Thursday, February 16, 2006

Ireland of the Welcomes isn't dead and gone just yet, but it is different

I was walking through the Square shopping centre yesterday evening and a woman and a man were engaged in that last-minute conversation in a public place that people get into just as they are parting. You know the one: the last-minute instructions.

"Now," she said, loudly. "Text that number first. If there's no reply call it. Understand?"

"Yes," he shouted back.

I wondered what that was all about.

There was horrible weather over the space of about the next twenty minutes, not long after I'd got as far as the bus shelter, which was lucky, because this horrible weather consisted of squals of rain and wind that came down in wet sheets.

I was able to park myself into a corner of the shelter by its end, which provided a good wind-break. Several would-be fellow passengers took advantage of the not-inconsiderable shelter provided by me, and squeezed in behind. There was a dead chill coming in ahead of the waterworks, so nobody was particularly bothered about personal space, just enthusiastic about the idea of keeping relatively warm and dry.

I listened to a French man in his thirties discussing the location of Templeogue Bridge with a stranger, who happened to be from New Zealand, or had travelled there, I couldn't really tell which. The New Zealander (if that's what he was) was explaining that the bus would take him there and the French man was wracking his brain for as much English language as it could produce to understand and to check that the New Zealander understood his questions. Between them they managed to convince themselves that the bus driver would be able to confirm the location as soon as the French traveller asked about it. The plan being settled upon, the pair decided to strike up a simple-English conversation about everything other than Templeogue Bridge.

"Zee weather... It is better in New Zealand, no?"

"A bit."

When the bus pulled in at the stop, we all shuffled in misery into a queue in the rain while the French visitor delayed us by asking the driver about Templeogue Bridge. He turned and sought the eye of his erstwhile companion, then put that peculiar face on him that I thought only clichéd French caricatures did -- the bottom lip stuck out and the two sides of the mouth turned down while the eyebrows went up in the air. Obviously this was to indicate the New Zealander's information had been correct and that Dublin bus drivers did indeed know where they were supposed to drive their buses!

This evening, two other characters were standing at the same bus-stop when I got there. One was a stocky Pole wearing the batter-spattered outfit of an obvious plasterer. The other was a thin twenty-something Irish fella in a white knitted hat. The 49 bus-stop United Nations General Assembly was today discussing the pay scales of tradesmen versus unskilled labourers. As the duo had even less of a common language between them, they were engaged in what I thought was an ingenious method of communication: they were using the advertisement board on the end of the bus-shelter as an imaginary blackboard and were drawing invisible figures in the air with their fingertips.

"Me," said the Irishman. "No skill." He sketched a figure, complete with commas and decimal points in the air while the Polish man nodded in understanding.

"Now, you remember that room...?" He nodded encouragingly, but the Polish man frowned. The Irishman went on:

"The room...? You remember?" He mimed a large rectangle shape. "You plastered the wall? And the ceiling? It was this size..." He sketched a figure of square meteres on the bus-shelter in unseen digits. The Polish man nodded.

"That's worth €550. Per day."

The conversation continued as each compared prices of things, the cost of work and how much tax rates were (if you were to pay them and not receive money directly into the hand). Then a bus pulled in at the set-down stop. The Irishman held up a finger in the universal signal for "Hang on one minute." He bobbed off down the footpath and spoke briefly to the bus driver.

A hand emerged and waved again at the Polish plaster to indicate that the bus did go to where the Polish man must have earlier indicated he wanted to be. Although it was technically the wrong stop, the bus man let the visitor on and pulled away from the kerb. The Irishman returned to his own bus-stop.

Later, I saw him handing a dropped shopping bag to a woman on the bus as they were struggling to get off at a stop near Firhouse.

We're still friendly. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

But really.

Has anyone ever heard of a map?

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