Wednesday, 27 April 2011

'She'll be fine now' - that's why I live here!

Several weeks ago, just after the big Grand Slam rugby match in Dublin, I was at Luton Airport for the late night flight to Galway. The security guard at looked at my boarding pass.

 “Hope you're happy now, beating us at cricket and rugby!”

There was an edge of good old-fashioned English aggression in his tone, so I walked on through into the Departure Area without bothering to tell him I was English too. His tongue-lash reminded me why I prefer the lack of violence inherent in the people of the West of Ireland to the latent violence all over English attitudes.

Trouble was, after that rugby match, I'd read acres of Irish newspapers and listened to scores of Irish voices telling me how, sure, wasn't it feckin' mighty to wipe those smile off the faces of the auld enemy? The nationalist fever (yes, 'nationalist' is the word, unless you prefer 'jingoistic') that surrounded the victory made me wonder: why have I been in love with the West, ever since I arrived here 19 years ago?

The memory of a friend's voice slid through my brain. Back in London, outside a pub, he'd asked

“So what is it you love so much about living out there, Charlie? The whole country's broke and anyway, don't they hate you for being English ?”
“Dunno.” I offered eloquently in reply.
“Do you ever think of coming back to England?”
“Not a chance.”

If relationships are all about the bad times, then my love of the West of Ireland must run strong and true. As we in the West know, when economists and journalists say 'Ireland' they mean 'Dublin and the Pale'. If life in that 'Ireland' is described as tough, you can bet the price of your last pint that times are even harder in the West, yet still I'd live nowhere else.

Whereas in England people are culturally and bureaucratically punished for being poor, here in the West of Ireland a simple humanity thrives still. Despite the inescapable melancholy that pervades our daily lives; the stark hard fact that jobs this side of the Shannon are rarer than raw meat and that paying each month's rent or mortgage now presents a financial mountain to climb, we stick together and have a laugh.

It's safe to say that 'Hard Times' is the West of Ireland's default setting. Here we know how to smile when life is hard, and we're famous for the way we party. Thankfully, the people of the West of Ireland determine for themselves when times are good, and it's rarely based on our financial status. A good time might be the next 9 minutes, the next 8 hours, or it might not come for weeks and months. But from the moment she kicks off her shoes, be ready to dance!

The flight landed safely back at Galway Airport around midnight. I showed my UK passport to the Irish Immigration Officer.

“Enjoy your stay.”

For the second time that night I couldn’t be bothered to explain that while yes, I'm English, I first arrived in Galway almost  two decades ago. It's my home, has been for ages. I love it, hate it, know it backwards, inside out, up the wall and around the bend, as only an outsider can. Yet 'tis the curse of the blow-in, to answer every single day of your life “Are you on holidays?” or “Whereabouts in London are you from? I was over there in the 50s, d'y'know!”

Galway Airport has two Car Park Payment machines, each side of the Terminal entrance. That night the machine on the right had an 'Out Of Order' notice stuck on it, and there was already a long queue for the one remaining machine. The slightly harassed and hirsute American at the front of the queue put his ticket into the machine, but it didn't register.

Nothing happened.

Feeling twelve pairs of impatient eyes burning his neck from behind, he started pressing buttons like Ensign Sulu on Red Alert. As we looked on over his shoulder, the screen went German, Norwegian, all over the place.

There were grumblings in the queue. It was late. We were tired. We wanted to pay for our parking but if their equipment wasn't working then couldn't they just raise the barrier and let us go? Please?

Frustrated, the American tourist went off to speak to the folk at the Information Desk, and sure enough, a few minutes later a bloke with a bright orange plastic toolkit arrived.
At last someone was on the case. He was going to take on the machine.

Except he didn't.

Side-stepping us all, he strolled over to the other machine and peeled off the 'Out Of Order’ sign that was taped to it.

“You can use this one now!” he said, as we all gasped astonished. Facing us with not a trace of a smile, he explained

 “Sure, it was just booting up. Takes about an hour. She'll be fine now!”

While others around me made infuriated grumpy sounds and wha'th'hell perplexed explosives, I smiled as I slipped in my ticket, giggled a little as I paid my money, chuckled as I left the airport and guffawed as I drove home.

She'll be fine now. That's what the man said, and that's why I love living here. The sign might say 'Out Of Order', but that's not the truth of it. Life's absurdities are relied upon and respected in the West of Ireland, and after travelling around the planet a couple of times, I found out that I belong here.


joel said...

Well written. Reminds me if how I always feel like a "blow in". Plus the memories of just wanting to get out of the airport parking lot and just get home. Ffs.

Charlie Adley said...

Hey Joel - Good to hear from you. Aye, even though it's home to us, we're always from somewhere else to them. Mind you, there's times when I'm glad to be different, and even (sometimes) times when I'm proud to be English!