I grew up in Dublin. I drove down the small, narrow terraced street where I lived from the time I was born until I was 16 the other day. I hadn’t been down that street for many years — a good decade I would guess.
There was no sign of old neighbours. While it was familiar and brought back many smiles, it had changed. The shop at the top of the street was shuttered, and there was a hair salon where there was once a fish and chip shop.
On the occasional Friday, as a treat, we were allowed to buy deep fried fish and chips there. There was an elderly Italian woman there who had her silver grey hair pulled back in a tight bun, wore the black of a wife in mourning, and moved ever so slowly – methodically I would now say – in getting the order ready, wrapping it in newsprint, liberally adding the free-flowing salt and dark malt vinegar kept in lemonade bottles with holes punched in the cap. Recycling, we would call it nowadays.
The Palmers lived at number 11. There were friends. So too Sandra Tait in number 10, the Haughtons in number 2, the Bradys in number 49, Mr. Murphy who drove an oil tanker and had a phone lived in 48, the O’Kanes in 47, the Molloys in the house next to the lane where I started school.
Mrs Kelly was the teacher, her nylons were loose and hung about her ankles and it was said she had suffered a nervous breakdown. Nowadays, you’d get pills for that. Then, she just knocked us into shape with a wooden ruler that would be whipped across your young knuckles. They’d call that child abuse nowadays, social services would be involved, so too the police.
Down memory lane
I managed to find a rare parking space on the street and walked up and down those houses, thinking of what life had brought, where they were gone, how many were alive now.
The biggest surprise of all was that there’s now a For Sale sign on my old house. I was half-tempted to call the agent and get a booking, just to look in and see how much it might have changed down these years. It was sold in 1977 for the princely sum of £10,000 then – less than the price of the car I had just parked.
I remember walking with my father to see a plasterer and general handyman who was going to do some work for us, and helped build the gateposts. They’re still standing. So too the iron gate. The brass number 1 is still there, and the impressive brass knocker and door handle. I have fond memories of my mother cleaning those every week.
The doorstep too was religiously coated in red polish – Cardinal Polish, it was called. Brasso on the door brass. Heaven forbid you stepped on that step before the polish had dried. Another skelping across the backside. That too, they’d call child abuse now. Back then, it was love.
I remember watching my father build the new extension at the back of the house. In a wooden frame, he tucked away a copy of the Evening Press. Whoever buys that house will have their own time capsule there. It will tell of the news of the day in the city and the nation, the crisis and the catastrophes, the triumphs and the trophies as they unfolded on that day, the year I would suggest was about 1974 or so.
What that time capsule won’t tell is the love in that home, or of the people gone from the street. There is no going back.