Dublin, did anyone ever know such a town? Whore that she is!
Open your nostrils, smell the religion, touch the filthy heart. Women and children sit in endless doorways, wanting your change. Hands and hearts stretched out your way – ”Giv’ somethin’ mister – I’m pleadin’ wid yer, just a little, the Gods’ll be kind ta ya, mister.’
The God’s would not have put me at anchor outside this forlorn city had they been kind. It was five a.m. when I stepped ashore. The early morning fog slid across rooftops, licking at windows, sliding down drainpipes until it caught in my throat and chilled my breath. By this evening the approaching storm will have wiped it away.
Dublin City. Sorrowful City.
I want to weep. Ireland can do that to outsiders. It can cut your heart out with delinquent ideas about romance and peace and other ambiguities. True, it’s not Belfast, it’s not that sorrowful, not yet anyway. Dublin, at least, does not smell of dead flesh in its streets, nor harkens to hopeless prayers of angels in graveyards. One writer wrote, ‘Places have souls’ but that writer had not been to Dublin at 5 a.m. on a winter morning. Just my fate to be bound to Dublin while the mischief of the Irish Sea threatens the departure of the early ferry to Liverpool.
Squalls set to keep my yacht in Dublin two days at least. Jesus, Mary and Joseph! By 7 a.m. I’m still looking for somewhere to put my head down.
The sun is rising and forming itself into a yellowy blob of light mingling with the fog. People move around me, stepping politely aside, going somewhere. Somewhere in this forlorn and damp and sorrowful city. Men walk with backs bent forward, still half asleep, heading toward the dock area. Their caps slightly askew, newspaper under arm, hands in empty pockets and a scarf wrapped tightly round their necks. It’s all the same uniform. The uniform of a Dublin docker. It could be a Liverpool docker. Or any man from the East India Dockside of London. Dockers are dockers the world over.
A woman approaches. She is dressed shabbily and smells of lavender and leather. She holds up to me a twig of heather – “You’ll be lucky, sir…ta’day you’ll be lucky.” I want to push by but she stands firm, clearly obstructing my path. “Do ya not want to be lucky, sir?” I reach into my pocket and pull out some change. “’Tis the day you’ll be lucky fur sure, my darlin’ man – ‘tis the day.”
Almost instantly the Lord lets a shaft of light shine through the slippery fog. Were I drunk I’d sink to my knees in fear. I’ve seen strange happenings at sea but none to rival this instant shriek of light. It shone down and flashed off the skull of a balding man on a bicycle. The meaning of which was lost to me.
This is Dublin, sorrowful beast. Same age as Rome. But without the romance I walked the streets knocking on doors. Just those doors of houses with signs in the windows, declaring vacancies for bed and breakfast. But this is Dublin and no one wakes for a stray animal in need of sleep. My bowels need emptying. Is there nowhere for a man to piss? Is there nowhere for a man to leave his stench in comfort? My body is galvanized for sufferings yet to come.
The barber saved me from the alley toilet, and it only cost me the price of a haircut. As I sat there, feeling the stomach pain subside, the weightless fog slips surreptitiously passed the open door. My chin meets my chest, as the barber’s scissors clip and send strands of my hair flying to the floor. He asks me what I’m doing in the city. I explain about the weather and that my yacht is safely moored in the shelter of the harbor walls. He listens to me intently. I leave with an address for a nights stay near the castle walls.
When she opens the door my nose immediately picks out of the air a smell of decay. The aged mustiness of damp disguised by the scent of violets sprayed from a can. She asks me to enter. I do so, uncertain. Almost afraid not to. Her knobby fingers take my hand as she leads me through a narrow hallway of damp stains and embossed wallpaper, peeling in drifts from the ceiling. An old woman, seventy years of age I might wonder. “This’ll be yer room, sir.” I entered. To my astonishment I was heartened by the simplicity of the room and its furnishings. ‘On suite’ in this small house meant a hand basin in the corner. Through another door down the hallway she showed me the bathroom, with its claw-foot bathtub, and a toilet with a darkly stained wooden seat. Yet it was charming, even quaint and not at all what I had become used to. Traveling as much as I have done I have become spoiled and pampered by luxurious bathrooms and in-room entertainment. On all the walls are pictures of the Virgin Mary and on the cabinet at the side of the bed, a candle. No need to worry about smoke detectors going off in this accommodation. I turned back to her.
“How much?” I asked.
She smiled. “Oh it’ll be nothin’ dear lad, after all, yer got yer hair done by my son….that’ll be payment enough fur sure now.”
I almost laughed in embarrassment but instinctively knew the old woman’s sensitivity and honesty and thoughtfulness. I explained I could not be staying for free, that fifty-pounds would have to be paid for my stay that night.
“Then you’ll not be a stayin, sir, I couldn’t face m’ boy if I was to be takin’ yer money.”
She pulled the bed covers down and folded them neatly. The sheets brilliantly white.
“Yer a client of my son and we looks after our customers if we can. Now you’ll be bringin yer things through, won’t yer, and I’ll be makin’ yer a cup of hot tea.”
The barber never said anything about the room being free, he simply said, ‘the old woman’ll look after yer.’ and pressed a piece of scrap paper with a scribbled address into my hand.
With my face still full of sea salt I entered the bathroom and ran the tap. It gurgled and knocked and rushed its way though the lead pipes. The plumbing had to be a hundred years old. I undressed and sat, chest deep, in the huge enamel tub. What bliss, what eternal bliss to feel my body soaking after taking such a beating from the waves. My rib cage bruised and blackened by the tiller, my hands sore from rope burns. Bliss I tell you. Heaven is a clawfoot bath-tub in an old lady’s home in Dublin. Leave me now. Let me sleep.
Through the small skylight above the bathtub the sun shone on me.
Dublin – beautiful Dublin.