host was just looking for bit of help tidying his house and garden. Seemed reasonable enough, until she arrived.

Laura: It was something of a shock. I'm fairly easy going, but I arrived in a foreign country where I know absolutely no one at seven in the morning, delusionally exhausted, broke and hungry, and I find myself in this little crazy hoarder house in the middle of nowhere with shit piled to the ceiling, eight million cats, and a cross-eyed gentleman dressed as a cowboy (complete with toy pistols and plastic spurs) who has never paid his rent and believes everything is a freemason conspiracy. Though now that I see it all written out, it sounds like it should've been right up my alley.

Not actually Derek, but wouldn't surprise me.

Jerry: She told me that as she couldn't cook in this house, she'd been subsisting off a "sort of glorified soup kitchen" just up the street and an "actual soup kitchen" across town.

Laura: The glorified soup kitchen costs a little bit, but it clearly operates on some church or government funding. The actual soup kitchen is exactly that. I like the days they have fish. And on Wednesdays they give out free cans of beans.

Jerry: It's not a glorified soup kitchen. It's a full service restaurant for purpose of providing gainful employment to people with down's syndrome and similar. It's nonprofit and therefore inexpensive, but I guess Laura's street cred is that she was living pretty cheaply while supporting a charity.

The "actual" soup kitchen really is for providing free meals to the public, but here's where we as Americans have to remember that European countries have functional social services. Although Ireland is not as heavily socialist as say, Germany, government benfits are far more widespread and infitiely higher quality than in the US, and there's no stigma attached to accepting it. The "soup kitchen" provides a coursed meal akin to what you'd expect in an inexpensive restaurant (bread, soup, meat, veg, starch, dessert, tea) with diner-type table service - yes, we're talking someone bussing your table and someone else asking if you'd like cream for your tea, not a Dickens-esque line for gruel like in the States. The environment feels akin to family meal when working at a restaurant.

You could be making six figures front waiting under three-Michelin stars, 
and you still know this feeling: OH GOD THEY'RE GOING TO FEED US.

Jerry: It's the demographic you'd see in America in any diner during the breakfast hour - students, blue collar workers, the retired - people who might have tight enough funds to be looking for the $4.99 special, but not with whom you'd be afraid to make eye contact. The retired gentleman who struck up a conversation with us across the table guessed we were university students initially, and seemed totally unsurprised to hear we were both aspriing writers on a year-long international trip.

Laura: It's a good spot. It's also got a free clinic and showers if you need them. Dublin does really seem to have great support services compared to the states. Though I think a lot of it is actually from the church, which as one can imagine has a great deal of influence here. And I can't stress enough: I love that they give me free beans. The guy that struck up a conversation was a 76 year old writer named Joe. Though honestly I don't think I understood as much of what he was saying as Jerry. He seemed a little deaf, so he spoke softly in a fairly thick accent.

Jerry: It's the Renn Faire thing. I've had practice decoding English, Irish, and Scottish accents of varying degrees of legitimacy for years.

The best part about googling "heilan coo" in search of this comic:
how many actual photos of cows are tagged with this exact spelling.

Jerry: I was equally excited about free beans, because the Jerry and Laura breakfast special is "hash browns" made with beans and kale and bacon, topped with parmasean and sunny side up eggs. Like the rest of Europe, all of Ireland closes on Sundays and I knew we'd have to fend for ourselves. Except Laura was under the impression that one couldn't cook in the kitchen at Derek's (our workaway host's) house. She had spent previous Sundays eating said beans cold out of the can.

Laura: Fine like this.

My girlfriend, ladies and gentlemen.

Jerry: The whole house is amazingly eco-friendly. You know how you're supposed to unplug "power vampires" to save energy? Yeah, here it's painfully obvious. Like a breaker that controls the whole electric range. And is right next to it, at easy-arm-height. And BRIGHT RED.

Laura: I didn't find said bright red button until the week before Jerry got here. For that first month I thought the stove was broken, and I ate cold beans. What can I say? I'm not always too sharp.

