I come from a long line of ordinary people. Country people. Labourers, farmers, civil servants, the odd teacher, religious, a policeman or two.
The occasional alcoholic or rebel to splash some colour into this ordinary line.
Not country-hopping, cigar-chomping Che Guevara rebel. Just disgruntled young local Irish rebel, man usually, poor usually, angry with the oppressor, and prepared to do his bit.
Like hide guns for the IRA on dank hillsides, back when the IRA were genuine freedom fighters, or help burn down the swanky English landlord’s mansion in the town I would call home until I was 17.
The grand uncle involved in burning down that splendid house back in the 1920s, went back to his small farm and a life of curmudgeonly frugality. Never spoke about his past. At least not that past
An ordinary man. Living among ordinary people.
Ordinary people I was never curious about growing up.
Because that would have made me ordinary too, and unworthy of a life among the Ches and Fidels when I was old enough, or swinging around London with Paul, John, George and Ringo.
So I walked the streets of our one main street midlands town, went to school there, played football and swapped comics there. But I didn’t belong there, wouldn’t be long there.
I didn’t feel part of this line of ordinary people. I was out of step. Out of line.
The family history has it that the maternal grandfather I never knew caught pneumonia and died as a result of being out in all weathers concealing and guarding those guns.
His wife married a hard-up small farmer, but died seven years after her first husband, leaving my 14-year-old mum and her younger brother and half-sister to scramble to make any kind of a mark.
Which the two full siblings did, their sister dying in her teens.
The money left for mum to go to teacher training college was no longer there, so she made do as a Civil Servant.
Up in the big city. Fun and freedom. For a while. Life-long friendships made. And maintained. So tight a band, we called both mum’s closest buddies “Aunty” all our lives.
One of the three still alive.
Mum was married at 24, to a young policeman, in a country which forced women in State employment, no matter how brilliant or talented, to quit their careers and become homemakers.
A vivacious and bright woman, this forced work exile and her less than salubrious upbringing had its impact on her.
And on us six children, in wildly different ways.
And just when she was establishing a life beyond family obligations, taking painting classes and making strides as a self-thought teacher in local primary schools, she became ill.
Died at 46.
Ordinary people, you see.
Now my father didn’t see it like that and when I was younger I just didn’t get it.
Dad lived locally, talked locally, and thought locally. Couldn’t know enough about the people around him.
“I’m not curious,” he told me one time, “I just like to know what’s going on.”
I did a bit of travelling in my early 20s — abandoned a teaching career that never started, quit an office job and fecked off to hang out in the Netherlands, and then in rural France.
Nearly four years out of the country.
Then back to Ireland before it was too late to start some kind of half-way interesting, sufficiently well-paid career.
And so journalism college, and a quasi-career writing and editing for a living since. Mostly editing.
I have lived in and around Dublin city for most of my adult life.
Living in the capital city, and close to all things official, my dad asked me several times to go and look up our family history. Delve into those dusty record books.
I gave the odd half-promise but never did.
Why would I? Just to confirm the sheer ordinariness of my background? And me?
Sorry, I’d prefer to dream. Or write my own version(s).
As soon as I was old enough, I cut out of our small town, away from all those ordinary people.
I was different.
Or so I thought. As young people do.
I am older now. No longer so dismissive, but still not inclined to peruse our back pages.
I am no longer that arrogant and ignorant youth looking down on them all, It’s just that my interest lies in the interior world. My own and that of others.
I remember telling my wife one time you can be living anywhere, but it can be New York in your head.
Now, it’s not quite the Big Apple in my noggin, but there is plenty there to explore, and plenty to write about.
I am curious about myself and others. But it’s more about what lies within. And the lies within. The stories and fantasies I spin and tap out on a computer keyboard.
Enda, the son of a policeman and a thwarted school-teacher.
Sampled one career and never went near the other.
But then my dad never had the educational opportunity to throw away possible teaching careers, or any other kind.
Secondary school education wasn’t available to him growing up, and joining the police was the best option available to him, he felt.
And he made the best of it. Leaving life on the beat behind to teach for many years in police training college.
A confluence of circumstance and inclination. Just as journalism has been for me.
There is part of me that has always gone against the grain. A bit. Always slightly out of line.
Thought a little differently, it has transpired, and acted a little differently.
Not that you would know it, as I type away in my ordinary house, in our ordinary estate, and yes, in an ordinary small town.
But not ordinary at all, as you find out when you seek out, and find fellow travellers, and thinkers, and cranks and story-tellers.
And the country I live in is not so ordinary after all. And I am thankful that I live in the period that I do.
Because there was a time not long ago when to go against the grain, or think a little differently, could cause you genuine grief, and even bring disaster to yourself or your family. Or both.
An unmarried mother could be signed away by her own family to slave labour in laundries run by staunch Catholic institutions, books were censored and burnt, and married women had to leave their careers.
To be different, less than ordinary, could really cost you back then, but really not so long ago. Could cost you your happiness, or sanity even, unless you were strong-willed, or brave enough to be eccentric.
And maybe that’s why some of my ancestors drank a little too much, or fermented a little revolution or two before going back to bailing the hay.
But now, the ordinary people of this country have slowly turned their own oppressors over, letting in divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage, and choosing to marry their partners or baptise their children. Or not.
There are still so many things wrong, of course: the rich getting richer and jobs and home no longer guaranteed for many. As everybody knows.
But you paid heavily for your dissatisfactions in previous generations. Took to drinking, maybe, or yearning forlornly for something you maybe couldn’t even name.
Now I type on a computer screen and think a little. Dream a little. Like Tom Waits said, I’ll tell you all my secrets but I’ll lie about my past.
I no longer blame the place and the people around me for the things that ail me. They are not as conservative, as unchanging, as pre-ordained to routine as they seemed when I was young.
Back when I didn’t fit in and blamed my troubles on being uprooted at the age of five from my suburban city idyll when the family moved to our small town midlands exile.
There is some truth in all of this, and some fiction … after all, it’s my story, isn’t it?
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