The Gurrier Element
It was a thankless Monday morning when McCann committed himself to the annals of history. He had gone about his forty-odd years, say forty, call them odd, walking through Dublin’s various subdivisions of delusion, penury, and haught in relative anonymity, never bothering what passes for journalism with anything to pass off as news. McCann (he has other names but we’ll not need them here) had lived through and out the arse end of the Celtic Tiger: never getting rich, never getting greedy, always paying cash, always lamenting the death of conversation but never initiating one, always seeking to be quieter in the increasingly-loud world around him, and always looking for a high stool with a back (now that the Guinness was homogenised by the vulgarities of health and safety, it was the only reliable way to judge a pub. He was particularly appalled at the use of hygiene as a selling point—a selling point, I ask you—in a recent Guinness campaign). He never hedged; he seldom bet. Neither was he, as they say, Known to the Gardai.
He had alighted his bus a couple of minutes earlier and was heading past the Abbey theatre, bemoaning the unfortunate evening he’d spent there the Christmas before last, when the thought struck him. His route had been altered by progress—now there’s a radical departure—and his trek across O’Connell Bridge and its many variables, both pedestrian and vehicular, had been simplified for him by the construction of the new Rosie Hackett bridge, opened only the month before the month in which this story finds itself set. Now, through a straight line up Marlborough and Hawkins Streets, he could round Trinity College on his way up via Grafton Street to the Green, avoiding the messy trap of O’Connell Street, the bottleneck at the bottom of Westmoreland Street and the tapering dribble of Northside-bound people (not to mention the contemporary and, he hoped, short-to-live construction which made a complete and utter shite of his route past Fleet Street. The Palace and Bowes were impediment enough to his voyage home without fences and holes in the ground).
The straight line was facilitated efficiently by the construction of this new bridge.
Bridges, for McCann, were places of extreme suspicion. Apart from the conventional crossing points, established in Dublin lo these many years and commemorated in song, art, and stories about Hector Grey, McCann looked for the ulterior motive in the construction of any new bridge. The East Link he could accept, with its lifty bit and the whole avoiding-the-city thing, but since then the reasons for bridge building across the Liffey stank like an increasingly-low tide. It seemed now that bridges were confidence tricks, attempts to get people from one part of the city they didn’t need to visit to other parts they needed even less. The Millennium bridge was an ill-fated attempt to convince those who couldn’t get into the Clarence that the Morrison Hotel was really still on the Southside, while the Beckett bridge, named for some obscure, dour expatriate Francophile, was an attempt to revitalise (he would say vitalise) two equally-squalid areas, on one side to concentrate all the 24 year-old bankers in one hectare and on the other to provide them with Tapas restaurants and West End touring companies with whose stirring choruses of Do You Hear the People Sing? they could stoke the ashes of their exhausted hearts.
Come, friendly bombs, indeed, he ruminated provocatively (although not aloud and certainly not on any social networks).
No, McCann didn’t trust bridges.
This one, though, he had time for. It was a bridge like many others: in fact, it was indistinguishable from any other modern bridge in its functional sweep, brushed steel adornments, and vaguely contemporary flower baskets. It had one Luas line in the centre (about which more anon) and was made up of two bus lanes and two generous pedestrian walkways (for pedestrian, read footfall and annoying Dublin bicycle-schemers) But it wasn’t its construction which set this bridge apart. It was that it was convenient to our protagonist (although he’d retch at the allegation that anything he did advanced someone else’s agon). By walking past the Abbey, crossing at that shop selling snooker balls he knew he’d never, ever need to visit, then by avoiding eye contact with anyone either entering or exiting the Salvation Army and Samaritan premises on the corner in the old Seamans’ Institute building, he could navigate one line of traffic and then cross the Liffey quickly and unencumbered by the chaotic ranks of people scrummaging for the final heave onto the 3 bus ( a bus which, against Nature, had its stop on O’Connell bridge itself, for the sake of Fuck) before crossing two lines of west-heading traffic and reaching the safety of Hawkins Street and the moving statue of Padraig Sheahan. Moving, not just because of its affecting story of the selfless Limerick gendarme, but also because it had gone from its original position on the east side of Hawkins Street outside what was Twohig’s Travel to an island in the centre of the street when they put in the bus lane, then to its current position on the side nearest O’Connell Street. He wondered where the manhole was now that Sheahan had climbed through that fateful day in 1905. It would have had to have been a big one, what with the size of him. This was a hero. Sheahan of the DMP would not have brooked what we now know as the Gurrier Element. McCann loved the story wherein Sheahan brought to book some young Trinity students who stole a flag from the Mansion House in 1900. McCann would have erected a statue to him for that, never mind rescuing dead people from sewers. Sheahan of the DMP. Sounds like a miniseries, he thought. Lots of local colour, sudden violence, and lashings of nudity.
