The ducks in Stephen’s Green, still bitter over their failure to get war reparations for the six members of their flock killed as innocent by-flappers in the 1916 Rising; and chafing under the fifty year old Park Bye-Laws that prohibit taking “part in any dancing, theatrical or musical performance or operating any radio, cinema, television or gramophone apparatus” in the Green; are now triply peeved that a heat wave has driven humans, with pasty pink thighs showing, and in full on it-seemed-cheap-online-deodorant-failure-mode, to invade their pond side.
Ireland is cooking under the effects of is-it-real-or-fake-news Global Warming. With air conditioning not yet a basic building system, cramped downtown with windows-nailed-close-to-keep-the-bleddy-cold-out offices heat up to unsafe temperatures: The city empties out into the outdoor cafés and bars. Civil servants stand by the score on street corners, complaining about “de shockin’ hate altogether,” and crowd into parks, fighting for shade.
“I’ll tell ya what,” the Stephen’s Green alpha drake mutter-grumbles, swimming in a tight, controlling, circle around his harem. “It’s bad enough that de bleeding Corpo hasn’t cleaned this pond since, since, …,” he turns to a young duck next to him, “we don’t use days and weeks and dem tings like de humans do, do we? How do we remember time?”
She duck blushes, feathers ruffling involuntarily and turns her beak away.
“How and ever, dem lazy bastards haven’t set a wellington in dis pond since I can remember, which in fairness is only since I last ate, or took a shite. But, how and every, now our grassy pond bank – where it’s a Stephen’s Green duck’s constitutional roight to take a leisurely shite-waddle – is completely covered with pushy young wans up from de country. I’ll tell you what; I’ll tell you what; tonight dere’ll be no standing at de fence spying on what junior Minister is adulterating wid what developer’s trophy wife in de Shelbourne. No, I’ll tell you what; every duck’s arse off dis pond is goin’ to be spreading our green love all over de banks. Heh-heh. We’ll see how Mary-Jacinta from de Passport Office likes sitting on dat!”
We’re wandering around Dublin’s city center, our heads foggy with jet lag and the knock-on effects of decidedly non-traditionally hot Irish weather. The Stephen’s Green Shopping Center, once the authentically cool Dandelion Market, where U2 got their start, now a refuge for shops that can’t afford Grafton Street rents, offers the joint mirages of Victorian aesthetics and air conditioning. As it goes with mirages, neither prove true, and the young salesman in a tee shirt shop is at pains to tell us just how bad things have gotten.
“I mean dis hate is in-credible really, I mean Dublin on’y got one milli-meter of rain in the last week. I mean, dat’s madness!”
His two arms shoot out for effect.
I nod repeatedly in fake agreement, walleting my credit card, and wondering just how big, or small, is a millimeter.
In Temple Bar, pub doors and windows propped open with kegs, chairs, that shocking-useless-bottle-boy, grant passers-by the dubious pleasure of maudlin Irish ballads, walloped out for pudgy, sweaty, I-never-knew-it-got-thiiis-hot-in-Ire-land, American tourists, wilting outside in the dust and cigarette butts, preferring that to indoor-heat-exhaustion, as they wolf down “funny tasting burgers, but the fries are good.”
The next morning, still time-zone-foggy, even after two cups of accidently double strength, how-does-this-fucking-machine-work, coffee, I peruse the newspaper, lingering over a story about how the heatwave is forcing farmers in Connemara to shear their sheep early. In the photo, a traditional Irish farmer stands in turned-down-for-the-summer-wellingtons, the dress pants and once-was-white shirt he wore to his son’s christening (nineteen years ago,) staring at two rueful looking sheep, that just came out the wrong side of a skirmish with his shears; a farmer’s traditional worried, do-you-think-there’s-some-way-I-could-get-a-few-pound-out-of-this, look on his face. But all is not lost, his neighbor, an enterprising young farmer, is considering “throwing in a few olive trees if hate like this is going to start coming regular.”
A prescient-climate-change Connemara farmer – or a chancer?
