Personal Insights: From Cork to London and back again ... the lessons learned

It is a difficult time for everyone in Ireland but in this humorous essay, Ruth Manning, hopes to lighten the load somewhat with a personal reflection on her journey from Cork to London and back again.

Ruth in emoji form
Ruth in emoji form

I cannot recall the exact moment when London stopped working for me, I just know that it did.

When I left Ireland six years previous with my freshly minted degree, I did so without much thought.

Scrawled on the wall above toilet dispensers across UCC’s campus was the phrase “Arts degrees, plz take one”. When our lecturers assured us that “Jobs do exist!”, we weren’t so certain.

I had two older sisters who made the journey, so it seemed natural that I would do the same, though what I would do once I arrived was less clear.

After arriving in London I soon took pleasure in the artisan delights on offer at my local market: “£1 Chow Mein & a free scoop of prawn crackers”.

I threw myself into internships, work and study and I soon came to understand how useful it was to be Irish.

When viewing house shares the word “banter” and “craic” was bandied about by my future housemate, his eyes filling with anticipation of what could be. The room was big, the rent cheap. Responding casually, I asked, “Any decent pubs?”.

While working in a fancy pub in Mayfair, whose former owner was formerly known as Madonna’s husband, I came across a very special type of American tourist.

Personal Insights: From Cork to London and back again ... the lessons learned

They were the type of tourist whose knowledge of Ireland was largely based on the movie Brooklyn.

One night a very blonde family came to eat and drink, after one too many London Ales, the blonde father asked me if my name, was, by chance, Brigid?

I hesitated before pulling my shirt down to cover the pocket of my jeans where my iPhone was nesting, before responding, yes, yes it was.

During a test-call, while working as a temp in an office, the editor sitting across from me clasped her hands together to resemble Holy Mary herself before announcing that she just “looooved the accent”; it made me sound so trustworthy and kind.

What was to be a two-week stint turned into a year-long assignment. Perceptions, I thought, they really do matter.

During particularly tense conversations with customers, of which there were many in that job, the phrases “that’s grand” and “that’s no bother” littered the conversation.

On one occasion, I dropped in a “God Bless” to someone I now assume was an atheist - he responded with “no thanks” before slamming down the phone. Knowing your audience, I thought, that also matters.

On another call, I spoke to an elderly Irish lady called Mary, who lived in East London and loved Big Tom. At the time there were rumours that a statue would be erected in his honour.

Mary could hardly contain herself as she regaled me on the time she sneaked out of her house and hid behind a bush at a concert to try and catch a glimpse of the man himself. Some way through our chat Mary asked me about my reasons for coming to London, I explained about the study program, the internships and work.

“You’re curious”, she said, “in my day curiosity was a luxury for the few, our generation didn’t have many choices”. I was sympathetic and said I understood, though we both knew that wasn’t true.

As I said, I’m not certain when London stopped working for me, though I do remember being in Oxford Circus early one morning and things didn’t seem right.

I was temping, again, for an investment firm. The days were long, the office quiet, but it paid well. One morning, like any other, I came out of the station and walked towards Regent Street.

The sidewalks were quiet except for an unremarkable young executive, who was suited and booted and holding a small coffee. He held a look on his face, one I still struggle to describe but if I could use a word, I might say he seemed detached.

Though I can’t be sure, I think this was the point that my affair with London began to unravel. I wanted to create more purpose. Community I thought, that was the answer.

Some months later I moved to Cork and at first, took delight in making eye contact with strangers and saying “thank you” and “have a nice day” to the often bemused bus drivers.

Personal Insights: From Cork to London and back again ... the lessons learned

After some months feelings of restlessness began to set in. If I had a car, a cat, or even a waffle maker then life would be better. If there were more museums, more markets, less conformity, then I’d be happier.

I started recalling my conversation with Mary and her love of Big Tom and thought ... too many choices. That was my problem.

Ruth is an essayist and is producing a new podcast called Ireland Unedited due for release later this year.

Ruth's submission is part of a digital initiative on irishexaminer.com called Personal Insights.
As part of the Personal Insights initiative we are asking readers, creative writing groups and writing enthusiasts in general to share personal essays chronicling an experience which has impacted their lives and any learnings from that life experience they would like to share with a wider audience.
The essays should be sent directly to the executive editor for news and digital, Dolan O’Hagan, at dolan.ohagan@examiner.ie for consideration.
Please note all submissions should be given the subject line ‘Personal Insights submission’ to ensure they are picked up and should include any related imagery and a contact telephone number.
Only submissions which meet the Irish Examiner’s own strict journalistic, ethical and legal guidelines will be considered for publication.
The Irish Examiner reserves the right to edit submissions in line with those guidelines and before publication direct contact will be made with the person who has submitted the content.
No payment will be made for submissions and our decision as regards publication is final.
Our goal is to publish one submission per week and use all our powers to make sure it is seen by as wide an audience as possible.
We look forward to reading your stories.

More on this topic

Personal Insights: In extraordinary times look to the brave and resilient for example Personal Insights: In extraordinary times look to the brave and resilient for example

Personal Insights: My love letter to IrelandPersonal Insights: My love letter to Ireland

Personal Insights: My son's recovery after brain injury proves miracles do happen, says Cork DadPersonal Insights: My son's recovery after brain injury proves miracles do happen, says Cork Dad

Personal Insights: 'We all make mistakes but don’t make the mistake of not forgiving'Personal Insights: 'We all make mistakes but don’t make the mistake of not forgiving'