25 November 2013

Down and out in London and Dublin

Back in the halcyon days of school (where “halcyon” can be loosely translated as “unceasing torment and unmitigated misery”) I remember studying prose for my Inter Cert (kids, prose is like the bit of writing that’s longer than a Tweet but shorter than the list of tags on your Instagram selfie), and one piece always stuck with me, the start of Reflections on the revolution in France by Edmund Burke, which begins, “It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision”. Burke and his anti-Enlightenment conservatism holds no interest for me but, like the lyrics to all the tracks on Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me and Disintegration, those words are forever etched in to my brain thanks to youthful repetition, and I always thought they would make an interesting opener to a blog post.

With that in mind…

It is now sixteen or seventeen days since this blog last saw a post…

(actually, it’s been a fair bit longer than that)

This week month season I have mostly been… in London, and California, and occasionally Dublin. Also Texas, but just briefly, and not intentionally.

It is almost two months since I demi-grated to London and it is only now, after spending two weeks in San Francisco and beyond, that feel like I can put bits to bytes and start to sort out how I feel about it all. Since I moved I have been back to Dublin twice, and spent almost as much time in California as I have in London, so believe me when I am saying that what I am mostly feeling is an overwhelming sense of dislocation. The place I have mostly been living these last two months is inside my own head, and even then it’s more of an AirBnB thing than a luxury hotel stay, as I constantly feel that the real owner of my head will suddenly arrive home at any minute and start tut-tutting about the fact that I left my shoes on a heap beside the door and forgot to use a coaster on their lovely wooden table.

The move itself wasn’t too bad, except that I left everything behind in Dublin bar my clothes and laptop, so although our new house is great, it is clutter-free in a way that unnerves me. Yet when I come back to Dublin, our house feels empty and our absence is starkly tangible. Staying there feels like walking through a film set of our lives, close enough to be familiar yet missing the vital puissance that gives it life - like a bad waxwork of Jedward that is the embodiment of the Uncanny Valley (or rather, a bad waxwork of Jedward who are already the embodiment of the Uncanny Valley).

My constant travels away from London haven’t yet afforded me the opportunity to bond with our new home, so far it too feels temporary. It lies in the shadows (though not concurrently) of the BT Tower and Senate House, the inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, and is as close to the heart of London as you can get without selling your soul to Mammon, or being elected as an MP (admittedly the distinction between they two is frighteningly small).

Our life here, what little of it I have been able to experience, is good - the late-night organic vegetarian supermarket is a two minute walk away, the Marxist bookshop just a little bit further away. On our first week here I got last-minute tickets to see Plaid perform a live soundtrack to a screening of Tekkonkinkreet, and I’m off to see Jeremy Scahill talk about his new film Dirty Wars later this week, so food for the body, mind and soul abound. So easy is it to live here, in fact, that I find it hard to miss being at home (my other home), or (dare I say it) care about all the carry-on that three months ago consumed me.

Back in Dublin, a few good compañeras y compañeros are fighting the good fight, with their “We’re Not Leaving” campaign, highlighting the devastating effect that austerity has had on Ireland with a new generation forced to emigrate, leaving behind communities blighted in a way not seen since the 1980’s. However I spent the last two weeks with members of the Diasapora old and new in California and when asked if they were ever coming back home they, to a person, laughed openly, “Coming back? Would I ever? Get t' feck. That place is dead to me!”. A better life abroad combined with the appalling treatment most received at the hands of a Government that only cares about them when they’re old and rich and can be gathered back to the fold in green-jerseyed exploitation, has hardened the heart of many to mother Ireland.

Now, the silicon fields of California are not the back-breaking building sites of London, Liverpool and Manchester but, to be honest, I am starting to see their point. Those that are left behind feel the pain more acutely than those whose new lives bring great rewards, for the emigrant life is frequently better than it ever would have been at home, after all, that's why people leave in the first place. Therefore tears should really not be shed for those that leave, they are for those left behind whose lives are worsened by the absence of their loved ones.

The culture of Mé Féin runs thick in our veins, from our worship of criminally self-serving politicians to our national acquiescence to every one of their austerity diktats just so long as they leave the price of our sacred pint alone. As long as we believe we are doing better than the next guy, we sit back and do nothing, reviling those who prick our conscience by daring to stand up and say, “No”. The self-serving servitude of the Irish masses is as great a shame as our national alcoholism, and as great a forbidden taboo to discuss. Talk to Joe about the immigrants, the Roma babies, the cat on the telly, anything at all except the things that really matter, and for god’s sake whatever you do don’t actually do anything but talk.

These last two months my experience of Ireland has been condensed into a second-hand Twitter stream, regurgitated angst and outrage fed to me from the stomachs of all the tweeting birds, pre-digested for easy consumption and, in truth, my life has been better for it. A digest of diatribes serves me so much better than the real-time trauma, the sense of powerlessness and hopelessness of daily life in Dublin, and the feeling of savage isolation when the rest of the nation seems not to care so long as the Boys in Green are playing something, somewhere. Sure a few aul’ bars of Fields of Athenry and we’re all ready to exit the Bailout, get back on the property ladder and start planning our Crimbo shopping trip to New York, let’s chuck Bono another Meteor award for being so super and we can all pretend like the Celtic Tiger never died.

And yet, every second week when I land back in Dublin, and sit alone in my alter-empty house counting the days till I get back to The Very Understanding Girlfriend and our mirror-life away, I do care. I care so very much. I can’t let it go, and can’t ignore it all - the inequalities and disparities brought into razor-sharp focus by the time spent away. I sit and feel guilt, survivor’s guilt for being able to flee away on the 9pm Friday night flight to Heathrow, back to a place where it doesn’t bother me, where it doesn’t affect me, back to my own island of Mé Féin.

It runs thick in our veins.

This is why I haven’t written, why it has been too hard. The schizoid sense of place and unplace, of belonging and separation, of caring and splendid mental isolation. Only now, after two weeks away in neither, can I start to unpack my feelings.

And those feelings, it’s fair to say, are mixed.

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