Tel us about the experience of being outside, looking in — however you’d like to interpret that.
I work very close to the centre of Dublin, just off Nassau Street. Within three of the surrounding streets there are art galleries, antique stores, museums, Dáil Éireann, all of which seem to jostle for the attention of coachloads of tourists who disembark from their left-hand drive tour coaches straight into the heavy right-had drive traffic running by Trinity College. I’ve got a theory about that – many of these coaches seem to be full of pensioners – does their country of origin have some plan to reduce the burden of pension-paying on their economy by having their elderly population stagger into oncoming traffic on the streets of Dublin’s fair city?
Every day workers in the area run a gauntlet of slowly ambling adventurers, with all the time in the world to window-shop and consult maps and gaze about them as all tourists are entitled to do, while we struggle to get into work on time, or grab something quick to eat or run errands at lunch hour. Hour is the operative word – time to get out, get the errand and/or snack, and get back to the office. While dodging massed ranks of holiday-makers. Queuing behind the Italian tourist in the newsagent while the hapless shop assistant tries to explain that no, she is not multi-lingual, and the only edition of Gazetta available is the national one, which is apparently not as good as the one they get at home, is not my idea of fun. They are in a place called “Vacation” and that is nowhere near my world, which at that moment is called “Work”, even though we are occupying almost the same space.
In contrast, there is a lane behind my workplace that backs onto offices and restaurants. It’s quiet there, and at least one restaurant has dumpers there for waste food, boxes, crates and so on. Pigeons, magpies and seagulls vie with each other for the best pickings. While the original Georgian and sometimes earlier facades of many of the buildings have been preserved, at the back, you can see how they have all been extensively modernised, and the box-like structures are very reminiscent of cliff faces, a fact which has not escaped the seagulls, who set up residence on the roofs and ledges, and happily raise their families to be urban birds. It’s not unusual in chick-raising season to find young seagulls flapping about the laneway trying to get their inexperienced wings to lift them back to the safety of their office rooftop. At that time of year, if work has to be done on the roof, a large golf umbrella is an important accessory for the workmen, to save them from being dive-bombed by irate momma seagulls who don’t want these intruders in their world.
On the other side of Nassau Street is the complex, fenced-in array of buildings that form Trinity College, including its halls of residence, making up another world, called “College”. Students in Trinity don’t have far to go to meet all their needs populating the coffee-shops, cafes and restaurants in the vicinity. We pass each other every day, but only impact on each other and the tourists while going about our separate business in the area.
So there you are, four worlds in the space of three streets. The occupants of each world have little to do with each other, and when their paths do cross, it’s quite often with an air of minor (or in the case of the seagulls, major) irritation. Each occupant feels as though they belong and the others are the outsiders. So who really belongs?