Walking through Biarritz, amongst elegantly dressed French people, there was an old, familiar feeling from times past; the sense of being unsophisticated and scruffy. Growing up I was the yokelest of the yokels, the hickest of the hicks. In Ireland, I think that would be the culchiest of the culchies.
Going to university in London when I was eighteen, I became very aware of being a rustic. I remember a very suave third year student showing us around the London School of Economics during Freshers Week. She had a purple Mini with one of those stickers on the back, ‘I’ and then a red heart and then ‘NY’. ‘What a strange name’, I thought, ‘Iony – maybe she is Scottish’.
I became worldly wise fairly quickly, but there was always one group of people I found intimidating: the sort of people who dressed in a particular way and went to particular discos (as they were known then) and who were into particular dance music. I’m never quite sure, but they always seemed much more cosmopolitan, much more sophisticated. I always avoided such company and I would never have had the confidence to set foot in the clubs. I always had the wrong clothes, anyway.
For years, when scanning through the radio frequencies in England late at night, I would once more get the sense of feeling intimidated by particular DJs; the ones who spoke with their own patter, their own language, which excluded people like me. A few years back, I pondered what it was that so frightened me, and I couldn’t figure it out. The people who went to the discos weren’t particularly cosmopolitan or sophisticated; they were just people who liked dressing up and enjoying a night out. They didn’t even get into fights; unlike some of the guys who went to the football matches I attended without any hesitation. I think the fear I experienced was that most primeval of all fears, the fear of the unknown. Maybe it’s the sort of fear that some people experience when setting foot in church for the first time, the fear of being dressed wrongly or speaking wrongly or doing the wrong thing. If someone felt one fraction of the fear that I felt when confronted by the dancegoers, then I can understand how they would never want to come back.
Today in Biarritz, I decided I was well past the point of worrying about being unsophisticated or scruffy. I sat at a pavement cafe with a glass of beer and looked down at the most worn out pair of training shoes on the continent of Europe.