Monday, 17 June 2013

Has this Londoner finally become a culchie?

Last Friday evening I rolled down the blinds in my living room to block out the blazing sunshine, so that I could watch the Ireland game. Not the slightest trace of guilt ran through me, even though I could have joined the Snapper, who was sitting outside, drinking a glass of wine and revelling in the beauty of a Summer’s evening in the West of Ireland.

To be fair to myself, I’d spent many hours working and walking outside during that beautiful spell of weather, and know my own signs of having had enough: a slight sting from the skin on my forehead when it meets the salt in a bead of sweat and it’s time to seek shade.

No offence to your boys in green, but as a lover of football it’s unusual for me to either look forward to or subsequently enjoy watching Ireland play, yet for some inexplicable reason I’ve watched pretty much every game they’ve played in the last 21 years. Mind you, I’d have to be a cynical bore not to have loved being crammed into Keoghs pub in Ballyconneely, like a nut in a bag of beery muesli, experiencing the beating of Italy in Giants Stadium back in 1994. When Ray Houghton’s goal went in, the pub and nation went mental as one, creating a truly memorable sporting thrill in my happy pantheon.

While I cheer for your lads, I’m loyal to my own. If England are playing and on tele at the same time as an Ireland game, my loyalty is to your auld enemy. Sadly, my love of football is rarely sated significantly more by my lads in white than your own.

Almost as soon as last week’s game started, my brain switched off. The Faroe Islands players made it abundantly clear that they had no desire to score a goal. In their minds victory existed within the parameters of how great or feeble might be their defeat. The game was going to be a non-competitive bore. 

To pass the time I sent a few texts to some of my Irish friends who I imagined must be watching, but no: Dalooney was playing on Inishturk, the Quinnster was having a barbeque and quite rightly, everyone else was out, living their lives, enjoying the wondrous evening that was in it, as you are wont to say.

So why was I feeling a loyalty to the Ireland team that so many of my Irish friends didn’t?Indeed, why was I repeating a pattern of behaviour that once brought me much pain when I lived in north Mayo?

Back then, on another baking hot Summer’s evening, I sat alone in the empty McHale’s pub, watching the crushing bore that was Ireland v Andorra, as surprised then as I was last week to discover that the Irish celebrate being Irish by being outside when the sun shines  in Ireland.

Months after, when Ireland met the mighty Spain in the World Cup itself, I drove to the pub excited with anticipation. This was why I’d watched all those qualifiers. Today was the stuff of footballing dreams. The pub was packed to the gills, and as I walked in a hulking great eedjit at the bar  - a Hoops fan with more cider than cerebellum - raised his arm, pointed his finger at me and bellowed as a clap of thunder

“No! You! Fuck off!”

Even though there were a plethora of friendly faces around the bar, the thug had disarmed me. Never mind the fact that I’d watched every game his national team had played, while he’d been out bush drinking or picking his teeth with his toenails, I was defeated by the first blow. 

I just couldn’t be bothered. Miserable and wretched, I went home to watch the game on my own.

Sometimes I feel so English here in the West of Ireland, yet nowadays when I go back to London, I feel far from home. A couple of weeks ago myself and the Snapper went over for my lovely sister’s 60th birthday lunch. Giving consideration to our funds and work timetables, we figured out that the best way to do it was to spend the night before at an hotel near Shannon airport, catch the early morning flight to Heathrow and the evening flight back. We’d be home by midnight and could take the next day off to recover. We even joked that we were flying to London for lunch. Dwaaaahhling, look at us and our jet set ways!

I was so pleased to be there. We had a fantastic time among my small family and sister’s close friends, but the otherworldliness of the setting blew me away. In the heart of the plush gardens of Holland Park, the restaurant appeared to me exceptionally grand and splendid, whereas to those who lived in London it was just another nice place to go. 

At times, even though I was in the city of my birth, the place seemed somehow alien and utterly remarkable. I was less impressed that Marco Pierre White was the executive chef than I was with the old building’s sweeping arches, huge ceilings and gigantic artworks. Apparently the place had been a huge hit in the Swinging Sixties, and I could just imagine Marianne passing a joint to Keef while John and Paul tripped the acid fantastic right 
where we were sitting.

“So when are you flying back, Charlie?” asked one of my sister’s friends.
“Oh we’re going back tonight! We just flew over for lunch actually!” I replied, laughing along with the Snapper at the very idea of it.

But the Londoner just nodded and smiled, because to him there was nothing unusual about such behaviour.
It struck me then and occurred to me once more during that Ireland game that I have become neither more Irish nor less English after 21 years of living here, but the Londoner I once was has become more of a yokel. 

Or should that read ‘culchie’?

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