Gold in the Streets. Lost and Found.

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When I examined the inscription on the pump, I found to my horror, that Skerries was governed by Balrothery: Balrothery District Union. The rates were decided upon in the workhouse in Balrothery. At one time, the Baron of Balrothery assembled a parlement to meet at Balrothery, The Town of the Knights. Each knight was allocated a strip of land on which he grazed his horse when parlement was in session. The name persists in The Knights’ Fields. This ancient responsibility devolved onto Poor Law Commissioners, landlords and Grand Juries, who met at the workhouse. Picture the Dickensian scene of the governors dining upstairs while the poor languished in squalor below. It’s enough to make you go and take your pike from the thatch. To give them their due, they had pumps installed all over the barony to provide clean drinking water and gossip to the good people of Fingal. They invented parish-pump-politics. They provided a place where people might linger to exchange the news of the day.

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If you lost something or found something, you could put a notice on the board at the post office, the small premises on the left of the picture. With luck,the owner would see the notice and claim the item. A post office gets a lot of traffic, foot-fall, as they say nowadays. It gets a lot of gossip and conversation. My brother found a gold watch. Like a good citizen he wrote a notice and asked permission of the formidable Miss Reilly, to place it on the board. He forgot about it. Mrs Grimes spotted it. She came to the house on her High Nelly bike. Even into her eighties she rode that bike, until her sons confiscated it and hung it up in the barn, out of reach. It was no small feat to cycle up the Dublin Road hill. I never enjoyed it. “Tom” she said, “I believe you found my watch.” “I did, Mrs Grimes,” replied the good citizen. “I’ll get it for you now.” He went inside. My older brother, a connoisseur of detective novels and police procedures, was standing at the door with his hands in his pockets. He noted the getaway High Nelly.   He raised his eyebrows. “Can you describe the watch, Mrs Grimes?”  The old gold watch scam.  Oldest trick in the book. She had her bike ready to scoot off down the hill at high speed. She told me about the episode forty years later and was still amused. Still had the watch too.

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Skerries stands on an aquifer, punctuated and punctured by wells and pumps. You might stop to put your mouth under a pump, preferably one of the big (Balrothery Union,) iron ones with the handle, to get a drink on a hot day. There was always a danger that a companion would swing on the handle and catch you with a sudden blast of water. It took skill and dexterity to get the pump to yield some water and keep going long enough to give you time for a drink. You had to work for it. The aquifer appears to advantage at the Kybe Pond, a nice place to linger. Sometimes,in wintry weather, it comes out to occupy the playing fields and wander about the streets.

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Nobody lingers at these things. Time is money. Since their arrival, they have put a curb on casual conversation in the streets. They have probably contributed to stress levels. Nevertheless they have some benefits. They have probably improved traffic flow. I doubt if anyone will ever sentimentalise them. We visit them regularly, of necessity. They seem to be immune to advertising and political posters, despite the footfall. Yet civic solidarity of a sort, survives. Sometimes a motorist will donate an unexpired ticket to a new  arrival. Us against The System. Probably illegal. I lost some important family keys. They should have been on my keyring. I discovered the loss late on Sunday night. I rang around. I went back to the shop that I had visited that afternoon. It was raining and dark. The parking place was empty. I prowled around, bent double in the light of the headlights. I found some cigarette butts and bottle tops. I found a half-eaten lollipop and a thousand bird droppings, all gleaming deceptively in the light. No luck. I went home, feeling cold and inept. It kept me from my sleep. I went down again in the morning. I had to buy a parking ticket. A gale was howling, driving the scurrying rain across the tarmac. The lollipop was still there. (Nah) The bird droppings were washed away. There is nowhere as bleak as a seafront in foul weather. I enquired in the shop if anyone had handed in some keys. The courteous young man had a look. There were bunches of orphaned keys behind the counter, but alas, not mine. He checked my Lotto ticket. No joy there either. I went back to the car. I noticed something on top of the ticket machine, a small irregularity against the dim morning light. Could it be? It was. Some considerate soul had found them and put them where the incompetent owner was most likely to return. The day changed. There was a gleam of light. I felt more kindly towards the ticket machine.

My little daughter said to me: “I wish I was Linda’s granny.” Linda’s granny was knocked down in the street by a young man running for a bus. She never recovered from the shock and walked, bent double, with the aid of a stick. She was a most friendly and good natured old lady, despite her infirmity. “Why would you like to be Linda’s granny?” “She found two gold watches on the pavement.”

Every cloud, as they say…. I wonder if she put a notice in the Post Office.

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Irish Famine Sitcom

“No one in this world, ” observed H.L. Mencken, “so far as I know, has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great mass of the plain people.” A version of this saying is also attributed to Alfred Harmsworth, virtual inventor of the tabloid press, with the substitution of ‘taste’ for ‘intelligence’. You could apply it with slight alterations, to the purveyors of numerous brands of junk foods, in a world beset by obesity on the one hand and malnutrition on the other.

In what bizarre universe would anyone see the sufferings of the malnourished and deprived of the world, as material for comedy? In a Tale of two Cities a child is crushed beneath the wheels of an aristocrat’s coach. Dickens didn’t put this in to get a laugh. Who ever saw a funny side to the starvation of Biafra? Out of that sad conflict came a wonderful organisation, Africa Concern, now Concern, not an hilarious television series of merry escapades by wise-cracking relief workers in the fetid jungle of Nigeria. Had any television executive suggested to Bob Geldof, that the Ethiopian famine was a golden opportunity for a light-hearted musical comedy, I suspect that the answer would have been abrupt and scathing.

There are times when a news item stops you in your tracks. Channel 4 has commissioned a Dublin writer to write a comedy, provisionally titled Hungry, set during the Irish potato famine. They hasten to assure us that it is unlikely ever to reach the screen. The outburst of instinctive revulsion at the idea, is almost certain to ensure a wide viewership. Who said there is no such thing as bad publicity? The merchandising opportunities are worth considering—special Famine-brand tv dinners, soft drinks and even Famine-brand potato crisps, not to mention the educational value of an entertaining history lesson.

Perhaps Channel 4 is running short of the deluded, deranged, diseased, obsessive, deformed, insanitary and just plain daft people who supply so much of their output.  Mr. David Abraham is the chief executive of Channel 4. His name suggests that he has some affinity with many who died in the extermination camps during World War II. Has he considered the comedic potential of Auschwitz? There is so much suffering and sadness in the world, that the comfortable need never be short of entertainment.

Defenders and apologists for this project, maintain that opposition to it is exactly the reason that Joyce and Beckett left Ireland. Now that’s almost funny.

Jesus wept!