I hadn't been there in ages, hadn't visited, I had no reason to
But then the Covid virus struck and Dublin where I was working was put into quarantine
I wasn't allowed to go up there anymore to work,
And I had no computer at home and no broadband/ WiFi at the time
So they sent me down to the Old Town
It was nice driving down the motorway, it was Autumn and the leaves they were all changing colour
The different shades of red, brown green and yellow
With the sun shining on the mountains and on the bay
It felt almost like I was going on my holidays,
The Old Town it had changed so much, there were all these new buildings,
Retail parks on the outskirts, hotels, new schools, civic buildings... coffee shops
It was lovely and clean and tidy
Like those living there were really proud of it,
The old town I'd known it was there also, in the background, a bit dusty now
There was the big old gothic church my Dad used take us to, to Mass some Sundays
There was the Port and the big ships along the Quay
There was the secondary school I was meant to go to... had we stayed...it looked old, a bit dilapidated now
I wondered was it still being used as a school,
In the Main Street there were still old names of shops that I recognized
The shoe shop where my Mom used buy us shoes
The chemist where my brother got his glasses... the Bakery
The cinema where we seen our first movie "The Magnificent Seven", it was all done up now... all different...
In the office things were... well...weird! ghostly!
A big modern office and some days I was the only one there, just me all on my own
Was like something out of a Sci-fi movie
Other days maybe two or three might come in to join me
All the others of course, they were all working from home,
Often I'd find my mind just filling with old memories and nostalgia...
I could hear the old ghosts calling, calling me to go back
I knew... I knew I had to go back there
Back to where it had all begun for me
The little seaside village where I was born.
So going home I took the coastal road not the motorway
Just the sight of the headland and the blue mountains sloping down to the sea
With the lighthouse there at the end
Just seeing them again gave me an old feeling of my father, my Dad
And then the village itself, the seafront... all the colourfully painted shops,
Sweet shops & novelty shops, the amusement arcade, pubs and hotels and B&B's (Bed and Breakfasts)
After being away for nearly fifty years, it still looked...it still looked pretty much the same, was hard to believe
I stopped my car and went into a little supermarket shop to get a sandwich for the next day
As I looked around, I seen these two mature ladies there, they were around my own age
I thought to myself 'I might have gone to school with you once many years ago, one of you might even have been my wife had we stayed here and not moved away
I might have lived a more normal, a different life'
But then I thought 'Life is never that simple, is it'.
Outside I decided to go for a walk, to look around and reminisce.
There was the path, the pavement I used go to school on with my brothers
It was like returning to the scene of a crime
How I used to dread going to school sometimes
There was a teacher, a lady teacher that used scare me a lot, she terrified me so
I remember I got sick in class on several occasions
She put me outside once sitting on an upturned bin
I can still remember sitting there on that bin in the sun, feeling so lost and that I was a really bad boy, wishing I was home
I remember I used to get hives, itches on my skin
My Mom used keep me at home
She was afraid, she thought I'd give them to the other kids
I missed the addition and subtraction tables at school because of this
To this day I still don't know what 7 + 5 is, instead I bring it to 10, I know 5 is 3 + 2, so I say 7 + 3 is 10 and 2 is 12
And I know all the doubles, 7 + 6 is 6 + 6 is 12 and 1 is 13, funny that
How I used to dread going to school
Until that was... until one day I did well at something and I received some praise
Then things seemed to change after that, I wasn't as bothered anymore, I think then I realized I was doing better than some of the others in my class and that seemed to make a difference
I remembered sitting beside pretty little girls who used have lovely pink pencil cases with lots of fancy colourful things
Whereas me I barely had a pencil, a rubber (eraser) and a ruler
They were strange lovely creatures, the Girls with their lovely long hair and their cute little faces...
I remembered walking home on my own, with my little schoolbag on my back with all my books in it
It was such a beautiful place, the view with the beach and the sea and the faraway blue mountains
And yet, I used to worry about so many things
It's like even then it was all about...all about survival...
There was the big Chapel on the hill
Once before the Summer holidays they were looking for altar boys and someone put my name forward
Then on the first morning back to school after the Summer holidays
The teacher said you better get down to the church right away, like fast!! you're on the altar this morning !!!
I was terrified, I didn't know what I had to do, no one told me anything
So there I was on my own kneeling on this cold hard marble altar and it was hurting my knees something terrible
And the priest he's talking about God and the Devil and Evil or Hell or whatever
And all these people, the whole congregation their all staring up at us
And I'm petrified, and I started to get faint and nauseas
The priest had to stop the Mass
I can't remember if I got sick or passed out
I was so embarrassed and thought afterwards I was such a terrible bad person, I knew it'd be all around the school the story.
I walked on...our house was gone, knocked down, where there used to be three houses together attached, now there was only the end house
Our house used to be the middle house
It didn't look right now, the symmetry looked all wrong
It was like there was two missing teeth
Why did they have to knock it down ? I wondered. It saddened me a bit...
