Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Importance of Elsewhere

Yesterday I went to Belfast for a job interview, or rather, more of a "nice-to-meet-you, check-you-out" experience, which was in and of itself, quite acceptable. I believe I was more than qualified for the job in question, had it materialized, but in the end the question of how good my short-hand was, proved to be the un-clincher.

"I'm afraid I don't know short-hand."

"How come with all your experience and education, you don't know short-hand?"

"Well, I've been a reporter for seven years, and I don't believe I know anyone in the business apart from one guy, who uses short-hand. To the extent that I have had to take accurate notes very fast, I have my own methods and I can stand over my note-taking as one hundred percent reliable."

The person I was speaking to was more than pleasant. He was one of those classic Northern Irish types who would be enormous fun in a pub over a few drinks yet who are also possessed of the seriousness and unshakeable principles that come from having reported on something as universally appalling yet meaningless as the Northern Irish Troubles. Journalists should be innately cautious of anyone who walks in off the street, so perhaps "you don't know short-hand?" was short-hand for "I'm not sure about you..."

I've been away from Northern Ireland for so long. In a sense, from the moment I was sentient I was trying to leave. I've returned with the thought of being a bit closer to my ailing relatives -- so far, "a complicated experience" is perhaps the most charitable way of describing it. When I left my interview and walked up Great Victoria Street I thought of a poem by Philip Larkin, which I will quote here out of context but I will let it speak as short-hand for my experience.

Lonely in Ireland, since it was not home,
Strangeness made sense. The salt rebuff of speech,
Insisting so on difference, made me welcome:
Once that was recognised, we were in touch

Their draughty streets, end-on to hills, the faint
Archaic smell of dockland, like a stable,
The herring-hawker's cry, dwindling, went
To prove me separate, not unworkable.