And the morning had started off so nicely: a low swathe of diaphanous cloud hiding the blushes of a bright clear denim-blue sky as down Kilbush Lane we went, Bella, my wiry black and white terrier and I. Heading for the North Beach in Rush, Co Dublin.
There was a north-easterly wind would cut through you, though, and an old salt slouched outside a galvanised shed with a roll-up, welding mask pushed to the top of his shaven knobbly head, remarked, “It’s a bit blowy.”
“Tis a bit.”
Blowy? The fur on Bella’s little black face was parted and her ears flat against her head, making her look like a startled hawk from the front.
Reaching the sheltered cove, I unharnessed the straining dog. She yelped over to a straggle of unruffled seagulls who levitated just out of reach, and stepped softly down again to renew their desultory scavenge.
Bella skittered over the curves and contours of sand still damp from the sculpting sea, now ebbing far out and fitfully, which had draped the beach in fresh beaded seaweed garlands of variegated browns, reds and briny greens.
I love this constant kaleidoscopic reconfiguration that makes a beach at once familiar and wondrously renewed, the barnacles and shells Bella loves to paw at frantically only here till the resurgent waves reclaim them.
The water was shimmering in those wave-crimped ridges by the water’s edge as round to the harbour we went.
The creamy gleaming surf was swishing at the jagged ankles of the rocky reef that stretched out beyond the breakwater there and a couple of fishing boats bobbled in the crook of the pier. Gorgeous.
The day was bright but my mood began to darken as we reached the stone steps leading up to the little park. Several beer cans were strewn on the sand along with an unfinished fast-food banquet.
I gathered what I could and carried them up to the bin in the park.
Unfortunately, this too had become part of our morning ramble.
Bella was in harness again as we set off up the village. The path was laced at regular intervals with dog poo of varying dimensions, ranging from the still soggy and steaming to the crumbling dried-out remains of another day.
David Attenborough might have enjoyed plotting the origin of the faeces here or marvelling at how certain owners have managed to maintain an ancient way of life, whereby Rover and friends are free to release the contents of their innards with abandon. The poo will always be with us, it seems.
To be fair, I am sure Sir David would be the first to bin the poo when he is back home in London.
Speaking of bodily excretions, I was thinking about the horrifying images on RTE’s Prime Time programme a while before of the human excrement still being pumped straight into the sea as raw sewage near the same Rush harbour.
There was a man from Irish Water informing viewers the excrement would continue to be piped out here for another two years until the long delayed €9 million project to upgrade the town’s sewerage system was completed. This pumping of raw sewage was in direct contravention of an EU directive. Has been for years. At least the work on the project has finally started.
I was in danger of not being able to see the wood for detritus and overlooking the many good things going on in this seaside village I am happy to call home.
But as Bella and I continued on up the main street there were more crisp packets, cigarette boxes and coffee cartons to pick up, or as much as I could fit in the one free hand while the other held Bella’s lead. My hands were soon full and I had to pick and choose the last few pieces of street trash before the next bin.
There is a local council employee who gathers litter in the town later on, but for now, it was the morning after optimism, as playwright Tom Murphy had it.
PS: There is an amusing footnote to this as a friend told me of a woman she met who has often seen me binning rubbish strewn around the town park and asked my friend what crime I had committed as my community service seemed to be going on for a long time.
Am I some kind of King Canute ridiculously trying to hold back a tidal wave of junk, clutter and poop, or a bloke doing a small bit? The latter, of course. But I just don’t get litter, or any defiling of our environment. Some things in life we have little control over, but to throw a beer can on the path, metres from a bin, or stick it in: that we can control.
I’m not auditioning for the tidy towns here but I am miffed that a bright gaggle of teenagers down by the pretty harbour and maybe even complaining about the old fogeys ruining the country, and bemoaning the state of the world they live in, don’t see any irony in tossing their crushed beer cans and burger wrappers on to the sand of ages. Even if the old fogeys were pumping raw sewage into the deep blue briny near where they sometimes gathered of an evening.