Leaving the flat at 7.00 each morning, the fifteen minute walk to school has been pleasant. Perhaps Dublin was always much drier than rural Ireland, but since September, there have only been three mornings when it has been raining.
The clement weather allows time to look around, notice things in the morning darkness, things like the two building workers sitting in their van fast asleep.
It is a company van, bearing the name of a construction firm in Co Cavan. Perhaps the men depart from home very early to avoid the traffic coming in on the Navan Road and then use the time saved to catch up on the night’s sleep. The driver always seems in a deep sleep. His arms crossed, his hood pulled down over his eyes, he is indifferent to the noise of passing vehicles.
It is more than thirty years since I regularly encountered two men sat sleeping in their work vehicle.
Serving as a curate in the town of Newtownards in the late-1980s. On fine mornings in spring and summer, I would take our two dogs, Maeve and Paddy, out for a walk. Seven o’clock was a quiet time and I would take them from our suburban road up a lane that passed an old quarry. The road went nowhere and was not much more than a track, and was a good place for dogs who enjoyed the scents and sights of the day’s beginning.
Morning after morning, at the end of the lane, a car was stopped. Two men would be sitting in deep slumber. The two men were police officers.
It would have been unremarkable were it not for the fact that it was Northern Ireland in the 1980s. Police cars were being bombed, policemen were being shot, land mines were being detonated to destroy passing police vehicles.
The sleeping policemen were putting themselves in mortal danger. Anyone could have walked up that lane, and there would have been some in the community who would have tipped off the paramilitary organizations that there was an easy target parked above the quarry.
I became so concerned at the routine presence of the car at the same place at the same time each morning that I began to worry how I would feel if anything happened to them.
Finally, I spoke to a friend who was a chief inspector. I did not mention that the men were asleep, I simply said that I passed a parked police car each morning on the quarry lane.
“Oh, is that where they are now?” was his response. “They used to be parked in the car park of the barracks, fast asleep. One morning a couple of lads in the station jacked up the car and took the wheels off, then hammered on the roof. The two boys woke up and tried to drive off and, of course, found they couldn’t go anywhere.”
Anyone who does not think the world is a better place might note the fact that policemen now could sleep in their car as soundly as builders without fear of a bomb or a bullet.