The sun is setting when I see this house with windows open to the street. I am looking for a place to put up my tent. Inside a man is sitting on a sofa, reading a book. When I knock on his door, he turns out to be a friendly Englishman. Of course I can pitch my tent in his fields. Would I come in for a ‘ cuppa’? We get to talking. He bought this house some 5 years ago. Didn’t bother about curtains, unlike his Irish neighbours. He had gotten fed up with all the pressure of working in London as a head engineer. Time, money and never was the job done. Being an engineer, he has been thinking about sustainability, energy conservation, insulation and the growing of vegetables (where my tent now is, still needs some to get started). You never know when there will be a real big crisis and people will come to rely on basic survival again, he says. I see literature on his table, good books and films. An educated man. We talk about our families, children, their education and so on.
He is aware that the Irish neighbours view him with a bit of restraint. Ireland got its independence from England only after the first world war and that is not so long ago. The atrocities by the English during the occupation will not likely be forgotten. Their acts during the 1840 famine, when the potatoes rotted away and they refused in many cases to help. It still sits deep with people. They get along with the English, and when the economy is booming, like a thin layer of civilization, there seems to be no problem. But it doesn’t take much to bring old wounds to the surface. The examples of Yugoslavia and Rwanda are clear for that. I think one of the missions the EU may have, is to bring people together, to just have them be with each other. Peace and relationship building. In a slow way. Not saying they are not doing that right now, but the crisis has put far too much focus on the visible aspects of finance and economy.
The next morning, as I am breaking up, he calls me in for breakfast. You know he says, we all wear masks. A couple of years ago I lost five family members in 18 months, amongst whom two of my sons. Suicide, cancer, old age, all of it. We are all trying to live through it, all in our own way. I can suddenly see how his moving here is part of another struggle. His question is not about who he is, it is about ‘ how’. He is coping. As best as he can. It makes my quest seem fancy and luxurious by comparison. But then again, what else can I do?