In my all-too-easily-slipping-into-cynicism-imagination, there’s lads sitting on barstools up and down the Wild Atlantic Way, engrossed in nodding-conversations trying to figure how to go big on the first batch of EU grants for Irish olive tree farming – “til only last until de bleddy Germans find out!”
We tourist on from heat-island-effect-broiling Dublin to the cooler – in all ways – Whest, passing fields full of cattle careful-bitterly planning a campaign of civil disobedience over the undue media attention being given to sheep.
The cattle think they’re fooling us; gaping silent-blankly out over the NRA (not the dangerous one full of gun toting nuts, but the really dangerous one; the National Roads Authority) built fence, at cars zooming past at Autobahn speeds never available on the old twisty-turny roads.
We pull over to examine this situation more clearly.
“Nathin’ to see here, would ye go away back out of dat,” a white faced bullock moos aggressively at us. “Go on outta dat, have ye never seen a few Herefords, converting grass into protein dat’ll be mixed with all other kinds of cheap shite and sold to you as 100% ground beef? Put away dat bleddy camera! Ye have to pay for dem photo-graphs. Fucking Yanks!”
Back in the car, the radio blaring, I track the bovine-rebellion out of the corner of my eye, I listen as a male DJ – whom it would appear has spent approximately thirty something years on this planet, and yet has somehow only grown to a mental age of fourteen – says:
“I mean, if I was in de cave, like dem Thai buys are, I’d be on social media de whole time. I mean, what else would dere be to do? Me eyes’d be square when I came out!”
“And do you tink you’d get signal in dere?” his how-am-I-going-to-bail-the-gobeshite-out-of-this-one, co-DJ asks, sighing involuntarily.
“Oh jaysus, dey’d have to get signal in dere, I wouldn’t stay udder-wise.”
We get released from the idiocy of idiot-DJs, but only so that we can be subjected to a public service announcement in which we are sternly warned – by an individual who makes a handsome living doling out stern warnings to corrupt, eighteenth century Scottish nobility, Albanian sex traffickers, nineteenth century New York street gang members, and then back to the Albanians again - against the dangers of even contemplating a devil-may-care approach to swimming in Irish waters. As Liam Neeson intones out of the car speakers, in a trying-to-get-deeper-than-Darth-Vader voice, spun through a Ballymena-Mid-Atlantic accent, he appears to be personally warning me – as someone whose teeth ache at the approach of a wax cup full of cooler water – against the extreme dangers of “COLD-WATER-SHOCK.”
In search of opportunities to drown or suffer a shock-induced heart attack, and in brattish defiance of Liam Neeson, we hit for the most dangerous body of water available: The Atlantic Ocean.
This is a widely available source of danger – Ireland has a solid thirty-two hundred kilometers – which is … is … a lot of miles – of coastline. Yet, in that special Irish way, it’s still hard to get at this ubiquitously dangerous amenity, as it is besieged by towns with traffic management plans designed to force tourists to stop in exasperation and buy a cup of coffee, a pint of Guinness, a seafood salad, or, for a steal, your own piece of the Olde Country in the form of a remote farmhouse with an unclear title and a collapsing roof.
In the Coffee Shop Capital of Ireland – Westport – the we-wouldn’t-go-near-a-beach-crowd’s reaction to Global Warming is to sit outside drinking coffee, repeatedly daubing sunburnt foreheads with paper napkins, while tanned, scraggily bearded, French campervan-one-Euro-a-day-tourists stare in disbelief at the profligate waste of money, caffeine and paper napkins.
“This is the worst driving ever,” my son, the recent recipient of the dubious title of being a fully licensed Masshole driver, says, sighing involuntarily.
“Look at that truck, he just stops dead in the middle of the street, and starts unloading!”
A jowly-beer-bellied delivery man, moving at an exasperatingly moderate pace, rolls open the coiling door on the back of his truck, and lumbers up inside; our place directly behind him in traffic-purgatory seemingly none of his concern. He grumpily retrieves way too many cardboard boxes, bends himself backwards at a seemingly impossible angle, and blindly Charlie-Chaplin’s across the street into oncoming traffic.
