There is something nice about downtime. When you can throw off your work clothes, slip into your comfiest gear and lounge around the house secure in the knowledge that nobody will be calling, when effectively you're in for the night. Galway is a city that is built on downtime — its streets and clubs and restaurants and hotels are all based on soothing those who are on downtime, who come in search of it, to have their weary heads nursed back to an equilibrium of calm and resilience.
But sometimes, the city needs its own downtime — a chance for it to breathe in between the hustle and the bustle of all it bears throughout the year. Our weary streets must look enviously at remote towns and wish they had more time to be themselves, to be not always on front door duty, to not have to be wearing the best dress every day, but to have a time when you can throw on an old housecoat and answer the bell with your hair in curlers.
I like Galway when it is in downtime — those few hours between 8am and 11am when effectively the city belongs to a different crowd. When it is stripped bare, and every alley and nook is filled with the noise of those who make sure the city is replenished and given a cat's lick.
It is good to see Galway naked at that time — bereft of any pretensions. The early morning clatter of lorries delivering refreshing the perishables, the sound of gulls squawking, blown in from the sea and taking a predatory stroll around the grass in Eyre Square before the hikers get up. The noise of kegs falling off lorries onto soft mats, of a hundred loaves walking with legs towards a shop; hear the snip of a scissors opening a bundle of newspapers, the stretched yawn of a tired old dog woken by the morning sun, the opportunistic stare of a street cat, the splash of water on a storefront, the squeak of awnings being wound out for another day of shielding, the scrapping of light metallic chairs into position underneath.
There is a very European feel to Galway at that hour of the morning, almost medieval — when we see where everything comes from, we see the army of men and women who come together to replenish the city for the day ahead, when the sound of rubber tyres over the cobblestones of Shop Street reminds you of the time when you had to look both ways before crossing from O'Gormans to O'Connors, from McCambridges to Lydon House.
These folk who lift the city and shake it out like a bed blanket in the morning time, are gone again by elevenses; when the coffeeratti take over, when the first tour buses have deposited their walking tours, when the dogs and cats go back to dog and cat places, away from the madding crowds.
It is warming to live in a place where such a short time of reprieve brings so much charm. In a fast year, we have seen our seasons roll with the festivals; the bunting of one event quickly replaced by another; the buzz of the arts, the roar of the races, the laughs of the comedy carnival and now in just a matter of weeks, the spinning circle of light that will be the Christmas market ferris wheel. It seems but yesterday that it was taken down, and now, another year has passed and we sit on the cusp of 2020 —a year that is so much more than a year for Galway.
With all that is going on, it is good to sample downtime, if not in the city, in your own place. To reduce everything to the basic again, to a time when we renew and refresh and replenish. To see behind the curtains of the performance that is Galway before we put on our showtime faces once again...