Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A place of memory and desire, part five

Those further memories . . .

Last Saturday having been Bloomsday, I got to thinking about Dublin and me and how that might relate to the matter at hand, Sound City Beat, a new album by the Radiators from Space, a Dublin punk band.

(As I write this, I’m listening to another memory of Dublin, a live performance by Glen Hansard — who has just, of course, had his own fairytale of New York, winning Tonys for Once.)

Now, faced with forms requesting my religion and/or nationality, I do one of two things. If it’s in person, I have a teasing habit of putting myself down as a transgendering black woman and seeing how the official reacts. If they demur, I’ll say something like: well, inside, I’ve always felt like Aretha Franklin and isn’t this meant to be about self-description? Plus aren’t you looking to boost your minorities quota? Put me down in the loopy-loo column, too, if it’s any help.

If I am filling in the form at home, though, I tend to write something like: Jewish-ish* Catholic atheist north Londoner**. If I’m feeling frisky/facetious, I’ll add the old (but accurate) Nik Cohn line: and typical of the sort.

The fact is, though, I’m as much Irish by descent as anything else. Yet I didn’t actually visit the place till I was at university. I arrived in Dublin on the Liverpool night ferry with a head full of two versions of the city.

One was from my reading — Joyce, Beckett, Flann O’Brien etc etc. I didn’t expect to actually meet them but I did expect to encounter memory traces of them. So I was disappointed there.

The other Dublin in my head was my grandmother’s. She’d left there before the first world war — when the English were still in power. Though she’d been back since, she still saw the city through the eyes of a poverty-blighted young girl just up from the boglands. To her, Dublin was a city of lights. So I was disappointed there, too.

Still, I know that at some level I had a fantasy of what it would be like to have grown up Irish in Ireland. As a Dubliner in Dublin perhaps, rather than an East End overspiller in the Home Counties, with ties to north London Irishness. In dreams begin possibilities . . .

* By marriage and, therefore, parenthood.

** Serious moment. In all the discussion of Scottish independence and English identity, I think a big point is missed. There are no English in England. Rather there are a variety of sometimes overlapping regional/local identities. Yorkshireman/woman. Cornish. Scouse. Sarf Landahner. Etc etc. I think that’s why it’s so hard to pin down an English identity. It’s simply not there to pin. The Milibands are not just neighbours of mine. They come from a similar cultural and social and historical place/space. And that’s identity. Class comes into it, of course. But that’s another bucket of memories and desires.

Next (and last of this series) My other lives.

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