Monday, February 20, 2006

Palm Sunday

First published on the Internet, 8th April, 2001

I always liked the Kris Kristofferson song, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down". Every weekday and second Sunday, I'm on duty looking after my mother, who has Alzheimer's. This piece describes what the walk is like on Sunday from where I've been, to where I'm going.

I closed the door and locking it behind me, stepped down onto the concrete path and turned away. Silent cars and vans were parked along the road like boats pulled up on little sleepy islands above the tide, resting, nose to nose. Their owners dozed in dim rooms while a man walked by with two dogs in the field. They were busy examining the hedgerow, and he strolled slowly, looking back to make sure they didn't wander. He wore a hat. One dog, a golden Labrador, wagged its tail in that broad, slow, lazy way they do when they're being a little more adventurous than they're sure is good for them. The other, one of the longer haired, golden Labs, lolloped about in the broad, swimming expanse of new grass happily. Its snout was wet with cold dew and it sneezed and blinked.

The grey paths wore patches and they flowed off westwards by screens of green shrubs. On the corner, the cherry trees had roots as round as a man's head, corkscrewing under the topsoil, ploughing through, heaving up a hydrant cover outside number sixteen. Red leaves were budding and I could see long, slender shoots emerging around callused wounds of last season's pruning. The daffodils in the gardens were just losing the best of their flowers but the lawns were growing, succulent and green.

The tall trees along the convent boundary were full of refurbished nests. Ravens had a rookery there for as long as anyone can remember, and a couple of their cousins, later-building jackdaws, were picking up sticks on the road. They'd find some disused chimney pot somewhere and drop them in patiently until one managed to get crossways, then another and another until a platform was created and they could furnish their nest. It was long past sunrise, and the raven colony was dispersed about its business in the fields and along the roadways. In twos and threes now they walked along the ground, eyeing, hopefully, discarded takeaway brown paper bags, lifting up pieces of litter quickly to see if food lay beneath.

Spring was seeping up out of the soil on this Sunday morning. Palm Sunday. I could smell it in the fresh, rich air and feel it in the warmth of the sun on my back. It would take me about twenty-five minutes to walk home, and I was thinking, as I stepped alongside the traveller encampment on the Firhouse Road, how nice it must be on mornings like this to wake up and throw open the trailer door, to hear the blackbirds in song in the gardens of the Carmelite convent on the other side of the tarmac. I wasn't paying much attention -- just looking at the wide-open doors of the trailer and the cars -- until I realised that a window of the trailer was smashed in, and the cars were also. One had been set alight. Its blackened shell sat silently in the trampled grass of the green belt that four caravans had parked on the week before. One trailer tyre was in tatters, whether deliberately slashed, or run on, flat, until it was simply worn away I couldn't tell. An empty yellow gas cylinder stood outside. Of the other three trailers, the red-haired children, the women who called to the convent door with empty water pails in the evening, there was no sign. Moved on; one way or another... Directly opposite were parked the cars of the faithful, attending 9:00 Mass in the little convent chapel, with the priest telling them of Jesus' triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, the people waving and laying palms on the street before him in welcome. I turned sideways to squeeze by, feeling the rough stone of the ten-foot convent wall brush against my shoulders. A trickle of dry rendering flaked off and fell on the ground among the new season's growth of weeds.

A man stood impatiently at the lower bus stop. He had a foreign, Eastern European look and he stamped his feet, looking up and down the road. Behind him, a young man and a young woman were settling themselves to wait, seated on the low wall. She jumped up and went for cigarettes in the newsagent's shop. Morton's pub was closed. A learner driver stalled his car at the new Ballycullen-Firhouse Road junction, then over-revved to negotiate the bridge across the motorway. I turned left at the corner. A petite, middle-aged woman dressed in Sunday best hurried past going in the opposite direction, her face kept steadily down, her arms folded over her heavy gold-coloured neck chain. She was dressed in black slacks and a matching jumper. Her hair had been recently styled. I looked for the ginger cat that played sometimes in the pub's car park, tail twitching, keeping flat to the ground as wagtails hopped deliciously close across the white painted lines of the parking spaces. He wasn't there today. He was probably still at home in one of the two-storey houses of Mount Carmel Park I was passing.

A sign at the footbridge over the river Dodder read 'Diverted Traffic', and an arrow pointed onto it. Brown river water fell down the weir into channels between gravel shoals restored by workmen a few years before. They had dragged rocks into the foot of the weir using a mechanical digger. A heron stood hunched on one of them in the early morning and late evening. The river ran artificially straight under the motorway downstream.

