This post has its origins in a mini-epiphany I had while driving up the main street of the town yesterday evening. To explain it requires a little background, not too much, bear with me.
I lived in London for fourteen years. Great years. I was never one of those archetypal Paddies who cried into their inferior Guinness and pined for home. Naw-haw. Not me, I bloody loved the place.
So why leave? Why come back here, to Ireland?
Well, it was family, mostly, my new family. John had just been born and suddenly there was a desire, on both our parts, for him to have a shot at what we had – an Irish childhood, friendships, family, education. So we sold up and moved back to the West of Ireland. Not ‘home’ home, a new town, new people, but somewhat familiar territory nonetheless. Home Ground.
Except it wasn’t. London had wreaked its changes on me and, although I had never lost my accent or my inherent Irishness, I had, I think, become somewhat detached from the place. For a long time, I felt an alien in my own country and I missed the things that I missed.
This has very much faded over the years. John is sixteen now and he was only a baby when we all came back. I’ve settled back in very well. I have never been back to London since I motored off up the M1 in 1997 although my wife goes back every year. All is good.
But a wee part of me misses London. I really lived it up for those fourteen years that I was there. I don’t mean in an extravagant ‘Champagne and Caviar’ style. I just mean that life was ‘Big’, you know? Some of it was brilliant and some of it was indisputably quite awful but it was all ‘Big’. And life outside London is smaller than life inside ‘London’ is. This isn’t a fact obviously, it’s just my own take on things, but that’s what I think and life has definitely become smaller.
So, yes, I miss London.
But then, when I think about it a little more, I start to realise that it isn’t London that I miss at all. I spent much of my Twenties and the first half of my Thirties in London and that’s the key to it all. It’s not London that I miss, it’s being in my Twenties and in my Thirties. It wasn’t really London that was ‘Big’ at all, it was those decades of my life. I think most-everybody’s Twenties and Thirties are Big and most everybody’s Forties, with the advent of kids and responsibility and such, is invariably that much smaller.
So that’s quite the mini-epiphany, isn’t it?
Except that isn’t the one I had last night while driving up the town. This one just ‘came out of the typing’, as sometimes happens.
Here’s what happened last night.
As I said at the start, I was driving up the town and it was about seven thirty and there were people out on the main street, many of them who I knew and who knew me, and they were all up to something. They were hanging bunting across the street. Green and red triangles in support and praise of our county team who will do battle in the football final in a few weeks. And I waved at them and they waved back and I drove on and it was a pleasant evening and I realised how well I know this place now, its many little moods, who sits behind almost every shop door, the very bumps in the footpath and, suddenly, there it was - my‘mini-epiphany’. And it was this:
“This is what you wanted.”
Back in 1987, Trish and I had gone to see a film in London (where we lived). It was ‘Roxanne’. You know the one – Steve Martin does Cyrano De Bergerac, with the big nose and all. It was great fun and we enjoyed it. But, more pertinently, we had a chat after it and I only recalled this chat as I drove up the town yesterday evening, under all that half-hung red-and-green bunting.
After seeing ‘Roxanne’, I remember saying this, “I love London, I do, but sometime, years from now maybe, I’d like to have what Steve Martin’s character had in that film. The small town, the community, a place where everybody knows your name.” I’m not kidding you or mis-remembering, I really said that.
And last evening, it dawned on me that I’ve only gone and got exactly what I wished for on that evening twenty-five years ago. I got the dream. I now live in a nice tight little community who know me. Hell some of them even seem to like me. Visitors who walk with me through my town are often astonished at the level of interaction and greeting and fun that goes on, just with random people in the street.
Yet again, my wishes seem to have come true.
How bloody lucky am I?