“I need a cup of coff…,” I start.
“No!” my daughter cuts me off. “It’s fricking roasting. We’re going to the beach. I don’t care what that weird guy on the radio says about how it being so ‘dange-her-us.’”
With the Westport-cuteness-and-traffic-snarl behind us, we tourist further west in search of the great life-threatening-ocean, only to have Global Warming throw up a new challenge.
The tar in the roads is melting, turning the good old fashioned twisty-turny roads into horizontal roller-coasters. Tire tracks are clearly visible on the straight stretches, while tarry-skid-marks on the corners invoke a Liam-Neeson-death-is-imminent fear. I crank the AC lower, white-knuckle the steering wheel and speed on – at 22 miles per hour.
“Do you know what we call dem?” the only fella who-can-be-let-out-of-the-office from the Irish Society Against Drowning – not to be confused with Irish Water Safety, this is a more “gen-you-ine anti-drowning group. Sure dey say, de only water de Director of Water Safety ever sees, is de small drop he does pour into he’s glass of Powers whiskey” – is on the radio.
“Lilos, dem blow up mattressy tings,” the idiot-DJ asks.
“Yes, de very art-icle. We do call dem People-Killers.”
“Are you serious?”
“I am serious, deadly serious. Because don’t you see what happens. Mammy is sittin’ below on de beach, in de Aldi deck chair, engrossed in de Sunday World, lost in wan of dem stories about some farmer below in Tipperary, having con-juu-gal relations with his cattle, and Paddy and Mary are below in de water on de People-Killer, battering and scratching de shii… face off oneanother.
“Are you serious?”
“I am serious, deadly serious. Den doesn’t a wind blow up, and Jaysus, suddenly Paddy and Mary are bleddy halfway to New York. Mammy drops de Sunday World, littering luvly photos all over de beach, and runs into de water after dem. Of course now, Mammy isn’t de greatest swimmer in de world, is she? Ooohhhh, no.”
He releases an all-knowing, cruel laugh.
“And so we end up with tree coffins below in de church, instead of maybe just de wan! Don’t you see?”
“Are you serious?”
“I am serious, deadly serious. Now I’ll be putting fort a motion at de upcoming September ad hoc comm-it-eeee meeting to respond to all dis hate, dat we sell pin-knifes – with de ISAD logo of de young buy drownin’, and his arms wavin’ above in de air – for de sole and only purpose of puncturing lilos, and maybe, just maybe, if Father McQuaid’ll go along with it, dat we hold mammy swimming classes.”
“Are you serious?”
“I am serious, deadly serious. I’d give a few dem lessons meself. Heh, heh? A flock of mammies, in deir bikin-eees, below in de pool of a winters’ night – not bad, heh, heh?”
“And tell me, do you tink dem Liam Neeson adds de udder crowd are running are any good? I mean, dere’s no voice like that man’s to put de fear-a-God into a fella.”
“Aragh now, what would that Liameen Collins know about drowning in Ireland, sure isn’t he abroad stuck on the side of some lux-ur-ious swimming pool in Los Hollywood, and him protected be ten Baywatch bab…, lifeguards.”
“Are you serious?”
“I am, deadl… .”
The heated air shimmers above Mayo County Council’s finest twisty-turny roads. Prematurely sheared sheep, boney hipped, distended stomachs, flanked by mightily confused, how-the-fuck-did-I-end-up-coming-back-as-a-sheep-in-Mayo lambs, pick their way around bogs masquerading as fields.
“Hey mammy,” a lamb asks his mother. “It’s scorching hot altogether, are you sure we’re really in Mayo?”
“Yes …, I tink so anyways …, I mane, dere’s green and red Mayo flags everywhere, so I suppose we must be,” she answers, her head turning around slowly with instinctual-bottom-of-the-food-chain-anxious-confusion.
“Well we could be in Portugal mammy, deir flags are green and red too.”
“Oh, listen to mister smarty-wool-pants, wan day below in de school, and now he knows all about Port-you-gal. Do dere farmers have red arms and faces?”
“No, dey’re all kinda … kinda … latté colored.”
