After walking up the gangplank in Dublin, we waited awkwardly at the bottom of an escalator for our buggy. A heavy man on crutches told one of the ground staff that he was looking for a wheelchair.
"The wheelchairs are at the door of the plane," she said crankily, pointing him back down the gangplank.
"I've just come up from there," he said, "and they weren't there."
"Well, I've just come up from there, and I've just seen them there," she snarled.
After a brief stand off she marched off in her stumpy heels, mumbling 'you've got to be kidding me' under her breath. He limped off in the opposite direction, unskilled on the sticks. Ah, Dublin, it's great to be back!
But it was great to be back. It was great to be able to listen to that conversation, understand it, wonder whether the neckerchief-wearing woman had spent time in the US or whether she was just a sap who used American phrases and laugh. It's always great to be back, but this time was better than ever.
I loved walking to Bull Island and the wind pushing cold sea air into my lungs. I loved that a young man on a narrow path apologised to me with unnerving sincerity after we brushed shoulders. I loved the banter on the 130 bus and the way the gummy old woman winked at me and mouthed, "Next stop" when I offered her my seat. I loved the way that tea tasted and the way that clothes smelled coming out of the washing machine. I loved the way my children screamed with excitement at the sight of a sheep.
I did get a bit of a culture shock. Like when I got on the bus with eighty-five cent in my hand to be told that it was two euro sixty into town. You wha? That's more than a fiver return! I got a shock when I saw people openly taking drugs on the street and when I had to open three cubicles in a nightclub toilet to find one that wasn't covered wall to wall in pink vomit.
There was a coldness walking through rural towns, like walking through old Western film sets, closed up doors and painted windows of buildings too young to be haunted. It was empty and dank and I could understand why young people had little choice but to leave, unless they liked drinking out of plastic glasses previously chewed by coke-heads in a nasty nightclub on a Saturday night.
Dublin was buzzing. "The money's in the restaurants," a woman with diamond rings stacked on her fingers in a vintage jewellery shop told me, "shops are empty but restaurants are jammed". No wonder the shops are empty, I thought when I saw the Christmas shop open in Brown Thomas in the middle of August. Who needs that pressure? No wonder this street is empty, I thought when I saw my lovely Grafton Street bastardised by a Corpo decision to pave it with some new, 'more durable' Wicklow granite, making it as grey and flat as every other pedestrian street in Europe.
I was less sentimental than before, but I loved it more than ever. The streets, the shops, the sea, the bursts of red hair and most of all, the quips. Daily interactions - though brief and meaningless - were in the main, genuine and droll. Ireland is like a great friend - the best hugger, the biggest joker, the gentlest listener - who suddenly lets you down and you think, why are you being such an asshole? But it's soon forgotten, and I can't wait to be home again.