There was John Alexander when I turned five or six, a rip off Cabbage Patch Kid that I loved dearly (obviously a rip off due to his less-than-crazy name). A cherry red walkman with a cassette of my choosing (somewhat embarrassingly Slippery When Wet, by Bon Jovi) when I turned 12. The most thoughtful gift ever for my 30th: a beautiful oil painting commissioned by my bestie and painted by a good friend of his from a photo of me that will always hang, Joan Collins style, in our home. And then, for my 38th birthday, another amazing and life-long memorable gift: a trip, solo, to Dublin for the weekend from my Tim and our girl.
It had been 12 years since I had left the Emerald Isle after falling into a pub sometime in early 2000 and scrounging together enough dosh for my airfare home at the end of 2003. During that time I lived in the city’s north near the Phoenix Park, where I drank at the local, took long walks during chilly daffodil season, shared a house that had a roaring fireplace with two dear friends, and worked at a local disability service. I had a ball, and refer to it at times as my ‘fake life’. On leaving, I returned to Australia, finished my degrees, settled down with a Proper Job and a Nice Boyfriend, and of course still drank at the local. I’ve longed for years to return.
I flew out of Zurich on Friday night for a late arrival in Dublin. There were epic queues at the airport, but no baby! I grabbed a champlane before the flight because no baby! The flight itself was two hours, and – guess what – no baby! (Also, um, a few more champlanes.) The solo flight reminded me of the travel I had done for work prior to having her; already it felt like years were being stripped away as I returned to the place I’d called home for close to four years.
Naturally the city was different. It was hard to determine how much was actual change versus how much of my memory of it was incorrect. In my absence Ireland lived through a recession and is only just starting to come out the other side, and it feels like a tangible imprint of that time remains. The city has seen some physical changes – a new tram line and associated dug-up-streets in anticipation of its extension possibly being the most noticeable. There were more derelict and empty buildings than I recall, and in some suburbs a grittier feel than I remember (I have admittedly been brainwashed by always-sparkling Switzerland). However there was also a change to the vibe of the city, and I am confident I’m not imagining that. There was a buzz, a hum to the central town areas, which had been fleshed out with cafes and restaurants, galleries, artisan stores, funky hairdressers and of course all the old familiar watering holes. It felt the city was far more alive than I remembered, and it was truly exciting to wander its streets (it was also awesome to eat some fantastic Japanese food, one of the culinary holes in my current country).
The primary reason for my return was to catch up with friends (well, the primary reason was whisky but that happened concurrently, so let’s call it friends). Before leaving on Friday, in fact for some years, I have considered how I’ve changed since the time I lived there. I don’t mean the accumulation of life events – husband and child being two stand out items – but rather how my time in Ireland shaped me, and how it changed the path of my personality. I was eager to see how a dozen years had impacted on my friends and, subsequently, on our relationships.
The answer, which I should have known, was not at all. Sure, there were photos of children and new houses and changes in job circumstances (see afore mentioned recession), but it felt like I had only seen them at the same bustling pub a few weeks prior (naturally still mocking my accent. I have a suspicion some of them might actually think my name is Windy). I thought, prior to going, that I had changed during this time but after mulling it over with friends and said whisky, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I have been refined (we all know I don’t mean that in the classy sense of the word, more in the sense of becoming concentrated). Although I look back on my years there as formative, perhaps it was because they honed my personality rather than changing it. I consider myself far more confident, more independent, more trusting of my own instincts than the girl in her early 20s with extraordinarily bad hair (bleached! spiky! why didn’t someone advise against it?!) who was nervous around strangers and second guessed everything she did or said. This can happen with the passage of time of course, but for me it was also highly influenced by the people I met and admired there, the decisions I made and followed through even though I wasn’t sure they were correct, and finally the biggest decision of all – to go home and, I guess, grow up. Sadly, I still have bad hair, but at this stage I have a sneaking suspicion I will forever.
I’m home now and have written this with a Barry’s tea in my hand (and since Tim implied it’s just like normal tea, I won’t be sharing any with him) and a cheeky packet of Hula Hoops demolished. There’s an Irish breakfast pack biding its time in the fridge until next weekend, two Irish craft gins as a present for Tim waiting to be sampled, and of course Kerrygold butter, stoneground bread and sharp cheddar for my lunch. There are promises made to return with my little family to show them the city I still love, for them to meet the people who were along for the ride that shaped the person I am today (‘Windy’, apparently). But to return just for 48 hours by myself, to be reacquainted with the lass in her early 20s who fell for the town and its people, and to have the time to reflect on how much has happened internally and externally since then, was the best gift I could have been given. Except, maybe, for Slippery When Wet. I really loved that album.