An Irishman's Diary

Wed, Jun 29, 2011, 01:00

HAS anybody seen a Dublin “lock-hard” man lately, or is it possible that this long-threatened species of Irish wildlife has finally become extinct, without anybody noticing? I’ve seen more red squirrels (one) so far this year than I have lock-hards. And in Molesworth Street on a recent weekend evening – a place and time where multiple sightings used to be guaranteed – I somehow had to find and fill a parking place on my own, without one of these gentlemen first drawing my attention to the bleeding obvious and then loudly advising me how to reverse into it, even if it was big enough for a Boeing 747.

Not that their going the way of the dodo would be greatly lamented by anyone. But even so: they were a feature of Dublin life for decades, and their final passing should at least be noted. If there was a last of the lock-hard Mohicans somewhere, announcing his retirement after 42 years of pretend-service to the North Great Brunswick Street parking community, or wherever, it would surely merit a picture in the paper.

Perhaps he would be said to be “hanging up his cap”; although, being a latter-day lock-hard, he probably wouldn’t have a cap. In the profession’s heyday, peaked headgear added a veneer of spurious professionalism. In fact, I used to suspect there was a “ capo di tutti capi” controlling the trade, distributing hats and street corners to lieutenants, or perhaps occasionally giving a new son-in-law the north and west sides of Mountjoy Square as a wedding present.

But first the caps went. And then there was a more general decline. Maybe, paradoxically, the loss of head cover led to a reduction in the hardness-of-neck that was vital to the enterprise, especially with the steady advance, geographical and chronological, of paid parking areas. The latter development meant that increasingly, on top of the meter-costs, lock-hard men were levying a double taxation. And even the extortion of nuisance money must have some moral basis for the public to accept it.

With the advance of paid-parking, of course, came the clampers. Thus was the lock-hard man’s fate sealed. Like the red squirrel, he was finally driven out of his traditional habitats by a more powerful rival. Not that the clamper van preyed on him directly. It’s just that it was bigger, stronger, and had a more voracious appetite. So the lock-hard man found it harder and harder to compete for food.

The wonder is that the species didn’t evolve to survive. During the boom years, at least, a few forward-thinking lock-hards could easily have reinvented themselves as a company, putting the word “solutions” in their name somewhere (eg “Acme Parking Solutions: loudly directing you into spaces since 1973”) and then advertising their mobile phone numbers.

With their own car – any old rust-bucket would do – they could have provided a semi-legitimate service by occupying prime street-parking spaces until contacted by needy customers, whereupon for a fee, they could vacate, before moving on to colonise new spaces elsewhere. Circa 2005, the public demand would have been such that the first-movers into the business would quickly have built up a fleet of vehicles. Whereas it probably wouldn’t pay now, what with the price of petrol.

MAYBE it’s premature to announce the lock-hard man’s definitive end. Either way, it strikes me that one of the distinctive peaked caps would make a useful addition to the Little Museum of Dublin, which is due to open on St Stephen’s Green later this year. A not-for-profit initiative of the man who used to edit Dublinermagazine, Trevor White, the museum aims “to tell the story of Dublin in the 20th century”. Towards which end, the curators are still seeking donations of suitable objects.

It is, as Trevor points out, an odd situation that Dublin does not already have a museum of this kind. Cork has one. So do such regional British outposts as Leeds and Glasgow. But of a place to tell its own story, the city where “What’s the story?” starts every second conversation has been bereft since the demise of the old Civic Museum. Not for much longer, happily.

I can’t prejudge the selection committee by predicting that a lock-hard’s cap would definitely make the collection. It would need good provenance, as a minimum, and probably also a interesting back-story, plus photographs. But if anyone has such an item, I’m prepared to complement the donation with my copy of the famous old joke about the lock-hard, the car-driver, and the Alsatian. Yes, the one with the punch-line: “Does your dog put out fires?” It’s in pristine condition, used in this column only twice. Three times max.

In the meantime, the curators are potentially interested in a wide range of other items, including art, letters, telegrams, stamps, photographs, postcards, furniture, and advertising material. “Games, oddities, and devices,” are welcome too, as are “miscellaneous artefacts”. In short, if you have anything that might help tell Dublin’s story, and are prepared to part with it, the people at are waiting to hear from you now.