What happens in Donegal…

17 May

I’m not sure that my friends would appreciate if I shared our stories freely with the world, but so crucial was the bonding a group of us did in the rugged hills around Donegal during our undergraduate years that it has left an indelible impression upon my mind, heart and soul.

I hope that you all either have already or will have an experience like it. A sort of late coming-of-age event (as opposed to a mid-life crisis). A chance to make solid friends. The drinking is not compulsory. Sex is ill-advised. Video cameras, cream cheese and a spare car will go far.

There is one cardinal rule that you need to bear in mind – what happens in Donegal stays in Donegal. You see crossing over the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic you find yourself like Roman Polanski, safely in another jurisdiction where the same rules no longer apply. Where bars don’t close because you’re the only customers they’ve had all year – until you’re too drunk to play pool anymore without tearing the cloth… where surfing is something you do with a car rather than a board… where your neighbours are drug dealers… where your ex-girlfriend (no, not that one…) thinks its okay (sober) to take a piss in public behind a sanddune, watched over by a couple in a Range Rover (true story). A place where ‘No’ means ‘No’. And if you aren’t burning a peat fire then you haven’t lived. Erm…

In Donegal.... no-one can hear you scream (except the sheep...)

Its a low-key, more sedate version I think of all those Americans who cross over the border to Mexico in those American tv shows I can’t stand like The OC (yeah, I’m so five years ago).

I don’t get holiday romances. Or getting blocked/stoned for the duration of a holiday and making an arse of yourself. Why adopt an entirely different (and rather less pleasing) persona when in a different place? As I approach my 30s I realise that I must have completely missed that period during which I’m meant to be particularly raucous. I’ve never partaken of one of those 18-30s excursions (they sound like hell to me), and the closest I’ve come to illicit substances was a) finding and handling some ecstasy tablets in the grotty staff room of the hotel I once worked in (which my supervisor took away and disposed of)  and b) being at a few parties where marijuana was being passed around. Curiously I find myself transfixed by those god-awful documentaries on the television where all the ‘kids’ head off to some sunny beach, listen to a lot of dance music, take a lot of drugs, and have a lot of unprotected sex. Not me at all.

I was in a club once and once only. ‘Milk’ in Belfast several years ago. We were shooting a tourism advert for Belfast and I was working as a camera assistant. I think we were there for a tad over half an hour, working around the DJ’s desk. It was deafening, and the place looked like a meat-market. I saw no appeal whatsoever. I’m an old man. My hearing range used to be fantastic, but I’m convinced I have tinnitus, exacerbated by being at a few gigs some years ago far too close to the front and not enough time in between to recover. Really, does it have to be that loud? No wonder I’m happier with jazz and old man acoustic folk sessions where I don’t have to have people literally shout into my ears to be heard…

There are different aspects to a man’s personality, and what one individual recognises as you may be completely alien to another. Those that know me solely for my work researching films and in particular Hammer horrors have often expressed surprise when they learn about my other interests and pursuits. Surely it is the same for you? Keeping the personal and the professional life separate is a wise decision, but one which I don’t always follow making life somewhat more complicated now than it used to be. I find the days blur into one and my leisure pursuits have become my work. Most damaging was the writer’s block which came out of it. It’s why I’m headlong into this blog. It is a welcome refocussing.

Some people have two or more private personas. I am sure than as friends get to know me they uncover a rather different individual, but one which has had comparatively few complaints so far. But the ‘real’ me, isn’t that far removed from the private me. Rather that than try to bury my thoughts or desires or fetishes, to literally mask the individual. Is this why clubs are formed? To feel that one belongs, to find a safe comfortable environment where you can truly be yourself, open and frank without repercussion? I think I’m like Groucho Marx, I don’t really want to be part of a club that would have me as a member… though this year for the first time I gave serious consideration to joining one of those ‘gentleman’s clubs’ (no, not those kind….).

Those weeks spent with friends in Donegal cleansed me of much of my restraint and inhibition. The libations were only partly to blame. The change of environment and scenery, and being forced to share a comparatively small space (four of us crammed into a little Volkswagen car for hours on end) brought us together and out. From the moment we drove down the N56, saw the lake to the left and the tiny former chip-shop-cum-cottage on the right hand side that would become our regular haunt, we were brought together by a sense of randomness and the surreal. I dare say prior to that trip there was a side of me which had remained restrained for a long time, but once the cork had been removed the genie refused to get back in the bottle. That perhaps is the difference to one of those 18-30s holidays. I don’t need liquored up and a party to be myself.

Despite the cardinal rule of course I did bring something back… three friendships. I guess maybe some things should cross the border line…

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3 Responses to “What happens in Donegal…”

  1. Marie Duffy June 7, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    ‘Where your neighbours are drug dealers’

    What part of Donegal are you in?

    As a Donegal person I’m feeling pretty insulted!

  2. avalard June 8, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    For libel/safety reasons I couldn’t tell you exactly where we were…

    You need to know that I love Donegal. I’ve been going ever since I was a kid, and I’m very fond of it.

    This was a light-hearted piece about a specific time and a specific group of experiences, with a group of friends. And the line that you object to was a specific reference to that experience. I’m not suggesting Donegal is full of junkies. I’ve only ever met one or two junkies in Donegal. And they were probably on holiday.

    I’d also point you to the ‘About’ page of this blog…
    “For the most part the blog takes ideas and notions and thoughts and expounds via a near-relentless stream of conciousness ramble. It has no agenda, and no set focus. It may contradict itself. It may not always make complete sense. It may on occasion offend. It may not.”

  3. marie duffy June 8, 2010 at 8:57 pm #

    I understand all this- but felt it important to make the point.

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