This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us

16 Feb
Image via Powerhouse Museum on Flickr.

Image via Powerhouse Museum on Flickr.

Its often remarked that Northern Ireland is a very small country. Chances are if you venture forth into a new village or town, you’ll find someone you either know, or who knows a friend/family member. The gene pool is probably ridiculously small here and anyone you pick up in a bar is probably your cousin. But I’m assured that sort of thing is perfectly acceptable. Well, in Fermanagh at any rate.

On the plus side, one occasionally stumbles upon a long forgotten friend over the bargain bucket that is Poundland, all sharing the discomfort at being spotted rooting out a copy of Robbie Williams’ Swing When You’re Winning.

On the down side, there are folk you encounter through life that you hope and pray you will never meet again. There are no redeeming qualities to a meeting and just the sight of them sends you into an apoplexy.

These venomous vipers exist only to bring you down via their devious demonstrations.  These are the people for whom pistols at dawn were invented. Only these days you can’t even slap someone in the face with a gauntlet because times have moved on, and that will simply result in an assault charge. Damn them.

Just occasionally, the ill-will that has been built up around these nameless nuisances becomes too much. The only conclusion being to evaluate one’s options and look at getting out of Dodge as quickly as possible. Perhaps the sight of you is enough to hurl them into a rage, and absconding (and so preventing them from punching you) is the lesser of too evils.

In these moments spare a thought for the victims of all sorts of abuse, many of whom have lived their lives keeping secret their suffering and granting anonymity to their torturers. Even if they have managed to escape a cycle of cruelty, chances are their physical proximity remains relatively close. The associations extend beyond names and faces to places, landmarks and institutions. This isn’t just the inconvenience of having to blank someone that made your life misery at work or school, but the need to cope and blank an entire suburb or city.

For most of us, time will heal. Fate may intervene somewhere along the way, so the bullies of the past fall upon misfortune, and we can hold our heads high, with a knowing smug smirk. Or the irritations become irrelevant thanks to other more memorable life experiences, and we may even forgive. Just don’t forget.

Social networking has made the world smaller. Those cunts at school who curtailed your enjoyment now think its okay to friend request you on Facebook – like we don’t recall their words and deeds. And yet others, we miss and morn are a tentative click away, rekindling something special from a hundred years before.

When I was a teen I spent hours in payphones along lonely lanes, calling up guy and girl friends (and sometimes girlfriends). A memorable encounter would be replayed in the painstakingly hand-inked manuscript of a letter, and weeks or months would go by before a connection would be made once more. There were genuine surprises when you stood behind the lassie you fancied from the other school in the Primark queue. Nowadays I imagine teenagers simply stalk their object d’amour via Foursquare and Twitter and just happen to turn up at the right place at the right time.

I’m careless enough in my adulthood to leave a breadcrumb trail through social networking, in spite of having picked up stalkers in the past. I’m not quite looking over my shoulder yet to see who lurks in the shadows, but when that bus pulls away with me on it for good this time, I wonder how long it will be before my eyes are struck with the sight of one of those panic-inducing persons of potential peril?

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