Hydrangeas spell melancholy to me as their bittersweet beauty signals the end of Summer.
The mere mention of ‘melancholy’ always brings me to Melancholy Babies shared with my ice-cream loving father when I was a kid.
In case you don’t know what Melancholy Babies were ~ think of tall glasses, long spoons, layers of different coloured ice cream, tinned fruit salad, red jelly, chocolate sauce and sprinklings of hundreds and thousands on top of the blob of cream that rose from the glass like the last peak of a very high mountain.
Melancholy Babies certainly weren’t served in every town and village in Ireland and I associate them with being on trips to Dublin with Dad, when he’d make a point of heading to the best Melancholy Baby places he knew and they all seemed to be in O’Connell Street.
The fading days of August were often a time when we’d be in Dublin for a last trip before going back to school so maybe that’s why there’s such a connection in my mind between hydrangeas and Melancholy Babies.
I got an absolute craving today to slip into a brightly coloured check cheesecloth shirt and a pair of yellow/gold clogs with backs on them like I had in the Summers of the mid-1970s, just after I left school.
I know I don’t have any photos from that era because I had gone camera shy and anyway this was about touch and scent ~ not just appearance.
I used to go on day trips to Dublin with my older sister back them. She’s five and a bit years older than me and knew the ropes. We’d make for the Dandelion Market off Grafton Street and the smell of burning incense would waft around us as we ran our hands along the rails of trendy clothes and tried on clogs of colour with lovely soft leather uppers.
I had one perfect pair of clogs that lasted me for years until the leather binding frayed so much that I had to cast them to the dustbin of my late teenage years. I never managed to find another pair that had the same softness, flair, daring and, yes, comfort.
I had a quick look at google images of clogs and cheesecloth shirts this evening but they didn’t bring me anywhere near those heady days when we’d treat ourselves to the best burgers in town in Captain America’s before taking the train home to Drogheda with our purchases bulging in their psychedelic paper bags. The cheesecloth shirts, always with a little square of blue to match them up with flared denims, simply danced with colour and wovenness.
One of the most memorable trips ended with us going to Ken Russell’s film Mahler which had just reached Drogheda. Big Sis wanted to see it so I tagged along, only to be totally captivated and high on culture when we finally said goodbye to a day that we both sort of suspected would linger long in our memories.
No photos but perfect recall of a hot, sunny June night ~ early Summer in every sense.
Yesterday was a beautiful day in Ireland ~ one of the best of the year ~ but I’m haunted by the extent of the darkness which it showed me.
I travelled to Dublin, which is about 2 hours by train from Waterford. I hadn’t been there in a good while but it’s a city that was home to me for the best part of twenty years from the early 1970s to the early 1990s.
It felt so good to be back, and the bus ride along by the River Liffey was full of nostalgia as we passed by all the elegant bridges that are like commas in my life.
It was when I was walking up towards Trinity College, my alma mater, that everything changed. Westmoreland Street was buzzing and there on the pavement lay a big huddle of a man sleeping in an overcoat on bits of a torn up cardboard box. The crowds were going about their business; people were chatting and pretty much having to step over the man. I wondered if he was dead; no he was breathing but surely this was social death I was witnessing.
There is a very serious problem with homelessness in Ireland and we hear everyday about ‘rough sleepers.’ Hearing is one thing, seeing is quite another.
I was meeting my brother, who lives in Dublin, and we decided to have an ambulatory chat out by one of our favourite parks near the National Art Gallery. Dublin is a relatively small city still and it didn’t surprise me when I heard someone shouting a friendly ‘hello’ to Big Bro. Just as we stopped to exchange pleasantries with this cheery guy, I realised that there was a young man dozing at our feet. His eyes flickered open for a tiny second. They told no story but there has to be a life story; a nightmarish horror story.
Yes, there is an awareness of homelessness in Ireland and there are some wonderful people, like Father Peter McVerry, and organisations like the Simon Community and Focus Ireland, that are trying their very best to fight the heaving tide of complex problems that give rise to, and are exacerbated by it. But, the situation is clearly out of control and needs to be prioritised in our social and economic policy and practice before it somehow becomes accepted as being just part of the way things are in this country of ours.
Nobody should ever be reduced to sleeping on the street in Summer or Winter. We need to wake up as a society, open our eyes and see what we are doing to people who have needs and feelings just like us. There are no excuses for inaction and blame games.
There are all sorts of bridges that make me sigh and I want to thank David Millington-Croft from the magnificent There is No Cavalry for mentioning the Bridge of Sighs in a comment at the start of this Festival of Bridges.
I’ve spent most of the day thinking about bridges that make me sigh and also pondering on the word sigh. I’m taking it in a positive sense here ~ to mean bridges in a range of contexts that have touched my soul. Here are my top five out of possible thousands!
#1 Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco ~ a bridge that won my heart in 1983 and is still carved there, especially when I see the sun rising.
#2 Claude Monet’s painting of The Bridge at Argenteuil. I associate this very much with my late father and I was fortunate enough to see it in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in November 2010, just eight weeks after father’s death.
3# Senator George Mitchell who played such a key role in negotiating the Peace Process in Northern Ireland. Having lived through the years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland which claimed the lives of over 3,000 people, I am eternally grateful that those terrible, terrible years are behind us.
#4 Jack B. Yeats’ painting ‘The Liffey Swim.’ This painting has huge significance for me as it hangs in The National Gallery of Ireland, a place which I visited very, very regularly throughout the 15+ years I lived in Dublin. When I was leaving Dublin I bought a copy of the painting which lives in my study here in Tramore. The bridge in the painting is Butt Bridge which I crossed regularly, especially during my junior tennis days when I was catching the train to and from Drogheda which was home then.
# ‘The Bridge Builder’ by Will Allen Drumgoole. This poem reminds me of the many, many older people who have built bridges for me over the years. I would like to think that I thanked them sufficiently for their kindness but I know full well that I didn’t.
THE BRIDGE BUILDER
An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.
“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”
Will Allen Drumgoole
The Festival of Bridges continues until October 31 and I would love to hear about bridges that make YOU sigh. Please email me with your words, images, music at firstname.lastname@example.org.