Archive for May, 2009

Streets

May 20, 2009

Thursdays, 5:30. This is where weekends begin for me. I’m lucky. The sun is out. My coat is bunched into my bag. I stroll home avoiding the shadows. I cross Dame Street, go through Temple Bar, up Capel Street, turn left before the sex shops, around The Capel Building, and then along the Luas tracks behind The Four Courts to Church Street, and on towards Stoneybatter; choosing the side-streets or main streets, depending on the colour of the traffic lights as I get to them.

The city is in a great mood. Dublin rarely looks as beautiful as when viewed from Capel Street Bridge on a sunny evening in May. As a nationality we tend to panic in good weather. Our awareness of its fleetingness triggers some hereditary response; solar warmth is as rare to us as solar eclipses are to most of the rest of the world. We know that it will not last. Driven by something beyond logic, we know we must make the most of this momentary reprieve. So, all previous arrangements are scrapped or adjusted, and we launch ourselves into the light, and put aside all our better judgment, to revel in the rays of summer.

I am not a great lover of the sun, but nonetheless, I enjoy the walk home, filling melodies with random rhymes. I turn right before the Smithfield Luas stop, left before the Whiskey Factory bar, and go up through the square and on to North King Street. I pass Delaney’s, which I have never entered, and wonder if anyone’s inside cowering in the dark, loathing the light, nursing pints of plain.

My housemate and I disagree on Delaney’s. We both pass it most mornings on our respective ways to work, and see the stragglers of the night before huddling in the doorway, flicking lighters with numb and uncoordinated fingers, battling against the wind, as they cling in vain to the hope that it might still be yesterday. We see them emerging into the morning light looking dazzled, having forgotten the impermanence of night-time. Whereas he admits to being tempted on hungover Mondays to write off the whole day, and pop in for breakfast beer and liquid lunch; for me, Delaney’s is one of the things which; as I step towards work reluctantly, head down, hands in pockets; makes me appreciative that I have a shit job to go to. Delaney’s at half eight on a Monday morning reminds me to be grateful.

I turn past the recently completed, but discouragingly unoccupied, office buildings, towards Brunswick Street, where the Italian Restaurant’s neon sign accosts everyone who turns that corner – no matter how many times you have seen it, it always takes you by surprise – though on this evening, it is not yet lit-up. Inside it is homely and calming, with simple but appetizing courses, but the huge, glowing letters flashing red, blue, pink outside, are more evocative of a Shibuya massage parlour or hostess bar than an Italian eatery.

Nearing home I cross the road to stay in the sunshine, still humming my little ditty, half in my head, half out loud depending on my proximity to other people. I’m too self-conscious to walk the streets on my own singing openly. I guess I worry what other people, complete strangers though they may be, think about me. Perhaps I shouldn’t. But, I do, and I don’t foresee myself changing in this regard at any time soon. At the moment someone passes me, I have lowered my singing to almost complete silence – although the song itself never stops – and the further away I get the louder I sing, When off on my own in fields, beaches or mountains, unsurrounded by friend or foe, I can really let it all out, and sing as loud as my poor blackened lungs will allow. Up ahead, between Centra and The Elbowroom centre, where the health-conscious better themselves with yoga, pilates, martial arts and other wholesome lifestyle choices, I see a man and a woman coming towards me, cans in hand. I begin to sing a little more quietly. Then, I see the woman pass her cider to the guy, look around guiltily, and move as if to sit down on the ground. And it is then that I see the trickle.

Perhaps deciding it too far, she has shunned the nooks and gateways round the corner on Grangegorman Road, and has opted for the comfort of the open footpath as her best bet for bladder relief. Next to her, her drinking partner does his best to preserve her dignity by standing in front of her, but; not wanting to have wee on his runners, is standing about half a metre to her right; rendering his efforts completely futile. His attempt at keeping sketch is equally ineffective. He glances left and right, like a meercat in peril, stooping his neck out of pointless instinct, but though he does this unaffectedly – he has evidently kept sketch before – he is not quite as good at it as he ought be. Again, he casts his eyes up and down the street to see if any people are coming, and this is where he really falls down in his task: there clearly are. There are people coming in both directions, carrying shopping bags and briefcases, headphones in ears, days behind them, traipsing homeward. He is on alert, but for what? He is like a kid, who when asked to keep an eye on the cake in the oven, does so, in childlike literality, by standing there by the cooker, and watching the cake rise, harden, brown, blacken, crack, dry up, and eventually catch fire, and when his mother returns to find the kitchen ablaze and starts to chastise him with “I told you to keep an eye on the cake!” will reply in genuine innocence, “I did. I watched the whole thing.”

This seems to be turning into a Thursday tradition. Last week, again as I wandered home, I had come across a similar spectacle. I had turned off North King Street to nip through Red Cow Lane to Brunswick Street, when I spotted some booze-hounds hanging out outside the apartments there. I continue undaunted, but then I saw one of them scurry across to the opposite side of the street; I glimpsed a flash of fleshy arse, knees crouching between cars, I couldn’t take it, I turned back to take the long-cut home. With my poor vision, I hadn’t caught whether it was a man or a woman squatting there, decorating the cobbles. If it had been a woman, it wouldn’t have been so bad somehow, but had it been a guy, well… let’s just hope it wasn’t. I had toyed briefly with the idea of returning later to see which it had been, but I quickly decide against it. This was knowledge I could live without.

A few weeks before that, late at night, on the opposite side of the street from where this lady now leaks, my friend and I had found a woman surrounded by bags passed out face-down on the street outside the entrance to the apartments there. Eventually, after a little coaxing, we managed to wake her; she was bleeding from her forehead, and was incoherent. She tried to assure us she was fine, and that we should just leave her there, but we were unconvinced. We were soon joined in our concern by a girl entering the building, which we were glad about, as anyone who had happened upon the scene and seen two adult males standing over a bleeding corpse-like woman, may not have interpreted it as we would have wished them to. We got her sitting up, and she became slightly more communicative. The Gardai arrived not long after, and while my friend was explaining how we had come across her to them, she threw up a vile lumpen pink on her lovely black suede boots. I recoiled at the stench, and nearly retched myself. The Gardai took over and we didn’t hang around.

And yet I love these streets. Through Duck Lane with its whiskey drums and Americans; an alley evocative of a quaint mountainside hamlet, and at the same time some kind of mugger’s paradise. Past the chimney viewing tower and out into Smithfield square; stinking of horseshit every first Sunday, and blaring ice-techno every December. Up Manor Street, past the Charity Shop; the only shop in the city which lets customers price things themselves. Next to that is Dean’s Bargain Basement, specialist in spatulas, Godzilla videos, and illuminated portraits of The Virgin Mary. Further up on the same side is Drink with its affable chat – I’m often tempted to crack open one of the cans I have just bought there, and treat the counter as a bar, and natter on about RTE 2 sports panellists, new album releases, and whatever shit-shat comes to mind.

So now, as I draw near to this pair of Brunswick Street libertines making the most of the broad daylight, I am caught by the smell of wee. I see the stream creeping its way down the path. I pass them, stepping over the rivulets of urine flowing down from her, running over the kerb in tiny waterfalls collecting in a yellow puddle by the roadside. I turn to look back, out of some weird morbid compulsion, and see her stand upright, and reach for the band of her tracksuit bottoms to pull them back up, but it was only then; when she brought her hands down towards her knees to grip the elastic that she realised, or remembered, that she had never pulled them down to begin with.

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