At another house I stopped, this used to have a shop, a small shop, the shop was no longer there
This was my Best Friend's house, all the days we used to play football together in the back garden
Kicking the ball to each other
With our jumpers/ sweaters as goalposts
The first to score ten would win the game
I...I usually won
I always found you easy to read, it's like you only ran in straight lines,
I think you were a bit in awe of me for some reason
Maybe you wouldn't have been my friend if you'd beaten me
How did we become friends anyway, I wondered
I suppose coming home from school
We lived on the same road and were in the same class, we'd have met each other
I had two older brothers whereas you were the oldest
So our families would have had a different dynamic
I remember you had a delightfully silly younger brother
I remember your Mom, she was very pretty, she was a lot younger than my Mom
You used bring me in and give me a meal sometimes, we'd all sit and watch TV
There was a different feeling when I was in your house...a different atmosphere
But when your Dad would come home, he was a bit scary
And I knew it was then time for me to go home
You'd wonder afterwards what the lovely Mom saw in the scary Dad, adults they were a bit peculiar.
We were inseparable in those days, many mornings you'd hear the knock on the door
And the familiar greeting
"Hello Mrs B---, Is G---- in, is he coming out to play?"
We were always playing soccer up the garden
Or down on the beach, going out for miles to meet the tide, catching *****, looking under stones to see what we might find
I remember we were very entrepreneurial
In the Summer we used collect returnable glass mineral bottles, Orange and Lemonade and Coca Cola
And we'd bring them back to the shop and get money back for them
And then we'd have a royal feast, we'd buy bottles of Orange and bags of crisps and ice cream pops and chocolate bars,
Remember all the different Ice pops there used to be, Choc Ices and Brunches and Orange splits, 99's... Ice cream cones
Chocolate bars, Smarties and Malteasers, Milky Bars and Milky Ways, Dairy Milk chocolate bars, fruit gums and Love hearts with little love messages written on them
We used hang around the amusement arcade, play the slot machines, maybe help some old lady collect her winnings, she might give us a tip
There was the bumper cars and the swingboats and music playing all the time on the jukeboxes
It was the seventies (the 70's) and glam rock was all the rage
Marc Bolan and T-Rex, and Slade and The Sweet and a million others
So many great songs, we couldn't wait to grow up and become one of those amazing creatures we saw on the telly
I'd never lived since as intensely as I did back then,
We'd stay out till late
We were like young hustlers going around,
It seemed the days they were never long enough, all the things we got up to,
We'd Caddy in the local golf course
And retrieve lost ***** from the ditches...
Heh! Remember... remember that time... the Brennan sisters, we were up one day near the school
There was building work going on
And there was this big high mound of clay
So we climbed to the top to take in the view
And then the two Brennan sisters came over
They lived nearby
They were in our class at school, we knew them only to see
They were smiling and laughing and giggling
They beckoned for us to come and follow them
We went wondering what was going on here
They led us back to their house, I think their parents must have been out
One of them came up to us and smiled
And then she pulled down her pants and showed it to us in all its wonderful glorious splendour
It was amazing... incredible... such a sight
Her beautiful...her splendid... her lovely... bare Bottom!
I remember thinking it was like a lovely ripe pear
One of Life's great mysteries had just been unveiled
And her there with this huge impish grin,
When we were going home we promised each other we'd not tell anyone, our parents, not even the priest in confession
About that great vision we'd just witnessed
It was the height of naughtiness
Yea! Those were the days...
I wondered, 'Whatever became of you Old Friend ?
I looked you up online but couldn't find your name anywhere, couldn't find anything about you
Were you even still alive ?
50 years was a long time, I'd barely made it this far myself, and I had a lot of scars to show for it
I thought rather amusingly that I should knock on your door
Maybe you were still living there,
But what was I hoping to find ? I wondered...
"Whose at the door ?", a woman's Voice inside might say,
"Just... just some crazy guy talking about 50 years ago" her dutiful husband would reply
That's probably how it would go
I felt like I was Rip Van Winkle awakening after being asleep for 100 years or in my case 50 years
What did I hope to find
What did I hope to see, an old man now just like myself
And I bet you'd tell me your opinions on the government and the economy
And how the village had changed over the years and how other old schoolmates of ours had got on in life
But No! that's not what I wanted to hear or see
I wanted to see you there again just like you were as a little kid
Your lovely youthful face smiling back at me
And you'd say, "I'll get the ball and we'll have a game, the first to ten wins"
This was what I was looking for, this was what I wanted to hear.
We were very close, were going to grow up together, go to the same schools...college
We'd always be friends
We'd meet all the trials of life together....
I hope Life worked out well for you, my friend
In a way...in a way I almost didn't want to know
If I learned you did well in Life I'd probably only get jealous
I'd start to think I was better than you and that I should have had those things you had
Life, this world it makes enemies of us all... eventually
It divides, is all about competing and comparing... and beating (I suppose).
I still remember that last night before I left forever
We were down on the beach, it was twilight, the tide was coming in... the waves slowly advancing
Just like in life I had no power to stop it, to change things,
I had no say, I didn't want to go and leave you Old Friend
No! I didn't want to go....
Thank you...thank you for being my friend, for being there
For all the time you gave me, I hope I didn't hurt you in any way.
I have a photograph, one solitary old black and white photo of the two of us
We're sitting on a barrel in our back garden on either side of my Dad whose in the middle
You look a bit uncertain, unsure of yourself, probably lost in the dynamic of my family,
I look at you and I think
"Whatever happened to you.... Beautiful Friend, whatever became of you"
And then I look at myself as well, and I think, I whisper
"Whatever became of me as well".
We lived a few miles from the main town in a seaside village. This happened during the Covid in 2020.