The UK never felt like home. I hated English butter for a start
I wanted to come home, and not just because of a bum note in London
Laura Kennedy. Photograph: Aidan Crawley
The scuff of my shoes against the pavement, gritty with age and abuse, is barely audible past the thrashing of the rain as it hurls itself to the ground in a wild tantrum. Dublin’s streets look oily in the lurid orange light cast on them from above. On Mary Street, I miscalculate the distance between pavement and road as they merge in the blur and shimmer of the drenched gloom, and am pitched sideways into the shoulder of a young woman.
“Watch where yer bleedin’ goin!”
Her demand is sawn out in clipped syllables, as though my infraction is the last straw in a very large pile of straws. She shoves me (thankfully, upright), and stomps noisily into the foggy sheet of the downpour, carrying her unseen burden.
I smile even as my arm smarts a little from the conscientiousness of her shove. I bought some gladioli – they’re cheap as flowers go and their tall, sword-like masts, though really just jumped up irises, remind me of preening, narcissistic birds. The rain has fecked them thoroughly; a couple of the proud masts of buds now dangle jarringly like arms broken limp at the elbow, and I notice my precious Kerrygold butter has made a leap for freedom from the grocery bag, because it isn’t in there. It’ll be dry toast, so.
I couldn’t abide English butter. An anaemic slab of cream-coloured nothing in particular, it is a block of lard with a distressing chalky matte finish, crumbling and shattering as soon as you take a knife to it. Like mummified butter, it is desiccated, unsalted as standard, and consequently highly offensive. You would creak shards of it across toast like very cold, very hard cream, and swallow a mouthful of apathy with every bite. That isn’t to say that they don’t do many things better than we do – inexplicably, their cream could beat the stuffing out of ours in a scrap. British people – Londoners in particular, are more fashionable than we are. Their clothes rarely wear them, but hang accommodatingly, and they never seem to accidentally tuck the back of their skirts into their support tights, revealing a gauzy but aggressively restrained bum cheek which flashes out maniacally like a snarling beast freed from captivity.
I wanted to come home, and not just because I had tucked my skirt into my support tights and walked around London like that for 30 minutes before a builder yelled “Y’skeht, lahve! S’in yeh knickehs”. I was struck down with wild-eyed vulnerability. “Eh . . . Thanks”, I murmured back (he’d done me a favour, after all). Recognising the accent, he shouted something to the effect that his grandmother was Irish while I bolted, scarlet of cheek (face-cheek, that is) into the Tube station.
The UK didn’t quite fit for me – or at least where we were living, in rural Warwickshire – and I felt a certain shame about that. People adapt to cultures that are entirely “other”, and I felt myself alienated in an English village just because the butter was shite and people kept reminding me that I wasn’t one of them, though with an indirect passive aggressiveness that I found exhausting. They would float up like jellyfish and say something politeish. Only moments after they’d drifted off would you feel the sting, and think, “gelatinous fecker”.
Here on the dark, greasy street, in the dirty autumn rain, with my broken flowers and my absconded butter, I see the beauty of Dublin. I appear to have stepped in dog shite, and the stench winds around me like a layer of cling film. An elderly lady walks up to me as I huddle in a doorway and places her hand on my arm. She tells me that she hopes it isn’t inappropriate to say so, but she likes my hat and wants to know where I got it. “It was my mother’s,” I tell her. She nods knowingly and her eyes scrunch kindly at the edges. “Well, it’s a very good hat.” She pats my arm and shuffles off. All around me is rain, masticated phrases from passers-by float through the sheet of wetness and linger on the air. I look up (Dublin keeps its secrets for those with the imagination to look up) and find that I am home.