Jerry: So now we get to the house. Laura uncovered a few more things about Derek between her initial report of him as "batshit crazy" and my arrival. First of all, I was never concerned for her saftey; it's unanimously felt that Derek is absolutely the nicest, most considerate crazy person any of us have ever heard of.

Laura: Absolutely. Really sweet guy. Totally harmless. I wouldn't even say he's "crazy" per se. Though it certainly seemed like it when I first arrived, that was probably in large effect because of the readjustment period.

Jerry: He's a standard messy bachelor who had just broken up with his long term girlfriend and stopped bothering for a while. There's a large faded to-do list about tidying the house that looks remarkably like the sort of thing a girlfriend would threaten she "wasn't coming over to his damn house again until..." Notably, though, nothing was disgusting or rotting. Cluttered with camera equipment and art supplies, but he'd been keeping up with things like dishes. Once we got the kitchen straightened, we were very well able to eat in. No beans left in the pantry thanks to Rorschach, but there were potatos and ramen. And fresh veggies, eggs, garlic, ginger, and limes. We've successfully managed to avoid scurvy for another week.

Sure, he doesn't own a real table, but really, how many single guys do?
Also: Not a stock photo. Actually Derek's kitchen. Actually our dinner. Actually my knee.

Jerry: Funny enough, even though Derek has multiple cats -

Laura: KITTENS

Jerry: The house actually doesn't smell at all -

Laura: KITTENS

Jerry: One of the cats has a litter under -

Laura:


KITTENS

Jerry: Anyway, it's far more practically clean than the house that was for rent on airbnb the first night. Especially now that we've picked up the clutter and sorted his costumes back on to hangers. Turns out, btw, he was wearing the cowboy getup to a themed art gallery opening. He doesn't actually think he's a cowboy. Yes, he has a lot of costumes, but I work at goddamn renaissance faires for a living. I have completely serious conversations about codpieces. I am no one to judge.

Laura: I, on the other hand-- being the ideal straight-laced, productive member of society-- retain my right to judge both of you. Weirdos.

Jerry: After you left I commissioned one of my troupe members to make me a three-foot tall red crochet hat makes me look like a lawn gnome. So we can have tea parties with faeries.

Just another day at the office.

Laura: On any account, we leave Ireland tomorrow. This weekend I tried to cram as much of Dublin as I could for Jerry to see. It wasn't too tough. Dublin's pretty small. I enjoyed it, but I'm ready to move on. The city was beginning to feel a little cramped.

Jerry: I'm constantly shocked by how we can cross it on foot in so little time. In the last four days, we managed to see a lot even after notably cleaning Derek's house. We walked through all the lovely parks, checked out museums and went to a reading at Sweny's, where Laura has been hanging out.

Picnic in St Stephen's green, complete with our controversial Scotch.


Laura: Glad we got to stop by Sweny's. I've been going there twice a week. It's this little museum/store where they read Joyce aloud everyday. The place was a pharmacy from Joyce's time up until 2011 (it actually features in the Lotus Eaters episode of Ulysses. It's where Bloom buys the lemon soap). They've maintained the pharmacy decor, so everything looks exactly like it did a hundred years ago. We stopped in today to say goodbye to PJ, who runs the place. Really charming guy, very intelligent and friendly. You can tell he does it just because he loves meeting people. It was a great place to meet people with similar interests (namely: Joyce). If there's one thing I'll miss about Dublin it'll probably be Sweny's.


Not sure if bookstore, museum, or literary club. Either way: Awesome.

Jerry: We also hit up two museums that were practically made for us. The National Archaeology Museum was my jam - bog bodies, Viking and medieval Ireland. If I had been here all summer I would have been there a dozen times, poring over every item slowly.

Laura: And today we went to the Chester Beatty library, which was exactly my jam. It was a collection of books from around the world. Beautiful artwork and bookbinding. From China, Japan, and the Middle East.

Jerry: We also met up with Alan, the first in a string of Ubergroupers we have plans with. The man is a heavyweight with alcahol - we started at 3pm, and at 10pm he was trying to convince us to go to the next stop with him.

Laura: Suffice to say, we did not join him. We called it an early night, which we are about to do right now as well, as we are flying to England in the morning. In our next installment, we will discuss Manchester, whisky, and the obnoxious inefficiency of Ryanair's website.

