Crafting Gentleness

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Books and their covers

So I've (more or less) bought a house. Nothing sorted till it's signed, sealed, and delivered (as I know all too well), but encountering the house for the first time was something of a lesson for me.

I haven't really brought this up much here before, but I was brought up as a Catholic in Northern Ireland. Not for all of my childhood (much of it was spent in New Zealand), but enough of it to sample that particularly intense line in religious identity politics that seeps into your skin whether you like it or not as a child in norn iron.

I remember the first time I went to England. I was in my mid-twenties. On a visit to York I suddenly found myself surrounded by Union Jacks. Now, of course, they were all very innocent, there for the tourists, but I found it hard, emotionally difficult, to just be there in the presence of so many Union Jacks. Looking back it's so far from where I am now that it feels almost like I am talking about a different person, but there can be something primally powerful about identity symbols.

I think I've have bought a house in Artigarvan, County Tyrone. I was led by the price to begin with, very cheap, even given that there has been a lull in the market. But as I entered the housing estate I became very aware that the curbstones were red, white, and blue (clearly 'the French Quarter', as a friend put it recently). For anyone not from Northern Ireland, the colour of the curbstones tends to reflect the political or religious inclinations of the residents (or at least of the nearest enthusiastic youngsters). There was a UVF flag on the lamp posts (the UVF being a paramilitary organisation that was active during the troubled times of the last 40 years), and 5 loyalist murals on the wall, fifty feet from the front door of the house I was viewing. A few doors down there was a Union Jack billowing proudly in the breeze.

The child in me was thinking 'get out, quick', but I remembered that not only had I grown up, but I had also changed quite a few of my religious convictions along the way, to the point where I'd be hard-pushed to describe any of my convictions as religious at all. Flags gain most of their emotional power from us as we view them. Yes, the convictions behind flags can have real consequences, but something told me it made sense to actually bother to ask some of the locals what it is like to live in the area before making a snap decision to cut and run.

So I asked. A quiet cul de sac, they said, a nice wee community where everyone looks out for everyone else. No trouble in years, they said. And it's a mixed estate (Catholics and Protestants), despite the colours, although the town as a whole is a protestant community (95%). And as for the murals, they've been there for thirty years. Just that nobody has bothered to paint over them.

The people I asked had gentle eyes. That sealed the deal.

I made an offer on the house, and the offer was accepted. I'm waiting now for the mortgage decision to come through.

I was thinking afterwards that the colours and the flags are possibly helpful for the residents (which may now include me) as they tend to keep random wanderers out of the estate, making it that little bit quieter. I never thought I'd be seeing the benefit in loyalist flags! :)

Turns out there is a community association in the estate too. If everything goes to plan I look forward to getting involved in the local goings on. For the first time, all being well, I may be able to start thinking about getting involved in local community activities without feeling like I'll be moving on before I really get emotionally invested?

So I suppose I understand flags a little differently now. All very interesting :)


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