I walked through broken glass bottles into the first underpass. The graffiti had been painted out with light-grey paint. Some of it still showed through. Somebody had gone to great pains to smash the lighting. The metal grilles fitted to protect the strip lights were bent inwards. I wondered if a length of six-by-four I'd passed on the red cycle track had been used as a ram. Cars circled above me, around the central green space of the interchange. The caged-in pedestrian bridge spanning the M50 below it was deserted. Above were nests of street lamps hanging from immensely-tall metal poles that grew more slender near the top. In fog, when the poles disappeared, the lights hung disembodied, UFO-like. There were skid marks on the cycle track. I looked left before I crossed it. In the second underpass, a new crop of graffiti was already growing. 'Doyler,' a girl who owned a red marker, loved someone or other. Someone else was gay, she said. A cast-iron bollard lay broken at the foot of the hill, rolled down from the head of the footpath. There were signs that a stolen car had been set alight at the end of Tymon Lane. A dozen or so metal cable clips from its interior were scattered on the ground like crumbs left over from when the Council's grab truck had come to haul the wreck away. A few blobs of lead from the melting battery were visible on the road.

'All visitors must report to the site office,' a sign read at Glenview House, the flats where the Health Board housed asylum seekers while their claims were processed. A compound of tall railings and barbed wire surrounded some leftover building materials. Outside, was a company car with one yellow wheel hub -- the kind used as a temporary spare. The owner had been driving on it a long time. There were marks on the windscreen from worn wipers or from something thrown on the glass. The road surface was grey with dust from the constant works on the motorway, pipe-laying, ducting.

A heavy chain was wrapped three times around the gates of the second-hand car sales yard. It was padlocked. I thought about the saying I used to hear when I was small: 'A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.' All that chain ... A slim, black man walked along the old Tallaght Road carrying groceries. He kept his head down, looking at no one. He wore a cream-coloured fleece and baggy black trousers. Three white teens in expensive tracksuits and American style baseball hats sneered at me as I passed them. One was carrying a badminton racket in a purple, zip-up cover. He juggled it. I suppose they were going to the Spawell to play on one of its indoor courts. They'd walk over the deserted, caged-in pedestrian bridge I'd just passed by, then take the long, long, footpath to Wellington Lane, by the dual carriageway. They might go to town after on the 65 bus, to spend their money. Big soft mammy's boys, trying to tough it; back in school tomorrow, looking sidelong at girls.

I didn't think the gates of Tymon Park would be open this early in the morning and as the next exit is a mile out of my way, I decided to walk through the housing estates instead of taking the usual shortcut across country. The private houses I passed were tightly packed with narrow gardens and bay windows. Young couples had begun replacing their wooden window frames with aluminium or PVC. I didn't think they suited, somehow. Some had new, modern railings to fence in their small plots of land. There were more parked cars and builder's vans, resting half on the kerbs, or pulled in neatly in the driveways. On Monday morning, they'd leave, one after another, to join the queues of traffic heading north to the city, or west to offices and workshops in suburban industrial estates. The newspapers would be full of gloom about interest rates and equities. 'For Sale' signs would peep, expectantly, over some of the wrought-iron railings.

In Balrothery, I passed through a lane with a short street lamp in its middle. The heavy, galvanised standard had been modifed with a large hinge, a yard from the ground. A worker could fold the whole thing down like a pocket-knife to change the bulb without a ladder or lifting gear. One man has blocked up his garage windows as they keep being broken by stones. Another has filled his garden with white pebbles. They lie washed up between black timbers, with the family car parked beside. Many of the backyard lanes are blocked with iron gates or closed off with block walls. At several corners there were flowerbeds with shrubs and things from garden centres. Some footpaths were tricky to walk on as 30 years of gas, electricity and telephone lines have left their marks.

In Castle Lawns, a man keeps classic cars in his front garden. One was painted grey; its old-fashioned 1950s headlights stared out from behind a modern car, parked crossways like a barrier. The lawn was paved over with red brick.

I met an old woman leading a small white dog. She peered at me suspiciously, knocked her walking stick off the ground so I knew she was carrying a potential weapon, and wished me a good morning. I returned the compliment and crossed the road. The grass verge by the Community School fence was rutted by the feet of hundreds of school goers in the mornings. Two people selling some kind of newspaper stood in expectation, one at each door of Saint Aongus church, waiting for the congregation to spill out. When it did, a woman clutched her handbag tightly as a man in a grubby nylon coat passed her by, his son's hood up and almost covering his face. Their hands were each thrust deep into the pockets of their coats. She turned off the path into a group of houses, and they carried on down the road, ignoring her. Another woman hurried into the Community Centre with a small bag of last minute groceries.

At the small, local shopping centre, the units on the southern side stood closed. Macaris, New Park Meats, the Chinese Takeaway whose name I can never remember... Strike Electric is going to be a hairdresser's, next week. Beside them, the Christian shop was open for business, its shutters up. The breeze-block walls of the electricity transformer behind the library were still pierced through. A kid had stood on a metal bar there some weeks before and been severely electrocuted. They say he'll lose some toes.

There were few people about on our road. Billy Devoy was taking something from the boot of his car and didn't see me passing. He moved through into his garage, deep in thought. As I entered the garden, I waved to Noel Logan, driving out for the Sunday papers. The latchkey turned in the lock and I closed the door behind me.

'How's my son?' my mother asked. She was standing, framed by the kitchen door, the light behind her, her hands on her hips. She was wondering if I would make my own tea.

'Fine,' I said. 'Anything strange?'

'No,' she said. 'Everything is deadly dull.'

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