Seán Moncrieff: Never been to Coppers? That’s no bad thing
Having unfulfilled ambitions makes the fulfilled ones all the more valuable
Copper Face Jacks: word of its sale immediately prompted a thread on Twitter of people who had never been there. Photograph; Aidan Crawley
When I was a child we lived for a time in Swindon, Wiltshire. The town is just south of an RAF base at Fairford, and it was there that Concorde was based while still in the testing phase.
Concorde, if you don’t know or can’t remember, was the world’s first and only supersonic commercial passenger plane. Capable of flying at twice the speed of sound, it could shoot from London to New York in 3½ hours. But it was also incredibly cramped inside (and in those days you could smoke on a plane), the sonic boom caused complaints and occasionally shattered windows on the ground, while the price of a return ticket in 1990 was $12,000. You could double that if it was flying today.
Environmentally, it was indefensible: it used a ton of fuel per seat. The cost of running it put off all airlines, apart from British Airways and Air France, for whom the plane was rarely full.
The experience was surreal and jarring, like walking into McDonald’s and being served by Brad Pitt
When I was a kid, though, I was unaware that any of this, and I wouldn’t have cared. Certainly not on the day that a Concorde glided over my street. It was disappointingly slow, but low enough for me to make out its blinking lights and the otherworldly, delta-wing design. It was gaspingly impressive, and even though other people I knew had seen it pass over, its appearance to me seemed miraculous. The experience was surreal and jarring, like walking into McDonald’s and being served by Brad Pitt.
I ran home to tell my parents. I’m not sure if I was believed. But I declared to them that one day I would travel on the Concorde. And the encounter left such an impression on me that I never quite let go of that ambition: even though I never found myself in a position where I had a handy 12 grand to spare. Yet I secretly maintained the hope that some day, I would.
But in 2000, an Air France Concorde crashed, killing everyone on board. The British and French planes were grounded and haven’t flown since.
Tinge of regret
I was reminded of this a couple of weeks ago when the news emerged that Copper Face Jacks is for sale. It immediately prompted a thread on Twitter of people who had never been there. Some had never wanted to, but others seemed to carry a slight tinge of regret: as if this was something that all Irish people should do, at least once.
They still could, of course. The place hasn’t closed. Yet there was a sense among some of the tweeters that this was another, admittedly minor, dream that they would never realise. As we move through life, we pile up ambitions, big and tiny, but many of them, most of them, will never be fulfilled. The circumstances are never right or we try and are disappointed. We go to bungee jump, but find at the last minute that we’re terrified of heights. We go to Iceland to see the Northern Lights, but it’s cloudy.
A few years back, as some sort of PR campaign, I was issued with a Copper’s Gold Card
Yet, having unfulfilled ambitions does have a positive aspect. It makes the fulfilled ones all the more valuable, while there’s also the prospect of it teaching us about what actually gives our lives meaning and value. A trip to the Great Wall of China might be memorable, but over the course of a (hopefully) long lifetime, what gives that life substance is the day to day. The families and jobs and friends; the stuff we sometimes take for granted.
And no: I haven’t been to Coppers either. I could have. A few years back, as some sort of PR campaign, I was issued with a Copper’s Gold Card. But Son No 1 relieved me of it and was highly impressed with its benefits. It seems to have given him plenty of memories. So that’s good enough.