It is bitterly cold. I am six and my mother has made me wear a rabbit on my head. I peel it off in embarrassment in the schoolyard but a pidgeon deposits a spoldge of excrement upon me. I suspect it to have been a well-intended, though grossly mistimed act of solidarity. Years later I pass a girl on Mount Pleasant Avenue who is scrunching solicitously into a plastic bag the brownish mush of waste her dog has achieved. Thoughts of good citizenship and excrement have been my occupation ever since.
Erwin James, who spent 20 years in prison in England wrote in the Guardian in March that while visiting Mountjoy, he was engulfed by “a powerful whiff of prison years I thought had long since been abandoned”. Each day prisoners in Mountjoy form a queue to empty, one by one their ‘slop’ into a large porcelain sink. The indignity of the task may not be criminal: after all, have not they wavered the right to the privileges associated with law-abiding citizenship?
It would appear that Irish society considers private urination not only a privilege but also a mandate. Public urination carries a fine and, famously the alternative punishment of holding an apologetic sign of atonement at the scene of offence. Pet owners are inticed by products like the “canine clean-up claw” (http://www.canineclaw.co.uk/) and those that don’t “poop and scoop” are maligned by upstanding citizens.
Yesterday I helped a very sick old lady make her way from bed to toilet. She had on an enormous nappy and packets of pills to control her diarrhoea lay beside her bed. I sat her down and called in every few minutes to make sure she was alright. There is shame in the indignity of our prison service and tragedy in the human condition.