Rosita Boland: I stood under a tree in case Goldilocks showed up

A pot of steaming porridge in a Dublin park and other mysteries found while walking

The unsolved mystery of the porridge in the park. Photograph: iStock

The unsolved mystery of the porridge in the park. Photograph: iStock

 

I have done a lot of walking around my Dublin neighbourhood in recent months, for reasons I don’t need to explain. These are some of the things I have seen while on my walks

A pot of still-hot porridge, on a park bench, at 7am. I saw it in the distance, a red thing. I arrived at the bench to discover a lidless, red, cast-iron pot, full of porridge that was still steaming. There was nobody else in the park.

I wondered if the porridge was for someone who needed it; someone maybe sleeping rough, and who also usefully happened to have a spoon with them. But there was nobody around. I went and stood under a distant tree for a while, in case Goldilocks or someone else was going to show up, but nobody came. By the time I went back to the pot, the porridge was cold.

I love the lit, uncurtained windows that frame the miniature tableaux of domesticity

Other people started coming into the park. They were running, and walking dogs, and doing yoga. None of them came near the bench. I took action, and possession of the pot. I emptied the cold porridge into a bin, and as I turned it upside down, I saw a Le Creuset sticky label on the bottom; the fancy – and pricy – French cookware brand.

But it wasn’t actually a Le Creuset pot, because when I peeled off the label, there was no trademark brand name stamped into the enamel. (I learned a lot during my time at MI5.) It was a brand-new fake fancy pot of porridge that someone had very recently deliberately left on a bench early in the morning in a public park.

Public service announcement number one: you’re meant to remove paper labels from the bottom of pots before using them, in case they start burning. I stood there in the park, puzzling about the motivation behind the person who had been up very early to make porridge in this fake fancy pot that was also a minor fire hazard, and who had then left their house to deposit it somewhere else, leaving the lid behind.

Anyway, I brought the pot home.

Another day, I walked through a labyrinth of many side alleys and back lanes and saw only bins, and a vision of what could be there instead. These passageways all had doors leading into gardens, and I wondered when Dublin’s many such alleys had become populated solely by household waste. It seemed such a lost opportunity to turn these into communal spaces, where lights could be strung up, or flowerboxes put on the walls, and people could come out of their back doors and sit on chairs in their alleys, and chat to each other.

One community did just this in south Belfast during lockdown last year, transforming a grim, narrow, unused alley into a bower of flowers and fairy lights; a chair outside each back door. Gardener Diarmuid Gavin even went there with television cameras in tow to talk to the residents about the new kind of urban garden space they had created.

One night before the hour changed, I was out walking in the dark. I love the lit, uncurtained windows that frame the miniature tableaux of domesticity. Here is one window with a family eating dinner round a table; a child reaching for ketchup. Here a black dog asleep on a rug. Here a pair of legs on an ottoman opposite a television, shoes off.

And at one upstairs window, there was a woman sitting over a laptop, crying. She had her hands up to her eyes, and her shoulders were shaking. First I wondered if she was laughing, but then she put her hands down to pick up a tissue, and I could see she was definitely crying.

I stood there unseen on the street below for a minute or so, troubled. Had she had bad news? Was it maybe work related? A break up? Pandemic exhaustion? It could have been anything; something bad enough that she forgot to close the curtains and shut the world out as she wept and wept. She was in a way, all of us at some point during this past year.

By the way, in case it was you who left that lidless red pot on a bench in Belgrave Square, and want it back, I don’t have it any more. I created quite the fire hazard myself when I inconveniently fell asleep on the couch during one lockdown dinner time and burned the pot dry, eventually setting off my fire alarm.

Public service announcement number two: don’t fall asleep when you’re in the middle of cooking.

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