“Latté! I thought dere was something funny about dat last ram.”
“Well do you see mam, de climate down dere … .”
“Lookit!” the mother snaps. “Do you see dat gobshite below in de tractor, and de arms and face on him as red as a beetroot’s arse – sure we have to still be in Ireland.”
We drive on.
“And tell everyone about de jellyfish, would ya?” the idiot-DJ can hardly get his question out with all his tittering. “Dat was a good one you tol me juring de break about de nude swimmers.”
“Well now a man in my elevated position can’t be talking on de air about certain European people from France’s pro-cliv-ity for swimming with their gen-it-alia hanging below in de water for a jellyfish to sting dem. A sting from wan of them boys below dere, … heh, heh? After dat you’d nearly qualify for de Vienna Boys Choir – if you know what I mane.”
“But dey are dangerous right?”
“De genitals or de jellyfish?”
“De lat-her,” the DJ sighs involuntarily.
“Yes, dose brownish purplish ones are, not de little pink wans Paddy and Mary do massacre be de dozen with deir sand-shovels. No, de dangerous wans are about a meter in dia-met-er, and deir stingers can extend a solid tree to tree-pint-five meters behind dem, dat’d be twelve or so feet – in de good old measurements, just so real Irish people know. Do you remember dem at-all-at-all-at-all; feet and inches, pounds and stones, acres and furlongs. Sure a fella knew what things meant back den, and dey were logical; don’t you know, twelve inches was a foot like, and sixteen ounces, or was it eighteen, was a pound. I mean, it twas all logical, and I think dere was even a bit of a mention of dem in de bible. And dat time too, we used to get all de Catholic holy days off. Oh, sure twas magnificent altogether, every time you turned around dere was another day off. I mane, you had to do a bit of crossing yourself and kneeling and standing, but den de rest of de day was yours. And of course, den you could get de tree days off anytime you wanted, no questions asked or answered, to do Lough Derg. Dere was no swimming at Lough Derg, but dat ould boat on way out was a certain deathtrap.”
“Awright, we’ll take a break on dat one and be back with de Love Island news.”
“If dey’re in bathing suits, I own ‘em … .”
We pull into Old Head beach: Our portal to a near certain watery death. The kids, outrageously disregarding Neeson’s warnings, run from the car and jump from the old stone pier; shedding their hot-sweaty car journey selves in those few seconds suspended above the staggeringly clear water, and then plunging into the cool-refreshing Atlantic, they emerge with gasp-breathed-cries of delight.
A few middle-aged-minutes later, I stand on the heat of the pier’s huge cut limestone blocks in a rumpled boring-old-fart swimsuit.
I stare at the unrestrained mirth taking place in the water; weighing a sudden “COLD-WATER-SHOCK” death against the slow certainty of skin cancer.
“Jaysus that’s shocking hate altogether, I never experienced nathing like this,” a traditional old fella, with a scraggy, sideways-looking-I-might-ate-you-or-wag-me-tail-at-you-not-sure-yet, black and white border collie circling around his turned-down-for-the-summer-wellingtons, says to no one and to everyone on the pier.
“Yes, very bad indeed,” I answer, turning to him, as I fall further back into role. “Sure the roads on the way over were all melting.”
“Oh, surely, surely, surely. I’d say there’s ferocious hate coming up off that tar be now; tid nearly burn-the-bollix-off-a-black-ant.”
Still staring at the whitened edges of the furrows on his weather beaten face, I involuntarily step off the pier, feel the coolness of the approaching water.
Across the bay, in stonewalled fields, sheep and cattle glare jealously.
Two children start for New York on a people-killer: A mother runs across the hot sand, tabloid newsprint strewing behind her.
Just beyond the limestone pier, brownish-purplish jellyfish circle in the water, selecting victims by European nationality.
Somewhere on a set in Hollywood, Liam Neeson, involuntarily, releases a stern-warning-defeated sigh.
Up on the Westport-Louisbourgh road, a crew of young black ants, their bags packed, ready themselves for the long trip to join the Vienna Boys Choir.