Thursday, September 21, 2006
The Night of the Triffids
Around midnight, Saturday 16th September, our road’s relative tranquility was put on hold for the best part of half an hour. It began with a series of quick percussive bursts: BOFF! BOFF-BOFF-BOFF!! BOFF! Three possibilities immediately presented themselves: gunshots, a car backfiring or fireworks. The first is not quite as wild as it might seem. At least one neighbor has a shotgun. I know this because a few years ago he blasted it over the heads of some guys who were busy trying to break into his car. Not a good idea. He had upped the ante and the following night the same car got petrol-bombed, the first (and hopefully last) of such incidents on our road.
Anyway, my neighbor had presumably learned his lesson, so such recklessness seemed unlikely. Even less likely was the possibility of anyone in the whole of Dublin (let alone this leafy, Southside, four-car-family neighborhood) possessing anything as quaintly anachronistic as a backfiring ‘banger’. So fireworks seemed the most probable explanation. Had some calendrical Red Letter Day failed to glow on my mental dashboard? Not impossible. I regularly forgot St. Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t Halloween yet, was it? No, that was October.
I stepped outside to investigate, just in time to be aurally (and now visually) assaulted by another series of bursts, this time much longer: a whole sizzling sky-pond of flash-in-the-pan life: abruptly unfurling pink chandelier-jellyfish, limegreen dandelion clocks, fountain-flora and fauna of all shapes and sizes. It was one of the most spectacular display of fireworks I’ve even seen, far more startling than our Millennium-fevered suburbs on midnight 1999, when every family in the neighborhood seemed to be either lighting fireworks or standing gawking at them, and every car alarm went off like a drunk on an all-night singing-binge.
Apart from its being unheralded, what made this blitzkrieg so impressive was the absence of people. I saw only two slightly bemused neighbors wander out to see what the noise was, then wander in again when they realized World War Three hadn’t been declared yet.
The launching pad for this display was obscured by the tall buildings of the old Carysfort Convent (a business school for many years); it was probably in the park out the back or perhaps on the grounds themselves. I grabbed my camera and ran some way down the avenue, snapping as I went; no telling when this would suddenly finish. Very few cars passed, and even less people. Above the gently-curving road with its tall poplars, the sky continued to crackle and bloom. I could actually smell the acrid (gunpowder? cordite?) and make out thick, discarded veils, conveyed by a swift warm wind over nearby rooftops and gardens, perhaps stealing into the occasional open window, where someone might wake coughing in a roomful of smoke, and wonder if the house was on fire.
This could hardly be legal. But I heard no sirens. The contrast between the seemingly unstirring world and exploding sky was eerie. Who would do such a thing? A group of rich kids launching one of their friends’ birthdays in style? I imagined a big gathering, of students perhaps or beer-guzzling gougers who’d managed to put their thieving hands on someone’s Halloween cache. I’d probably never know. So it might as well be for me, a whole shitload of shooting stars to wish upon.
Also big pain in the arse of course. I wouldn’t be the only one with a frightened toddler who could take half the night to be persuaded back to his cot. Or neighbors with cats or dogs, their hackles raised, trembling under tables and chairs. But such considerations were, for the moment, blasted out of my mind. I came to a halt halfway down the avenue and just stood gaping, not shocked but certainly awed, as if the earth itself had forgotten its respectable, crusty age and was lost in a Pre-Cambrian dream of juvenile ecstasy, splitting its sides with laughter that might go on for years, epochs.