I was asked this week why nearly all of my blog posts recently have been about the past. It’s true – lately I have found myself swimming in pools of nostalgia, unwilling to get out, dry myself off and get on with the present. The reason is fairly simple – I’m not a huge fan of the world right now. In fact, as much as I love Waterford, I think it’s a shadow of the city it used to be.
I appreciate that not everybody revels in nostalgia so I assure you, this column will not always follow that particular road. I just think, right now, with Waterford and its people heading towards optimistic bankruptcy, it might be a good idea to look back, before we can look forward again. Waterford used to be great, and we shouldn’t have to rely on Dublin to make it great again.
The march of 10-11-12, as I hope it will be forever known, was fantastic. As I stood on the field in Ballybricken, I was reminded of the old “Thrill on the Hill”. Jesus wept, wasn’t that just brilliant? Bands, games, activities for kids and more importantly, all the bars and shops so full that people were streaming out onto the roads. After the march on Saturday, all the restaurants did a roaring trade, all the shops were drowning in footfall and everyone seemed to have a smile on their face. It doesn’t take a Waterpark honours student to tell us that when Waterford people get together in numbers, the city thrives.
Spraoi do a wonderful job each year but they need more support. I know that in recent years they have tried a “give a fiver for spraoi” campaign – I’m the cynical type so I’d hazard a guess that this hasn’t proved to be a roaring success. The thing is, Waterford people love Spraoi and I’m sure they’d all love to support it. I think there should be a support Spraoi day every year, with money collectors all over the county, for just one day, for our most treasured local fiesta.
The Tall Ships Festival took everyone’s breath away and showed us, if we didn’t already know, that this city can be a major player on the world stage. Instead of sitting back and crossing our fingers that it will come again, why don’t we think of more ways to bring people to Waterford in their numbers? Of course, honourable mentions go to the Harvest Festival, Imagine Festival and this year’s Winterval. We need to support these initiatives so they can continue to blossom.
When I was a child growing up in Waterford city I created a lot of wonderful memories for my thirty-two year old self to look back on (and bore everyone with). The old cinema on Patrick Street may as well have been Disney Land for me back then. I saw films like Ghostbusters, Neverending Story and Santa Claus The Movie in what seemed like the biggest picture house on the Planet. I’m pretty sure that Cinema One was the size of a small village in Monaghan, and one of the other screens had a large drop in front of the screen, maybe 20 feet? Pretty sure it was the largest cinema refuse bin on the planet. Contrast that with today’s cinema where you have to sacrifice the deeds of your house at the shop. Popcorn, sweets, drink and ticket for the cinema = feed a large family in Tullamore for a year. They can talk to me all they want about costs and figures but they can’t justify moody staff and twenty euro sweeties.
Also, can anyone tell me a shop that exists in the centre of town that can evoke the same kind of excitement that The KK Discount Store and Fitzmaurices did when we were kids? The KK Discount store was a world of absolute magic. There was a joke section, where you could buy those fake chewing gums that when you offered someone one it would take their fingers off. They also sold that famous farting gas that came in a little brown cannister. The city still kinda reeks a bit of that stuff. Upstairs was known as the attic because it’s where all of our Christmas presents were hiding, until they were paid off. Fitzmaurice’s sold everything from magazines to model airplanes to board games and sweets. In the 80s and 90s it provided a valuable babysitting service for Waterford parents who needed some alone time on a Saturday afternoon. The like of it will never be seen again.
We need to do whatever it takes to inject the life back into our city again. Rent and rates need to be looked at. Business owners, who, by some miracle, are still operating in the city, need to speak out more about the problems they are facing – and everyone needs to listen. How many shops, bars, clubs and restaurants have closed in the past 2 years? The answer is too many. Yes, Waterford needs more jobs, but it also needs the kind of radical and forward thinking that got fifteen thousand of us taking to the streets last Saturday.
This was a relatively serious column this week, and I’m sorry for that, but as Thunderclap Newman once said – “There’s something in the air”.