Friday 16 February 2007

Townland Directory Enquiries- A very scary place to be!

ireland map
"So who's going to be there? Will I know everybody?"
"Sure, there's going to be meself and himself and herself and yourself, and Maggie. You know Maggie."
"Oh yeh, Maggie! Great, that's fine. So what time did ye say?"
"Around half eight nine, and -"
"Errmm... hang on a minute! Who is Maggie again? I'm not sure I know Maggie."
"Sure you do. Tommy's sister."
"Tommy who?"
"You know, Tommy with the car. Ronan's brother, the fella with the stripy T-shirt and the bad teeth."
"Oh yeh, right, Ronan with the bad teeth. Got that. So who's Maggie?"
"I jus' told you! Maggie's brother's car was Tommy's mate up in Dundalk."
"Oh yeh, right."
Ever since I moved to Ireland I have been astounded at the insistence the locals show that everyone should know everyone else.
To this London-born Brit, to whom survival depended on talking little, never poking a nose where it didn't belong, and minding your P's and Q's (whatever on this earth they were) Irish flock knowledge comes as a wondrous and sometimes welcome phenomenon.
Unlike in England, where massive migrations to the cities began with the industrial revolution of the 19th century, in Ireland life continued to be centred around the village and townland.
With the arrival of the 21st century Service Industry Revolution, there are now millions of Irish people living in cites, seemingly all hanging on to the expectation that, just like back home in the village, everyone will know everyone else.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not knocking it, because I can see that it comes from a human and compassionate place, but whilst within the Townland it nurtures and reassures those vulnerable that nobody will be left alone, within the urban environment it can simply be a right royal pain in the hole.
Usually, as in the the snippet above, these discourses are not based entirely upon a need-to-know basis, as they are wont to say these days.
Clearly our talker didn't really need to know who Maggie was. At first he decided to pretend he did know who Maggie was, because then he might reap the information that he really sought from his mate.
So just as might you and I, he steered well clear of the whole Maggie issue to begin with, but then he wobbled.
As soon as he found out from his mate what time things were starting in the evening, he felt a little bit safe, a tad comfy with proceedings, at which point he lost it, and went and asked who Maggie really was.
And that was his fatal error, because he tapped into Townland Directory Enquiries, a national Irish synapse.
Walk warily into Townland Directory Enquiries, because with these talks, the journey is long. To succeed, in order to preserve your sanity and your friendships, you will require endurance and tenacity, enthusiasm, and a little secret knowledge, which I will impart to you anon.
The depth of your enthusiasm should be equal in strength to the sum of your tenacity and endurance, because as long as you continue to show an interest, the person who knows the person that he/she insists you know (henceforth known as the Insistor) will continue to try and find a way that you might and must and will know this person too.
Alas, this is nowt but 'Mrs. Doyle Reflex' at work, and just as Farther Ted used to play his insistent tea lady like a trout, allowing her a good few 'You will you will you will's, he also knew how to release himself from her grip.
So stay the course as long as you are able to sustain a smile on your face and a song in your heart. Soon your admiration of the Insistor's seemingly Olympian skill at this Community Scrabble Challenge will wane, and then the entire thing becomes tiresome.
Never ever let your enthusiasm run shorter than your endurance, because if you absorb too much blather whilst your Happy Tank's on empty, you might well blow at any time:
"I don't give a feckin' shite who David's brother's girlfriend's cat was run over by after Siobhan fell over in the pub where you lost your mobile phone. I forgot who it was I asked you about in the first place now. I no longer care, and what is more, I do not ever want to see you again. Please please shut up please now please."
That or anything like it would be a most unfortunate outcome, so now I can reveal the
smidgen of vital secret knowledge that will help you out when ensnared in the 4 million to one longshot gamble that Insistors ever-so mightily want you to win
First up comes the friendly gentle let-down. The Insistor will most probably not realise that you are backing out, if you simply refer to a pub that you both hold dear.
For instance, with my personal history:
"I'd probably know her/him from either/or The Quays; Tobar days; Taylor's days."
At which you most likely will receive a gentle breeze of blessed relief, in the shape of
"Oh yeh, that'd be her/him."
But sometimes you get it totally wrong, and the whole thing goes Public Bar upwards. "No!" says your Insistor, "They never drank there, not in that pub!", but now you've gone and shown more enthusiasm, right at a point when your Insistor was thinking to let it go, because Insisitors know it doesn't matter too.
You both know it's a waste of time and energy, and you both know it doesn't really matter, but you both have to do it because you have roles to fulfil.
Until finally, you pull off your Maesterstück.
In all the years that I have lived here, this one has never failed. A simple line, it has saved friendships, stopped me pulling my phone out of the wall in moments of wretched desperation, and sometimes, just on the odd occasion mind, it has been true.
"Ah yeh, I think I know who you mean! I'm sure I'd know 'em to see 'em!"
To which, absolutely invariably in my experience, comes:
"Ah ye would! Ye'd know 'em to see 'em!"
After which exchange, life can begin again, two souls no longer locked in a pointless endless quest to prove something that neither mattered in the least nor existed in any real or metaphysical sense.
By God, I love this country!

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