Friday, 13 March 2009

Days gone by

SAT next to me, at our shared house group social, was Eamonn. A retired member of the Irish diaspora, he spends his winters watching classic films, eager for the warm weather to return so that he can get out and about. He especially likes The Cider House Rules.

Eamonn comes from a forgotten world.

He arrived in London shortly after the war. Work in Ireland was becoming hard to come by, so, by recommendation, he moved to London. Reeling from the Blitz, London was the place to be if you were in the building industry, and Eamonn was a carpenter by trade.

Throughout his time in the working world he moved from the construction trade to shop window design and construction to the building of exhibition spaces. He didn't just stay in London, moving up and down the country from Torquay to Yorkshire. Along the way he learnt to discern international accents, as the country was far more culturally diverse than you might assume. Even now, he can expertly distinguish South African from Kiwi.

But this is not what makes Eamonn's tale spectacular.

He told us of the time when London was big but not busy. Crime happened, but you didn't hear about it, and you certainly weren't paranoid about it. Life felt safer. Nobody would be found out and about after 10.30pm. You worked and then you went to the pub to laugh about the day. Or, you went to the dance.

This is where the boys met the girls, and a man would be picked from the boys on account of his quick-stepping, his jive and his ability to lead in the foxtrot. No drinking to boost false confidence, no teeny bopping and self-conscious feelings. This was entertainment. The boys watch the girls who watch the boys, who watch the girls go by, eye to eye.

He met his lovely wife at a dance. Many of his peers met their partners there too. You went to the dance to court. The world was a simpler, less panicked, happier place.

I can't be the only one who longs for days gone by, can I?

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