Friday, July 15, 2016

My hometown

The other week I read the lovely Where wishes come from's ode to her hometown, a town which happens to neighbour mine.

Since then I've had a stream of words and memories tumbling around my head that have been waiting to find a place on a page, or a screen at the very least.

So seeing as I only have a small amount of space in my brain left these days, I think it's probably time that I made room for some of the more pressing matters in my life - such as who is minding my kids this week and when the hell am I going to get the time to wash those clothes.


My hometown. It's not hard to pop on the rose tinted glasses and get all nostalgic about it, because the fact is it was very much a fairy tale place to grow up in.

We lived in a house with a big garden right in the centre of the village. My earliest memories are of sun soaked summers, walking barefoot down the main street and over the iron bridge to the beach. The old brown bridge provided it's own entertainment for many years - each step was patterned with one of three designs and we would race each other over it shouting diamonds! fishes! holes! fishes! fishes! diamonds! until we tripped over ourselves or our words and someone was declared the winner.

On the other side of the bridge we entered my most important world. The sea. But only after trying to figure out the absolute centre stone in that weird stone circle thing by the public toilets first.

As kids we would jump through the waves screaming with cold and delight. Later years saw us graduate to 'the mens' where we would dare each other to jump and dive from ever more dangerous places. The board, the bridge, the blue spot, the mini blue, the wall.. Somehow we survived it all, though looking back I'm not exactly sure how.

In those early days there was also a raft there. I used to look longingly at it as it bobbed up and down in the distance, so far away even for a decent swimmer like me. The older, cooler teenagers would take it in turns to swim one handed out to it, carrying cigarettes that they would then light up as they lolled around sunbathing. I promised myself that one day I would make it out there, but I never did. The raft got broken up in a storm and was never replaced. Years later I saw a photo of that raft - it sat about 20 feet from the rocks we jumped off. It felt like going back to primary school and sitting on tiny plastic chairs that had seemed so big at the time.

The barefoot walk would then continue round to Mrs. Mooney's to buy Mr.Freezes, then back home over the hump back bridge with an inevitable stubbed toe along the way.

Those years are filled with many, many more half memories.

The old tramp that lived in the rundown outhouse in the church yard. We called him the The Tailor and he would sometimes call to the house and sit on a chair on the front porch while my father delicately gave him a shave, the sharp blade glinting in the sunshine. I remember the look of peace and gratitude as his face was gently wiped down with a warm towel. Human touch.

Whole days were spent playing tip the can with all the neighbourhood kids. Den building. Spying on the 'secret society' that were definitely plotting something in the old Masonic building. Sliding down the roof of the CSSM tent and getting caught. The Octagon. Borrowing boats from the harbour. Crunching our way through snow to the top of the golf course, coal bags in hand, watching with wonder and fear as older and bold kids upgraded their form of transport to a car roof. Penny sweets from Eugenes, quarters of lemon sherbets from the La Touche, picking up friends orders from Forget-me-knots on the way back to school after running home for lunch.

When I hit my teens the basketball courts took over from the beach and I would spend long days playing with friends and - very importantly - boys, until it got too dark to see the hoop and we would all amble happily home together.

So very wholesome and healthy, but of course it wasn't long until we were drinking in D'arcy's field and showing fake ID in The Burnaby. Cabanas and The Stables were a foregone conclusion, and I don't think we could have had more fun anywhere else in the world. We still regale each other with tales from that time, memories bonding us forevermore.

During college I moved away to a new town, returning weekends to work the bar in the new nightclub back home. I spent Friday and Saturday nights watching my friends drinking and dancing and felt myself suspended - one foot in each place - not quite belonging in either.

The town was changing and I wasn't really a part of it. New shops popped up, new estates filled with families I didn't know, houses turned into business, and everything shifted.

The years following saw me living in places as diverse as Dublin, Sydney, London, Bristol, Aughrim and Spain. I nearly made a life in some of them, but none ever felt like home. I would always come back to visit of course. Driving from the airport I would get a pain in my heart when I reached the crest of the hill coming into the town, to see the harbour and the sea and the houses twinkling below me. My town.

And then I came home for good. And it felt like a deep exhale. Like stepping back into a pair of old comfortable shoes. Like belonging. Like family. Well, like coming home.

And now I hope the fairy tale continues with my own kids. And maybe one day when I'm old and infirm their kids will push me up the main street, while I moan and give out and ask where Scuffles is and what happened to Loves Supermarket and who are all these blow ins anyway?

Let's hope so.

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