From Hawkins St. it was another one-way crossing, before the noble Protestantism suggested by the foreboding granite wall of Trinity. He would not then know himself before he reached the oasis of Stephen’s Green, where he could eat his lunchtime banana in pieces, at pace, in a peace, of sorts.
The extension of the Luas (named for the Irish for ‘speed’, although there were sections of the Luas Red Line where heroin was a far more prevalent drug) vexed McCann. He hadn’t perused the final plans, secreted as they might well have been in national newspapers and public notices, so he couldn’t figure out how it could function with only a single line going across the river at the bridge he was on. Then someone had told him the line went north across O’Connell Bridge, the very avoidance of which had earned the Rosie Hackett his imprimatur. When the line went live he would have to look at this in some detail before giving it his patronage… maybe his current pedestrian habit might be the easier, especially en route home.
Such an embarrassment of options can tempt to complacency, however, and McCann would have described himself as being in a world of his own if that thought were not too aspirational for a social realist like himself. He was lost in thought once he’d passed the Abbey and banished the memory of The Dead like you would do a remark you’d made at the previous night’s Christmas party to a soon-to-retire boss. He’d moved on, you see, to the length of the strap on his shoulder bag. Now that he had no use for a computer and had invented, like millions of others, sundry uses for an iPad, he had foregone the large black bag he’d sported for years in favour of a khaki-looking thing which cost rather more than he’d anticipated (didn’t everything? Shouldn’t he have raised—or lowered—his expectations by now?), with a broad shoulder strap. It dangled around mid-thigh in a way that he continually meant to do something about, but whenever he did he thought of the Gurrier Element.
Now for someone of his age (indeterminate, irrelevant by ten years each way for any transaction he could think of, either retail, social or vocational) the Gurrier Element didn’t pose a huge problem. He kept his head down and, although he had occasion to stare at someone who dared to litter when his blood sugars were low now and again, he did not involve himself in the lives of others. There’s a certain esprit de l’escalier when something does happen in one’s immediate vicinity, asserting what one would have done if it happened a little closer (in fact, there may be times when one’s involvement, even heroism, is massaged a tad in the telling); that self-knowledge was tested for McCann back in 1999 when, co-incidentally crossing O’Connell Bridge, he was witness to a punch thrown by a young gent and landed on the jaw of his significant other, who screamed what sounded like her last scream before hurrying apologetically along in his indignant wake. What amazed McCann is that he had ever expected more of himself, or of the other dozen or so people who also lowered their gaze and kept moving.
And so the Gurrier Element returned to mind when he thought of the strap of his bag: he thought that only a low-slung gurrier could reach down into it from behind (and he fancied his chances in a donnybrook with anyone under 4’10’’) and that the longer the strap the more purchase he could get if someone absconded with it and a tug-of-war ensued. It was academic anyway: he was tall enough and sober (looking) enough for the Gurrier Element to pass over on their way to an elderly gentleman, a woman with a handbag, or someone foreign trying to take photos with an iPad (an indictment of society; a sad reality; absolutely justified, in that order). He was immune. He sometimes wondered whether anyone would get his phone one day: it seemed to be inevitable, judging from the stories abounding of epidemic theft. McCann would not really care about losing his phone, which was so out-of-date that it rang with the manufacturers’ jingle once so prevalent that it seemed to sing ‘what could possibly shift us from our position as market leader?’, and its battery lasted almost three days. His only care, he reflected, would be that if he were robbed mid-tweet the offender would have the common courtesy to finish his thought for him in 140 characters.
That was good, thought McCann of his witticism. I’ll tweet that.
