TERRY PRONE: Here’s to Christmas-new year holiday fortnight — and dancing taxi drivers

NEVER mind economic sovereignty. That’s so last year. How about Ireland getting calendar sovereignty?

Be honest, now, this year’s arrangement whereby Christmas Day landed on a Wednesday and New Year’s Day is fast coming up the day after tomorrow was the best arrangement ever. In effect, it gave us a holiday fortnight, because there wasn’t much point in turning up for work the Monday before Christmas Eve, since nobody else was going to be in their office on that day. Nor, given half a chance, was anybody going to rush back to slavery on Thursday or Friday. Nobody like us for spotting an opportunity to mitch with tacit permission.

Of course, if we were Americans, we’d all have been back at our desks on St Stephen’s Day and on New Year’s Day. The Americans are diligent, that way. Plus, they haven’t cottoned on to the Irish interpretation of public holidays. They take a Spanx approach: They squeeze whatever they have to into the official day off. That’s it and that’s all.

In Ireland, we see public holidays as needing to be stretched a bit. Well, OK, we stretch them as far as they will go on both sides, and if the stretch pushes us into a weekend, all the better. In this instance, two separate weekends encountered the Yuletide stretch and as a result, it was like being handed a fortnight’s unearned holiday (unless of course you happened to be one of the unfortunate households that lost power, landing you with a situation where you couldn’t cook the foods that were relentlessly thawing in your comatose freezer).

The bookaholics among us got through even monster volumes containing almost a thousand pages, like the new one about Roosevelt, Taft and the golden era of investigative journalism.

The power-cuts and fallen trees apart, the way it happened this year is the way it should always be. Christmas and New Year’s should never be allowed to fall on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s time we started to manage this seasonality thing for our own good, ensuring we always get the fortnight we got this year.

I’d go further. I’d want a date later in the year set aside — a bit like the Queen’s official birthday — so that unfortunates born on or too close to Christmas get full value. It’s long overdue that we prevented friends and relatives from getting away with a one-size-fits-both-occasions gift, and an official birthday, later in the year, would do just that.

At the end of any year and at the beginning of the challenging new year, we need the extra time that putting Christmas Day and New Year’s Day midweek would guarantee. Of course some of us would misuse that extra time by watching Aengus Mac Grianna grooming and going “What?” or, even worse, go on sites where cute cats fall down the back of couches.

My puritan conscience gives out when I do lazy stuff like that, but as I get older, I find myself squaring up to it a bit more and asking questions like who dies if I watch cute cats? Cute cats are the web equivalent of iced caramels or Tallaght. You wouldn’t want to live there, but visiting is fine.

The video that for me sums up the best of 2013, though, doesn’t feature even a single cat. Its stars are Andrea Pappin (tell you later about her) together with a taxi driver named Wayne Karney, and even that thin combination of data will locate it for you if you want to have a look.

I’m guessing at the back story, here, but what seems to have happened is that the external speakers belonging to a Dublin pub, on an evening in the first week of July, in the middle of an exceptionally warm dry summer, were broadcasting Daft Punk’s song Get Lucky to people drinking pale ale or coffee outside, as the sun slowly set.

LOCATION? Off Dame St, close to Dublin Castle, in front of the Mercantile Hotel. A taxi meandered up and was brought to a halt by what looked like a one-person street party. The driver watched a young woman bopping to the music in the middle of the street and, so infectious was the music, began, seated in his vehicle with the windows rolled down, to bop along.

The young woman spotted this, ran over to him and dragged him out of the taxi to dance with her (as an addicted repeat watcher, I always worry, at this point in the vignette, that he has left the engine on and that some smartarse opportunist will nick his car, but it never happens). The two of them then danced in the slanted evening sun, as passers-by stopped passing by.

Instead, they halted. To watch. To nod. To smile. To vicariously participate in a spontaneous celebration of the song, of the moment and of the atmosphere.

It was dancing at the crossroads, updated, and several bright sparks caught it all on their mobile phones.

Two individuals who were complete strangers to each other totally enjoyed themselves — lived in the moment, if you’ll pardon the Oprah-ism — for just under three minutes. They amused those who were there on the day, and virally entertained thousands more.

Eventually the taxi driver, who is some mover, decided he needed to get back to the day job and, still dancing, returned to his car, accompanied by his dancing partner, who tried a jive move with him before he mimed a joke about the boot of his car.

She reacted with pretended outrage and danced away from him while he sat back in the driver’s seat. Just as he was about to depart, the girl he’d been dancing with ran back over to the vehicle — still clutching a glass out of which not a drop seemed to have been spilled — and gave him a parting kiss. The crowd applauded and the red taxi reversed away from the scene. End of story. Beginning of shared memory.

It’s not an important or significant memory. It makes no major statement about life or society. It just shows Ireland’s indestructible gift for spontaneity, our capacity to make fun out of very little and how pretty is our capital on a sunny summer evening.

It may have happened in the middle of a grievous recession, but nothing captured by the cameras shows that. What’s captured is uncomplicated, infectious happiness.

Andrea Pappin is in PR, has headed up the communication of the Irish EU Presidency, and has worked with the Labour Party. She may or may not be pleased to learn that for many people, she’ll always be the dancer in the navy dress, play-acting with a taxi driver.

She should be, though, because the two minutes of footage in which she stars evoke much that was good about Ireland in 2013.


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