View from the Bridge: 57

by John Morrison


57: Dog Days

There are many kinds of silence. There's the embarrassed silence you get at breakfast in a seaside boarding house, which only makes the tinkling of tea-cups seem deafening by comparison. There's the blissful silence when a migraine-inducing car alarm finally drains the battery and whines to a merciful stop. There's the brooding silence at the heart of a marriage when love has died. But best of all are those moments when the chatter of the mind abates, when memories, ambitions and everyday worries evaporate like puddles on a hot pavement, and - however briefly - you are blessed with stillness.

It's late spring, and the cherry blossom has blown away like wedding confetti. The world seems to have been washed clean by overnight rain; now the sun is shining out of a cloudless and untroubled sky. It's perfect. There are a few precious days every year when the leaves on the trees glow with an almost hypnotic shade of green, as though lit from within. When the swallows, swifts and martins race and scream above the town, seemingly for the sheer joy of scything effortlessly through the air. When the more irritating members of the insect world have yet to muster in numbers. When almost anything seems possible. And this - Cup Final day - is one of them.

There's no better time of the year to skive, loaf, dawdle, dally, hang loose, take things easy, stand and stare, shoot the breeze, twiddle our thumbs, kick our heels, and generally let the grass grow under our feet. Here in Milltown we have learned to enjoy the lexicon of leisure, and the warm weather is encouraging people to congregate in the little square in the middle of town.

Girls compete to see who can wear the skimpiest outfit. Girls with impossibly perfect breasts: the kind you could draw with a pair of compasses and two maraschino cherries. Girls for whom earth-motherhood is still years - and half a dozen dress sizes - away. Town Drunk is keeping score. With a mixture of desire and regret he realises that underneath their clothes they are completely naked. At such moments he is depressingly aware that his own wardrobe relies rather too heavily on dirty singlets and vomit stains.

A solitary bongo player supplies the rhythmical soundtrack to a sunny afternoon of sloth and forgetfulness. A hippy girl sits cross-legged behind a small selection of hand-made jewellery displayed on black velvet. In the aftermath of the local elections, with time unexpectedly on his hands, Councillor Prattle is seeking solace in an alfresco pint. He wonders whether appropriating President Clinton's rallying cry - "Kiss it, bitch" - was really such a wise decision. By the end of a lazy, languorous day, spring has slipped imperceptibly into summer.

We work when we have to, but there's no point in making extra work for ourselves, particularly on a sunny day. As Town Drunk says, with irreproachable logic: "Why take your clothes off when you go to bed? You're only going to put them all on again in the morning".

Since there aren't enough jobs to go round, a lot of Milltown folk have selflessly passed up their own chance to embrace 9-5 drudgery, to let someone more deserving have a crack at it instead. Wounded Man had started work in the building trade, but had an enforced career change when he found he couldn't take eight hours of Radio 1. Taking more readily to gardening, he found he had green fingers, but, hey, that's syphilis for you. The outdoor life suits him. It gives him a chance to day-dream, until something brings him back to reality with a jolt. Like inadvertently flaying a fresh pile of dog shit with a rebellious Strimmer.

We try not to become enslaved to the tyranny of the work ethic. After all, in these uncertain times, first prize in the lottery of life amounts to nothing more than the offer of another month's employment. Industrial relations have been reduced to a simple ploy: keep the work-force paranoid and fretful.

We have to scratch our heads to recall the last time there was a strike in Milltown. It was, in fact, the Union of Corn Dolly Makers, who got a bit stroppy in the late seventies. Alas, the militant talk seemed disproportionately strident for such a small membership, and their rallying cry - "One out, both out" - signally failed to bring Milltown to its knees.

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