Every morning I journey to the nearest village and wait for the bus to bring me to work in Dublin– usually in rainy darkness this time of year – and chat with my neighbours doing the same. A flimsy shelter of two plastic walls and an awning provides the only protection from blasts of wind and cold rain; when the county took it down for a few months of road repair, we felt its absence each morning.
Unfortunately, teenagers with too little supervision and too few manners have etched words in the plastic that I used to shield from my daughter, before she became a jaded teen herself. Also, a single Irish winter can coat anything with layers of grime and algae – by spring most road signs are illegible. So I was pleased to come out of Mass the other day and find some neighbours I knew busy scrubbing the shelter clean.
“That’s good of you, Bridget,” I said – she works at the village shop and is grandmother to two of my daughter’s school-mates, so we know each other well. I hadn’t realised, though, that she spent her weekends cleaning up the town.
“Ah, we’re only after doing this once in a while,” Bridget said, as cars moved down the road in one direction and horses clopped down the other. “Youngsters can scratch it up faster than we can fix it. Other days we walk the roads picking up rubbish.”
I told them people dump rubbish on the side of the road along the canal where we live, and my daughter and I go pick it up sometimes. I gather that many rural Irish used to throw their rubbish away in hedgerows, which was fine when it was broken stones or cinders – but once the age of plastic arrived, the rubbish never disappeared.
“Sure you’re very good,” she said, sounding pleased. She handed me one of those hand-held devices that allow you to pick up trash without stooping over. “Here – take this,” she said. “You’re part of the clean-up crew now.”
I feel like I’ve been deputised, I said.
“Well, if you’re going to do it anyway, you might as well be part of something,” she said. I couldn’t argue.