Monthly Archives: February 2014

Not Quite…

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After many frustrating confusions over recent years and weeks, I think I am finally figuring it out. Why, frequently, I don’t quite get it; why I don’t quite understand the desire to give up having fun because you’ve graduated uni/aren’t 24 any more; why I often feel like I don’t quite fit in. I think it’s because I live in the most English of cities, but I’m not quite English.

My mum is Irish. My sister and I chose to have Irish passports after realising that not that many other nations actually like the English, while everyone loves the Irish. Almost none of my English friends know when Saint George’s day is, but you’d be hard pushed to find anyone over the age of 18 in England who doesn’t know when Saint Pat’s day is. Although we’re 50% English and were born and raised here, we’ve had a huge Irish influence throughout our lives.

Mum having nine brothers and four sisters was one of these influences, along with our countless cousins. Due to Mum being number 11 in her siblings, by the age of 20 I had cousins old enough to be my parents; cousins with grandchildren. Then there’s the issue of the domineering Irish parent; I’m not joking when I say Mrs Brown’s Boys is an accurate representation of what my eldest auntie’s house was like on a daily basis. Irish mothers are offended if you don’t let them do your washing up or hang out your clean washing 5 minutes after they’ve put the kettle on in your house. And then there are the parties…

This is where I see a real divide between myself and my friends’ attitudes. Being a nation that has had more than its share of woes, the Irish know how to throw a good party and get everyone involved. I’d been to more funerals by my mid-twenties than many people go to in a lifetime, so when there’s something even remotely worth celebrating (like the arrival of Friday after a hard week at work) we pull out all the stops and everyone is invited. This is where I stumble. If there is something fun to do, I text everyone to share the fun. My English friends will only text people who already know each other, people from the ‘inner circle’ who will fit neatly into the plan which has been laid at least a week in advance. No such thing as a spontaneous mid-week drink or going to a different (God forbid) lively bar at the weekend. And going out dancing? Tantamount to being invited to a public execution!

I’ve often wondered if everyone received a memo when they were 25 reminding them not to be spontaneous or to continue having fun after said age on pain of death. Then I realised that most people did not grow up with aunties who danced into the wee small hours every weekend, into the wee small hours of their lives. Most people did not have aunties whose gardening skills revolved around rather tall plants grown on top of radiators (so that was why the heating was always on, even in the summer). Nobody I know has been to funerals with after parties that have progressed into dancing fuelled by grief, memories, music and Guinness. When it comes to socialising, not many people I know in England have a ‘more the merrier’ attitude.

So perhaps it is no surprise that I fitted so well into Madrid when I lived there; a city that pulses with parties, one of Europe’s best kept secrets. A city where the night is sacred to drinking and dancing; where there is no such thing as arriving late; a city where you can invite anyone to party with you until the first Metro home. A magical place where you sleep until 3pm before meeting everyone in the park to socialise again. Thank God I have a Spanish friend here who gets it.

If being half-Irish didn’t make me enough of a misfit, then living abroad three times and picking up ‘foreign’ ways has, even more so. But it is in England that I feel like a foreigner- not in Madrid (maybe a little in Prague, because people were so serious there). Growing up Catholic (something I am absolutely NOT, now) I understand the abhorrence of wasted food; I get the religious references in film and literature. Perhaps it is the shared religion that makes me feel more connected to the Spanish and Italians than I ever have to the English. The importance of family and sharing and communality that is absent among Protestants and the English (in my experience). I have always been drawn to that which is foreign, other. A lot of the Irish have Spanish blood in them; that could explain why so many of my students, among others, have asked me if I am Spanish or Italian. Maybe I am, somewhere along the line.

And so I dream of my next escape, longing for places where everyone is invited, where there is guaranteed sunlight.

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Alice in Chains

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The only gig I’ve ever been to alone (I don’t think losing your friends at Leeds Festival counts). I was living in Prague in the Winter of 2009. Several people at work, plus my flatmate , had almost been as excited as I was about the forthcoming date in Praha. They all swore they would go, but it never happened. So, when my sister was visiting, I sent her to buy my ticket the day they went on sale, while I was at work.

The gig was in late November. I had to rush home from work by tram, change into suitably grungey attire and rush back out into -9C. Before the gig I took photos of my arm in the air, loaded with bracelets; my own, solo version of Pearl Jam’s Ten album cover. I took myself for a glass of red wine in Lucerna Music Bar, underneath the gig venue. A girl drinking alone in a bar- something I wouldn’t dream of doing in  the UK- but in Bohemian Prague it was fine.

When I thought it was time I moved into the gig I went to the cloakroom. I was delighted to hear a grungey look girl speaking English with an Irish accent to a grungey Italian girl. “Are you off to Alice in Chains?” I asked Irish girl, “I think it’s upstairs.”

“We are, but it’s along this arcade. Want to join us?” she asked. Great, two friendly girls to hang out with. I love how you meet more people when you dare to do something alone. Good job I met them too, as I was heading in the wrong direction. We heard the opening chords of Looking in View and legged it along the ancient arcade, before bursting through the doors into an opulent, gilded ballroom. Golden balconies wound around the walls up to the high ceiling, while the dance floor offered plenty of space for three petite girls to squeeze through to the front.

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It was hot, laced with cigarette smoke and filled with tall, lanky guys with long hair, straight from 1993. I can’t even remember the set list. I do remember being spooked by how much the new singer, William Duvall, sounded like the late Layne Staley. Being Eastern Europe and generally free of the idiots who frequent British gigs, our little international trio was able to make it to the very front of the crowd without even getting squashed. At the end, I leaned over and touched Duvall’s afro, before finding one of the picks on the floor thrown into the crowd by Jerry Cantrell.

We bought t-shirts at the merchandise stand; mine a small, light grey Black Gives Way to Blue which I treasure to this day. While still in the venue I called the only other person who I knew would share the high I was on, before catching a tram home alone. I can’t remember those girls’ names, and although we texted a couple of times, I never saw them again.

Alice in Chains were awesome, everything I had expected and more. So much so, that four years later, when they were playing just a train ride away in Leeds, I decided not to go. The whole experience in Prague: from going to the gig alone, to nearly missing the start, to watching a flawless set right at the front and finding a plectrum at the end, was so perfect. It holds such a legendary place in my memory that I could not bear to see Alice in Chains, in Leeds of all places, and be disappointed if they didn’t live up to that memory. I have since heard that Leeds was a fantastic gig, but I’m happy with my Czech memories.