Jerry: Ryanair may have to be it's own entry. Talk to you all soon!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

An Airbnb fiasco

Jerry here.

Laura will have to write some back posts from her time in Ireland before I arrived, but my participation began today. She'd been staying at a workaway house she described as a squat house belonging to a hoarder with a million cats, so for the first night after my arrival, we booked a room through airbnb where we hoped we could get a nicer, more private and hotel-like experience.

Holy crap, were we wrong.

This is the listing. Seems promising enough, no? First warning sign: although it had been cleaned like a show property for those photos, it hadn't been cleaned again for months following. Sundry junk, laundry, papers, mail, cups, renovation supplies, etc, piled everywhere, and an absolute REEK of cat. The listing says she has three cats, but in practice the property is crawling with them (she informed us that while she has three microchipped cats she considers hers, she feeds all the neighborhood strays, so they congregate.) It stank of unchanged litter and unfixed tom spray. I say this as a known cat person who has fostered up to five at once before. It's possible, but involves obsessive cleaning and litterbox changing, which she wasn't up for. I've also never been under the asinine impression that I could let rooms for money in an apartment where I was fostering a cat colony.

Whatever. We don't have allergies and I had just been awake for 24 hours and on a plane for 12. It was for one night. I was happy to take a bath and go to bed.

The owner came home abruptly in the middle of the day and knocked on our bedroom door as we were getting ready for a bath. Second misnomer about that listing: "peaceful." She's very friendly, in a neurotic, probably has anxiety issues way, but I don't know why it would occur to her that a couple who hasn't seen each other in seven weeks and one of whom has been awake and travelling for over a day would want to chat endlessly. Nonetheless, we decided to humour her while the water was heating for the bath and got redressed and went and sat on the patio to be publicly social.

There, Laura presented me with a scotch tasting set she'd picked up at a great price at a flea market:

Omg yes.

As we were admiring it and reading the tasting notes, our host had a panic attack.

Apparently, she has a traumatising history with violent alcaholics and the sight of it triggered her. She shouted at us for breaking the house rules. For the record, her listing says "If you're just in Dublin to party, this is probably not the place for you." We had taken that to mean "no college kids on a bender puking everywhere and breaking things." We operate a bnb as our main source of full time income, listed on the same site, and that's what we mean by a very similar statement in our listing.  We were not aware that meant "no posession of sealed gift sets of expensive scotch by completely sober high-end service industry professionals who's living situation and interactions with alcahol are widely documented and reviewed all over the goddamn internet."

We apologised for the misunderstanding and turned the whole set over to her for peace of mind that we would not drink a drop on her premises. We assured her that we just wanted to take a bath and go to bed, and did just that. An hour later (about three in the afternoon) she wakes us up and demands we get out, as raging alcaholics only ever got worse in her experience.

... right.

She started babbling at me about refunds and acceptable alternatives. I informed her that as I hadn't slept in 24 hours, my only requirments were anyplace with a double bed and a taxi there. I then told her I was laying back down until she had it figured out.

And after several more incidences of her knocking on the door and yelling, Laura and I just got fully dressed and repacked all our bags, moved them downstairs, and sat at her kitchen table to wait, attempting to have a pleasant conversation and do nothing to alarm her. Several times she put us on the phone with a very flustered airbnb agent, who I did my best to calm down by assuring her in my nicest phone voice that we would be absolutely thrilled to be transferred anywhere with a bed at all and was completely unfussy as to parameters other than being able to be asleep again as soon as possible.


This is sort of what her house looked like, only more shitty, because this is a stock photo. 
No one voluntarily puts pictures of houses that delapidated on the internet.

She came into the kitchen at this point and demanded that we leave her house this instant, saying that airbnb would call us later. As politely and low-voiced as I could manage despite now having been up something like 27 hours, I told her that was not possible. As she very well knew, neither of our American phones worked in Ireland. We had paid for a room with early check in because we wanted to be able to put our luggage down and go to sleep immediately. It was not worth the refund to be left stranded on the street with all our luggage, no phones, and no hotel. I told her if she was impatient with airbnb's handling of it, she was also welcome to keep the money and book us another room anywhere out of her own pocket - which is how we've handled it when we accidently overbooked ourselves. She refused. We told her in that case we'd be happy to leave as soon as possible by the method she had chosen. Because, you know, I wanted to be awake and being polite to a screaming nutcase for as long as possible; it's my idea of a good time.

