Wednesday, August 8, 2007

A Load of Walls – a conversation

I suppose we looked an odd bunch as we marched around the borders of Littlepace / Castaheany – five forty-somethings carrying a boom box that blasted out “I Scream, You Scream, Everybody Loves Ice Cream.” And to be honest, we all felt somewhat self-conscious as we completed one complete circumnavigation of the estate per day for six days, but sure, it had to be done.
It had all started a couple of weeks before with a casual conversation in the Paddocks on the subject of walls. Billy – or “Bully” as our newly-arrived Caledonian drinking acquaintance describes himself – remarked that, in all his travels, he had never come across a place with such a fondness for walls as Dublin 15. “They’re everywhere, mon,” he exclaimed with disgust. “Every new esteet that’s built noo-adays has dutty great walls aroond it.”
With the aid of Jimmy, whose occasional visits to Parkhead qualified him as translator for the group, we digested this profound remark and agreed that there was maybe something in it.
“Sure they tore down the Berlin Wall,” remarked Notcher, twirling the remains of his pint, and glancing meaningfully at myself. “The international community decided they didn’t much like it, so they got rid. And what about the uproar over that big wall in the West Bank, no planning permission or nothing. Everybody wants that taken down too.”
“Seems to me that the rest of the world is busy tearing down walls and we’re building them up,” remarked Dave, draining his pint and leaving it down ostentatiously in front of me. “We’re out of kilter with the rest of the world.”
“Its Fingal County Council policy,” chimed in Jimmy, who himself was “something in the Council.” “Residents don’t want their estates being used as rat-runs by young fellers on motorbikes and skateboards and the like, so its now policy to have only one entrance in and out of every estate. Stop the joyriders.”
“Yes, that’s all well and good,” said Dave with impatience, “but does it have to be a brick wall? It makes it look like a prison camp or North Korea or somewhere. A good thick hawthorn hedge – now, that would solve the problem and its more environmentally friendly. You ever tried riding a Honda 50 through a hawthorn hedge?”
“Trouble is, you canna plant a fully-grown hawthorn hedge,” replied Bully. “By the time ets groon, the residents will have had their hooses pillaged and ransacked by hordes of unfidels from neebouring esteets. Sorry lads, ma throat’s very dry and Ah’ve nae moor drunk left.”
When I returned from the bar considerably lighter financially, the topic of conversation had turned from boundary walls to garden walls.
“There was a certain politician in the west of Ireland,” Dave was explaining to Bully. “And he built a wall around his house two feet high, and charged it to the state, claiming it was a security wall!”
“They obviously have a denser class of criminal in Mayo,” put in Jimmy. He put on what he fondly imagined was a burglar’s accent. “Hey, Fingers! How we gonna scale dis damn wall? You brought a rope? No boss. I thought maybe we could step over it.”
Garden walls was a particular bugbear of mine, delivering, as I do, “The Community Voice” on a monthly basis. I waxed lyrical on the trials and tribulations of the poor leaflet distributor, postman, Eircom Phonewatch salesman, whose lives had been made immeasurably harder by the erection of garden walls, but I sensed little sympathy from the lads. “You want us to make things easier for these guys?” said Notcher incredulously. “Sure, a wall is an occupational hazard,” he continued unfeelingly. “Get over it.”
“That’s just the problem,” I retorted. “The older I get, the less I’m able to.”
“I’m not a big lover of garden walls,” said Jimmy. “Sure you never get your money back on them. A three bedroomed house in Littlepace costs the same as a three bedroomed house in Hunters Run, whether it has a wall or not.”
“I dinna care for them masel’,” opined Bully. “Up here the front gardens are too wee for walls. They make what luttle garden there is luik even smaller.”
Thus a very pleasant hour was passed in the denunciation of walls, whether brick, block, stone or plaster of paris, though exceptions were made for dry stone walls, which, it was agreed, are very ornamental and stop fields from fraying around the edges, and the Great Wall of China, which the group generally decided was a great tourist attraction and dead handy for doing charity cycle rides along.
“Okay, so we dinna like walls,” said Bully at last. “So what are we gonna do aboot them?”
“Dynamite?” suggested Notcher.
“You can’t do that,” put in Jimmy. “The Council wouldn’t like it, and I’m sure there’s a bye-law against it somewhere.”
“Could we not export them to countries that don’t have any walls?” asked Dave. “I’m sure there’s some countries out there would give their eye-teeth for a few walls. We could set up a depot somewhere, and residents would bring in their walls, in exchange for the aforementioned hawthorn hedges, and then we’d send the walls on to Uzbekhistan or wherever there’s a market for them.”
I shook my head doubtfully, overwhelmed by the size of the logistical problem involved. “You’d pay a fortune in shipping charges,” I said. “That is, if the ship ever made it out of harbour with all that weight. However, I do have another suggestion, but you may wait. There’s a couple of details I want to check with the parish priest first. If all goes well, I’ll meet you all here at 7.30 on Monday night.”
Thus it was that the disparate bunch assembled outside the Paddocks the following Monday evening. I explained the plan to them, and they seemed somewhat perplexed, but agreed to give it a go.
“What’s with the boom box blasting out Louis Armstrong?” asked Dave.
“Any of you play the trumpet?” I asked impatiently. “The recipe says you need trumpets. This is the nearest thing I could find.”
It took us about one hour to circumnavigate the estate, not counting the bemused questioning from the two cycling Community Gardaí. So worn out were we by the exercise, that we were obliged to retire into the Paddocks for a rest and some refreshment.
We did the same on Tuesday and on Wednesday – in fact for six days we fulfilled our noisy procession. On the Sunday, however, we assembled early outside the Paddocks.
“I’m not walking around the estate seven times,” asserted Jimmy. “Can we not go by car?”
From the general murmurings of sleepy-eyed assent, this resolution was adopted, and we all piled into Bully’s Micra, with Notcher hanging the boombox out of the window. “If I never hear Satchmo again, it’ll be too soon,” he said. Off we set, little realising how far we would have to travel to completely circle the estate by car – we had to go along by Manorfields, Ravenswood, up the new Ongar Road, back by Hartstown and Blakestown, down to the N3 and up the Clonne slip road. By the time we completed the seventh circuit, Bully was wailing in true Caledonian fashion that the petrol gauge was hovering precariously above the red.
“Now,” I said, as we pulled into the carpark, “Everybody out and roar at the tops of your voices!”
We all piled out and yelled, roared, shouted. Then we stopped, and listened. Nothing. We roared again, this time louder and with great passion. Again we stopped. No sound of crumbling mortar, no cascade of brick on brick. Just silence. Several neighbours peeped fearfully behind velour drapes to see what all the commotion was about.
“I can’t understand it. It worked in Jericho,” I said.
Just then, Bully espied the parish priest opening up the church gates in preparation for Sunday mass.
“Och, Father!” he yelled. “Are ye sure yon Joshua dinna use dunnymite?”

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