Friday: I regarded my socks one last time before dropping them in the trash as if they were something special, some memory tied to them that was important but better left behind. Cut my hand on something packing up the car and it bled, and on our way out we laughed and remarked there’s police in the street, they’re stopping people and checking them, and wearing bulletproof vests, one climbing a ladder onto a roof they’re surrounding, and we sing “Goodbye Belfast” at the stop sign, and remember to look right before pulling out.
Taking the M2 or the M1 or the A24, wherever it points us to get out of here toward Dublin, toward Swords — and as soon as we cross into a new county they start listing the distances in kilometres again and the speed limit, which helps minimise the math and conversions, now from sterling pounds back to euros, leaving Northern Ireland.
We stay up late to watch the news coverage and commentary on the announcement from Westminster to enter air strikes in Syria, two sides of the discussion, then the Northern Ireland point of view, and a representative saying “Coming from Northern Ireland we know about terrorism,” which could be read multiple ways.
It was my mom and step-dad John who gave me a ticket to Europe 20 years ago for Christmas that started my love of travel, and our first time on the tube in London one Friday they stopped the train to announce there’s been a bomb threat, and my girlfriend and I just looked at each other wondering what we should do with no one exiting the train, they just kept on reading their newspapers, looking peeved.
And later I asked our English friends Rob and Paul what it’s all about, the bomb threats from the IRA, and they said they do that every Friday at rush hour — and we won’t live like that, under fear. They looked unchanged by it then, and it would take time for us to learn that attitude in America.
But it’s not fair to blame Belfast for our seemingly small troubles, that started with getting skimmed in Edinburgh but learning about it too late, a week later, in Northern Ireland — apart from being the centre of much of the conflict for 30 years, with arguments over when it actually began in the late 60s, Belfast is also home to the Titanic, with an impressive museum alongside the production studios for HBO’s Game of Thrones, home to Van Morrison and the band Snow Patrol, with a slogan “Get here before the rest of the world does,” as they’re rebranding the city.
But it’s Friday and the sun’s come out and we’re heading south, and it feels like we’re on vacation again — the navigator acted stuck in the 90s misleading us across the M1 and the M2 and so forth, often dead-ending, requiring us to cut across multiple lanes of traffic with bad visibility, rain, hungry kids, me spraying F-bombs, Dawn trying to keep it all together.
We pass a sign pointing to “Brontë Homeland” and have to stop, and learn it’s just the house where the Brontës’ dad lived, they grew up in Yorkshire, and the poor guy lost all six of his kids before he died, five girls and a boy, an alcoholic writer, likely jealous of his sisters’ success, and can you blame him?
There’s a stereotype of Americans who travel through Europe wanting to check off all the countries they’ve seen, just passing through without really seeing anything (‘What day is it, Monday? We must be in Germany.’), and we’ve had that with Charlotte a couple times now, who’s surprised to learn we’ve been in Ireland for almost a week, says it aloud in public, and we have to pull out the maps and atlases to retrace our route, but neither she nor Lily seem too interested. Perhaps it’s a project status report they’re tired of looking at, both making detailed plans for how they’ll redecorate their rooms when we’re back, and I’m finally picking up my memoir again to think objectively about why anyone would want to read it, which is a good place to start, but shouldn’t get in the way.