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in search of smock alley 043

It is while pedalling the yellow bicycle that I think my thoughts, contemplate my fortunate life, thank my lucky stars and meditate.

It is also my ‘modus transportus’ on which, along with the backup of that great Irish city rail system (THE DART), I get every where with relative ease.

Even to the most sophisticated events, which in my simple life are, the theatre, the cinema, an exhibition, an art gallery or dinner.

For these affairs I will don my best dress, pin a pashmina around my shoulders, give the saddle of the yellow bicycle a perfunctory wipe and away I will go.

With elegant shoes to match (I find it easier to cycle in high heels than walk in them) and if the distance is too far I will use the above mentioned DART as well which allows me to bring my bicycle on board off peak times.

Recently I travelled in that manner to an exhibition in the national gallery of art.


I received two invitations to this event from a very kind friend whom I got to know through our love of bicycles.

The friend who would accompany me bailed out the night before and instead of looking for someone else I decided it was a sign that I should go alone.

I was slightly apprehensive about this decision but believed my best ploy was to sail in as confidently as I could in those easier to cycle in high heels and flinging my pashmina over my shoulder, look around as though I was waiting to meet a friend equally elegant of dress..

I need not have been nervous.

It turned out to be a most enjoyable if somewhat drunken affair during which I chatted to many gracious guests and towards the end shook the hand of the President Of Ireland and thanked him most profusely for his eloquent speech, an action I might have hesitated on at a more sober event or if my friend had been there to restrain me.

(I blame the organizers! really they should reconsider letting wine flow so freely at these occasions).

I recall at another exhibition a few years earlier where the owner of the gallery had to remind us that that we were not in a pub so it was not necessary to roar so loudly for more wine and where someone ( thankfully not I) fell asleep on the red art nouveau couch which had pride of space in the centre of the room.

They did look rather beautiful in a black dress with white limbs draped gracefully along the couch and the wise Proprietor felt it better to leave them in situe and remove them discreetly at the end of the night.

A decision we all agreed was for the best, knowing that this particular Being did not wake always in the best of humour.

But alcohol and art do go hand in hand and it was only wine that was being served at this exhibition and not Absinthe or the like.

With the wine was served the daintiest and most artistic of canapés and though beautiful to view as they stood demurely wrapped in seaweed on a silver platter, they stood no chance of soaking up any of the alcohol in our systems.

At the end of the night, starving and light headed, I stumbled out onto the darkened street and leaving it to my bicycle to keep me safe, wobbled back towards Dawson street and on up to Davy Byrnes on dukes street in search of sustenance.


And unknowingly, Compassion!

Unlike attending exhibitions on my own I have no problem with the singular method of dining.

It gives me a chance to observe others and I always carry a notebook as inspiration often strikes when I’m in the presence of good food.

And Davy Byrnes serves just that.

I will always sit outside if possible, even in the depths of winter and as I settled myself cosily into a chair under a heater, a thin looking girl approached me.

She was wearing jeans, her face half hidden by her anorak hood.

She came forward uncertainly, her voice so low, I only caught snatches of what she was saying. But I got the gist. She needed money for a hostel for the night.

I rooted in my purse and pulled out a fiver, feeling fortunate that I could afford food and more wine and had a warm place to go to that night, unless of course I fell drunkenly of my bike and into a gutter on my way home.

Whether it is right or wrong to give money to people begging on the street is a much debated subject.

For me, its not even the giving of the money that is the argument but the not wishing to treat someone who approaches you for help as invisible and ignoring their existence altogether.

Its also about recognising the suffering of another human without judging.

Its about being compassionate.

How this girl or anyone else ends up living on the margins of society is not for me to decide.

‘Is it better to give or receive’? I think I know the answer to that.

Research has shown that compassion increases our happiness, health and well being.

In fact Compassion improves health by strengthening our immune system, normalizing our blood pressure, lowering our stress levels improving our physical recovery from illnesses and even extending our lives.

So it is possible on this occasion I had unintentionally benefited more..

Last January cycling down the same street, I saw an elderly lady standing half hidden behind a post.

She was warmly dressed in a coat, leather boots on her feet and a woolly hat covered her grey curly hair.

Her face was wrinkled but her lipstick was carefully applied. she wore blue eye shadow and pink rouge.

Her coat looked dated but Her cuffs were neither scruffy or threadbare.

I would guess her age to be mid seventies.

Nothing unusual so far.

As I got nearer I noticed she had a cardboard sign hanging around her neck with ‘PLEASE HELP’ written on it.

I was shocked but also intrigued and rooted for some change in my bag.

She smiled when she saw me doing so and held out a paper cup.

I dropped a few euro’s in.

There was no responding jangle from inside the cup.

‘Would you like a cup of tea or coffee’? I asked her politely.

She nodded still smiling ‘I’d love a coffee please’.

Her voice was clear and steady.

‘A cappuccino’ she called after me as I headed around the corner.

There was a long queue at the cafe and I was sure as I rounded the corner with the coffee that either I had imagined her or If she was real that she would be gone.

But she was still there .

She held out her hand, her nails were trimmed and clean

‘I hope you take sugar’ I said.

‘Oh I do, I Love sweet things’she replied laughing guiltily.

She looked happy and took the cup from me. awkwardly holding her begging one against her chest.

‘May I ask you something’?

She raised her head from the cup a line of frothy milk dotted her top lip and looked at me expectantly..

‘Why are you begging’ I felt silly asking such a question.

She simpered looking half embarrassed and half pleased with herself.

‘Well Christmas was expensive you know , I have lots of grandchildren and I wanted to get them nice things and now I can’t pay my electricity bill so I thought…..

Her voice trailed off as she shrugged her shoulders ruefully and took another sip of her cappuccino.

‘Thank you for the coffee’ Her smile was sweet and guileless.

I cycled away feeling something wasn’t quite right.

I was near the station when it struck me.

Of course!

I cycled back as fast as I could but when I turned the corner she was gone.

I wish I had offered to pay her electricity bill for her!


The definition of compassion: Compassion is the practice of being present to the suffering of others and responding from our heart with a desire to relieve this suffering with kindness, caring and support.