Saturday 27 October 2007

Some of the new folks on the block

I'm sitting in a brand new Turkish kebab house in Limerick city, staffed by Egyptians, and Irish and Polish waitresses. There's free wifi, hardwood furniture and paintings on the walls. In the past 24 hours, not counting family, I have spoken to more people from Bangladesh, Lithuania and Iraq, than Limerick, or even Ireland. I never quite grasped the extent of the change that has happened over the past few years until now, now that I'm spending most of my time here in public areas: hotels, restaurants, cafes, bars, the streets. It's a really interesting time, a really interesting place.

There's a man in his sixties who has just come in, bought his kebab, then sat down and and ordered a cup of tea. The Irish waitress says, "sure, would you like to pay for that now, or later?" And he says, "do you think I'm going to get up and walk out for the price of a cup of tea, after paying for my food?" He's genuinely hurt. "I've never done that in my life before, and I'm not going to start now." Of course, she's just doing her job, and she's concerned she'll forget about the price of the tea, that she'll have other customers to attend to. But he's a man of a certain working class pride, and he has taken her question very personally.

Three nights ago, I was standing at the traffic lights between the Marriott and Dunnes stores, and the row of bus stops that go all the way out to Moyross housing estate. Two elderly women were standing in front of me, waiting for the lights to change. One of them turned around, and with a look on her face like she was a very small thing talking to a very big thing, and laying herself bare before its mercy, asked me for two euro for a cup of tea. This woman was from Limerick, was in her late sixties or early seventies, sober, and sane. I've been concerned about my financial situation lately, to say the least, and I told her no, ma'am, I'm sorry, I don't have it. And we crossed the road. And as soon as I hit the other side, I stopped. Rooted in my wallet, got the two feckin euro, and marched after them. My apologies, madam, I said to her, I believe this belongs to you. And handed her the two euro coin.

I was called a 'dirty cunt' before 2 o'clock this afternoon, by a tiny, frail little blonde girl in a tiny, frail little blonde girl voice, as she rolled her pram across the Athlunkard Bridge (yeah, it all seems to be going on on the Athlunkard Bridge lately). I was on my bike at the time, and we sort of met. Didn't collide or anywhere near it, but enough for her to get her words out. Totally matter of fact, her expression. Kind of blank.

Limerick, today.

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