She said "she had been told" that she had the right to remove anyone who made her feel unsafe immediately. I told her we were also airbnb hosts with over 50 5-star reviews (hundreds if you count all the sites we're listed on) and had actually read the host contract. If she wanted to cancel our reservation in the middle of it by yanking us out of bed, she was required to get us rebooked. ("Emergency removal," which she was referring to, says a host will not be penalised if a situation is so extreme that she has to have it broken up by police, such as if we were physically assaulting her. Not remotely applicable here.) I told her if she broke the contract I'd happily put her out of business.

That seemed to work.

She contented herself by calling a second airbnb agent on her cell phone and screaming at them until the first one called her landline back. The poor terrified agent was having trouble finding another comparable listing, because at 4pm on the day of, things were being booked out from under her as she tried. I did my best to soothe her until she managed to find us something and gave us the confirmation number. The agent told us to catch a taxi and fwd her the reciept and said she'd call us at the other hotel in 20 minutes to be sure everything was okay.

On the way out, I stopped to apolgoise in my best restaurant-manager voice a final time for alarming the host, thanked her for her patience (lol) with the airbnb process, and offered her the laurel branch of not reporting anything about the situation to airbnb. Laura told me as we were searching for a cab that she thought we should still put the crazy lady out of business.

This is a lot closer to what her couch actually looks like in practice.

I disagreed for several reasons. The woman was clearly someone to be pitied, not hated. She's got overt symptoms of anxiety and has clearly had a traumatising past with an alcaholic ex husband. Of course, her handling of it later was infuriatingly unprofessional, but she's not a professional. She charges half what we do. It's fine. I think the most important thing was that airbnb modify her listing to clarify her violent fear of the sight of any alcahol at all, sealed or otherwise, to avoid similar misunderstanding in the future. Her life was unhappy enough and I didn't want to make it any unhappier.

That's the thing about all these years in high end restaurants. After the situation is resolved, you have to let it slide off your back and become no more than a funny story, or you'll go crazy. Too many people in the world are having bad days or bad years and want to take it out in the form of a nasty customer service experience to either hang onto it or add to the total of long-term unhappiness in the world.

Our cabbie was very pleasant and enthusiastic to tell us about what to see in Dublin, and as the ride progressed we noticed we were going from the middle of bufu nowhere suburbs towards the central district, all tall buildings and bourgeois shopping. He finally stopped in Temple Bar, on the quay, in front of this utterly different door:



The fellow at the desk remembered my name without checking his book and removed our bags from the taxi before we finished paying. He had a key for us the moment we came in and told us that although we'd been booked a standard he'd given us a deluxe and that although we hadn't purchased breakfast he'd gone ahead and added it. The concierge was evidently parking a car, so with profuse apologies for the delay he offered to have our bags brought up after us momentarily. We assured him that as it was just a small carry on we'd be quite fine and he insisted on carrying it to the elevator for us at least.

As those who know me know, I am a service standards WHORE. And this man knocked it out of the park.

Oh and this was the room.


Trade up much? 

And it was still only five in the afternoon. By that time we were well awake, so we had dinner, took a walk around temple bar, and then sat in a second hot bath in a much better tub tasting all the scotches before finally going to bed in a WAY more awesome bed.

Finished the next morning with a long email thoroughly thanking the airbnb agent for her hard work and the amazing upgrade, and recieving a very relieved response about how she was totally confused how top rated hosts were supposedly being crazy drunkards and how she was so glad the situation had been resolved. Praised her to airbnb.

That reminds me, I have to write an email to the Clarence praising their front desk guy. 10-years-of-drinking-the-kool-aid somm here can have has day completely changed by just a little bit of good attitude and good service.

Determined-to-be-a-bad-day: 0. Jerry and Laura: 1.