Day 13, Wednesday 22nd June (visiting Northern Ireland)
Last night I met up with June (Clark) Wilson, a girl I grew up with in Belfast. From age 4 we were in the same class at primary school, and then attended Ashleigh House School together at age 11. Another classmate from Ashleigh called Patricia came too, and the three of us had an absolutely brilliant evening. I’d been nervous in case we no longer had anything in common, but I needn’t have worried.
I was about 10 minutes late. I’d left plenty of time to drive there, but just as I left Dundrum I heard a pop! from the front driver’s side tire, and felt air deflate. Bugger. I pulled off to the side of the road and got out to inspect it. It was definitely softer than it should be.
I got back in the car, saw no traffic either way so did a U turn and headed back to Robin Hill. Abandoned the Citroen and ran into the house to ask Dad if I could borrow the Mazda. He handed over the key and I took off, although I only had 5 minutes before I was supposed to meet June and Patricia. Now, if you’d told me I could drive from Dundrum to Carryduff in 15 minutes I would never have believed you. But the traffic gods were on my side and I didn’t get stuck behind any tractors and every light stayed green.
I recognized June and Patricia at once, and the years fell away as we reminisced and shared what we’d been doing for the last couple of decades. They looked exactly the same - June as stunning as ever. She always got the good-looking boys when we were teens and I ended up with whatever weedy sidekick they had along with them. :-) There are so many things a childhood best friend knows about you! June could probably blackmail me if she wanted to, but I think I can bribe her to keep my secrets if I supply her with Clinique’s discontinued perfume, Wrappings.
We were the only 3 female customers in the bar by the end of the night. Except for one of the bartenders’ friends sitting on a stool at the bar. The 2 bartenders were very attentive and sweet. My Continental Airlines credit card continues to flummox vendors over here - it has no PIN number, unlike the cards here. But they managed to run mine eventually so I could buy a round. I broke my no alcohol when driving rule, but made my wine last all night, interspersed with glasses of water.
As the bartender ran my card he asked me what I did in America. June told him I was an author, and I dutifully (shameless self promotion!) handed him one of my bookmarks for Time Twist.
“What’s it about?” he asked.
I gave him the short version and the one that usually sells: “Sex. Time travel. Aliens. More sex.”
The young men got quite animated and they passed the bookmark around.
“This is you on the front!” exclaimed the guy sitting up at the bar.
“It’s based on Nicole Kidman,” I told him with a smile.
“No, it’s definitely you!”
Lots more good natured ribbing ensued, and I told June and Patricia how much I enjoyed the banter in Northern Ireland. It’s hard to find that level of safe flirting in the States. I usually end up in trouble if I try it.
The night was over way too quickly, but we made promises to go out on the town properly on my next visit, and I’d stay somewhere close so I wouldn’t have to drive home afterward.
As I drove through the night back toward Dundrum, I felt a solid connection to my past that I hadn‘t felt for a long time, remembering some of the adventures June and I had shared so long ago. When you move away like I did, first to England and then to the States, you lose something of your past. No matter how many wonderful friends I’ve made since leaving Northern Ireland, unless they’re from the same place you’re from and grew up with you through childhood and early teens, they cannot quite get some of the sense of humor, or understand things like the everyday memories and references to favorite television shows, advertisments, and shared way of life.
With one of Mum’s old ‘Wet, Wet, Wet’ CD’s at top volume, I sang along to the words of ‘Broke Away’. As I left passed through the town of Ballynahinch and drove along the dark main road toward Seaforde, I glimpsed a small red light moving on the road ahead. I breathed in sharply and put my foot on the brake to slow down. I hadn’t seen anything like this light since the 90’s, before the British Army stopped their random road security checkpoints.
I stabbed a finger to the CD player and switched it off. (As though that might help me see better!) It wasn’t the army, but a police checkpoint. I remembered the glass of wine I’d had earlier and although my alcohol level would be pretty much okay, I was concerned nonetheless. In the States I wouldn’t dare even have one glass when driving.
Heart rate accelerated with trepidation, I slowed the car to a stop by the officer holding the light and rolled down my window.
“Hello,” I said cheerfully. It’s always best to speak first to a police officer if you can.
“’Lo,” he replied. “Cn’I see yer drinnin’ lychen?”
I blinked. “Pardon?”
“Yer drivin’ license,” he repeated slowly as though speaking to an idiot.
“Certainly.” I reached for my handbag on the passenger seat. “I’m an American,” I added, so he wouldn’t be caught off guard at the sight of the alien license.
“Okay,” he said, with a tone that conveyed, so what?
I suddenly felt very self conscious, aware that the smell of sweet white wine must still be on my breath. Fumbling uselessly in my bag, I finally rested it on the rolled down window and asked, “Could you shine your light into my purse, please?”
After a moment’s hesitation, he did so, and watched me sift my way through lipsticks, a powder compact, tampon, receipts and other debris, to finally locate the wallet holding my license.
“D’ye live here?” asked the officer.
“I’m visiting my father in Dundrum,” I replied, handing him the license. I knew my accent was all over the place, swinging from Northern Irish to North American west coast.
He peered closely at my license. “I’ve never seen an American one before,” he said.
“Don’t believe the age,” I quipped, “it’s a lie!”
He gave me a suspicious look and handed the license back to me. I took it and raised a questioning eyebrow. “We’re done?”
“Thank you! Goodbye!” I drove on, remembering the ’good old days’ when police officers had a bit of a sense of humor.