So he took his phone out of the pocket of his shabby brown cord jacket, picked the red bits of lining off the bottom edge, and crossed the street, head down, onto the Rosie Hackett bridge. Rosie Hackett, the trade unionist and winner of the previous year’s contest to find someone after whom to name the new bridge. McCann was glad it had been named after a woman; gladder still named after one whose credentials put those of the current Labour government to even more shame. Ironic, that: the bridge was opened by the unelected Labour Lord Mayor a week before he, along with many other erstwhile left-leaning Labour councillors, lost his seat on the council. Not that McCann would have picked Hackett if (and this was increasingly unlikely, he had to admit) he was elected God and given such decisions to make on behalf of his Flock. He would have named the bridge after Bertie Ahern, so that nobody could forget him and think of voting Fianna Fail again, ever.
With all of this mincing around in his mind, and with it being a thankless Monday morning (remember?), one could have forgiven McCann for failing to notice the Gurrier Element approach. It (the element), was on one of those Dublin bike scheme bikes, which McCann distrusted for a whole other set of reasons, not least of which was whether riders were as exempt from the regulations governing the wearing of helmets as they seemed to think they were from the Rules of the Road. He had always been told that no insurer worth his or her salt would honour a claim from a cyclist without a helmet. Not that he had a helmet, or a bike; he just knew this to be true. So this was another lapse on which to blame the Government. There would inevitably be scores of people walking around Dublin with head injuries sustained in falls from said bikes, none of whom would have recourse to compensation, further retarding his commute.
It was brazenly, helmetless, and without so much as a warning (which, one must concede, would be unreasonable to demand of a marauding raider) that, mid-tweet, McCann was relieved of his mobile telephone. McCann felt a not-entirely-unpleasant whoosh, a tingle of near-frottage, as the gurrier swept past him and took the phone from his hand, leaving him blank and his tweet unfinished. By a strange enough coincidence, however, McCann’s shoulder strap became hooked on the rear mudguard and yanked backwards the offender, who made unwelcome contact with the steering column of the bike before hitting the ground in what, given the limit of the narrative voice we’re working with today, we can only assume to be pain and disbelief. McCann looked at the phone, looked at the gurrier, looked at the bridge, and did some rapid calculation. He instinctively reached for that which would scupper the gurrier most, and taking the bicycle up in both hands, he moved to the edge of the Rosie Hackett bridge and dropped the vehicle into the raging torrent below.
— — —
As he sat in John Mulligan’s pub (the increased accessibility of which was another collateral benefit of the increasingly-splendid Hackett bridge) McCann reeled. It was a fantastic feeling for someone who prided himself in doing little to have actually done something. There was exhilaration at how prepared he was to justify himself further, so indemnified was he by righteous indignation. He looked at the phone on the counter in between pint and dry-roasted nuts (protein, he’d learned from science fiction, was essential when shock was involved) and marvelled at how the ne’er do well had relinquished it when McCann had pulled it from his hand. Such people know that their actions are indefensible, and they yield accordingly. He wondered where the word ‘gurrier’ originated. If it was a reference to the soldiers back from the war and begging on the streets, it was a little too noble for this… bowsie, this latchico. Latchico. Had that anything to do with being a latch-key kid? He wasn’t sure, so he decided to go with gurrier. Gurrier suggested an older character than a mere bowsie who could chalk up his malfeasance to youth. A gurrier knows what he’s doing. Sounds good, earthy, vulgar. Latchico is a bit Clockwork Orange-y.
McCann pondered the scenario had the young man, gurrier, in question forced the issue and intruded on his person. He imagined his own body, bedecked with lilies and accompanied by four plumed horses to the train, where it would be returned to his poor mother who waited on the platform. Except that his mother was dead, it would be a Dart and therefore overcrowded, and the four horses wouldn’t be plumed, they’d probably be emaciated and ridden by little skanger kids who had no idea how to care for them. No, he allowed himself to feel a little like a hero, someone who had descended to the sewer and returned, having tolerated nothing less than honour among his fellow Dubliners. And he was a clever hero, too. If he’d have allowed the gurrier to leave on the bike there could have been another attempted snatch, possibly from a victim frailer and less valiant than he. By decommissioning the bike he’d taught this lost soul the error of his ways. McCann was, for about three seconds, absolutely certain that this would be a turning point in the lad’s life. He would doff his hoodie, get a decent pair of shoes, and sign right up for a Jobbridge. That’s a prime example, he concluded shortly before a Garda and a tracksuited man approached him from behind, of the importance of the Means of Production.