Tuesday 2 June 2009

Meeting yourself as a young ghost

Over on Sentence First, Stan posted a photo of a local crow's hangout in Galway that used to be an indie club back in the day, and is now derelict. This put me in mind of a flat I lived in once, and revisited a few years later. It was a flat I lived in my second year in Trinity, in Grosvenor Square, Rathmines. I went for a walk one evening and found myself knocking on the door. Mumbled something to whoever answered: it was always a studenty house, absent of commonwealth. And I went downstairs, the door was locked but very easily unlocked, something I had not done before, and was really remarkably surprised to find the door coming free and opening into this apartment that I had spent 10 months of my life in, from 18 to 19 years of age.

It had been a two bedroomed apartment, so completely barely: it was mostly a basement/ground floor shack, with some lousy chipboard partitioning. There were three of us: I shared a room with Caroline, and Tadhg, being the bloke, had a room to himself. This seemed inherently unfair to me, I wanted us to rotate occupancy of the single room, but it never happened. We all paid the same rent.

So I took to sleeping on the couch in the livingroom, by some kind of default. It was as grotty as a reasonably clean flat can be: old lousy furniture, thin chipboard 'bedsitland' wardrobes, awkwardly shaped tiny rooms, formica kitchen table, primary school type kitchen chairs. Cold surfaces and some kind of whiff of institutionalisation in a flat shared by 3 teenagers, all freaked out by life in different ways, and nobody talking about it.

The house I lived in immediately before this was a three bedroomed house in Fairview, still filled with the personal belongings of the old people who had died in it, some indeterminate time before I tumbled in there, with Gavin and the very hairy John, who at 24, was the old man of the raggle taggle group. Gavin and I had just turned 18. Most people had gone to work as chamber maids in Europe or wait tables in America for the summer, like they knew this was how it went: you go abroad in the summertimes. I had no idea that that was how it went, and so I never made it abroad for the summertimes. I did not know how other people did it. I stayed in Dublin and rolled with whatever way the wind was blowing.

Anyway, sometime around September, I hadn't given a thought to where I might live come October, but Caroline and Tadhg rolled back into town and we somehow got the notion that we were going to all live together and the basement in Grosvenor Square was the first place we looked, and with none of us over the age of 20 and thus incapable of holding out for a better offer, we took it.

There were adventures with the gas meter (an economising tip shown to me by the previous tenants, long haired third year English students who came to visit us randomly to see who was living there now) discovered by our matronly farmer's wife landlady; I was sleeping half the day and staying up until everyone was leaving for college in the mornings; eating weetabix with tomato ketchup and various other supernoodle influenced delicacies; probably the only time I had to myself, alone, was on friday evenings when everyone else was gone and I would put on some Billie Holiday songs and sing along to them, before I went into the Buttery (oh for then it had a functioning student bar in it) for the remainder of the evening. Everybody then was older than me. I had gone to college at 17 and most of the other people there seemed to start around 19. Anyone over 22 was just some faraway kind of oldness with no nuance or fathomability. 30 and 50 were basically the same, as far as I was concerned. When I was 18, 22 year olds seemed very old and way more mature than I ever thought it capable of being. Once you had graduated from your primary degree, that was it, really. I just never thought about any of that. Never thought about how I was going to make a living, never thought about careers. Knew I had to write, then one day Richard Beck came up to me nervously and said he heard I sang, and I was sort of in awe, I mean, how the hell did he hear that? I hadn't really seriously sung much of anything since I did Annie as a kid. But I didn't ask him how he had heard, just nodded nonchalantly, and we proceeded to practise singing and playing together for a couple of years after that.

So this evening in Dublin, a few years after all that, and on the wrong side of maturity for my 18 year old's sense of it, I went for a stroll and ended up in Grosvenor Square. I knocked on the door, mumbled something, found myself downstairs, and found it easy to unlock the door, there was a hole in the door under the lock, and in I went.

It was as if it had last been inhabited 100 years previously, though it had only been a few since I lived there. Looked like they either had big plans for the place, or had abandoned all notion of having human beings inhabit it at all. The furniture was all gone, and there were long thin strips of wood from ceiling to floor, taking up the whole space, all the rooms like that, but they were stacked diagonally through the rooms so you could walk from room to room and you could see between them out the window. It was a lot like I remembered it; a shithole, but a shithole with memories. I spent about 5 intense minutes there, pure pounding silence, tore a little scrap of wallpaper off the wall, and closed the door behind me, intending to go back and take pictures. I never did.


  1. Good story! Shitholes with memories I can relate to; Weetabix with ketchup, not at all. But you're right about how older people seem immeasurably more grown-up to a late-teen. We humans mature so slowly, huh.

  2. I think I took a poetic licence with the weetabix-with-ketchup. But I do recall a thing for weetabix sandwiches (complicated procedure, I can probably recreate it in the interests of education but I'm over it now) and Smash, the dehydrated potato pellet product, with tomato ketchup. So there.