Yesterday was March 12th. I like March the Twelfths. This is why:
It was cold. It was nowhere near the Springtime I'd left behind in London. Cork city looked different to the city I was used to - greyer, for one thing; smaller, for another. But when the taxi man drove me from the airport to the city centre the day before, something about the river, and the painted houses lining it, gladdened my heart.
I remember the sun cutting across the water, and the Virgin Mary in her niche above the church doors as we crossed Christy Ring bridge up to the North side.
Salt of the earth, the Northsiders, the taxi-man said. Rough on the outside, but hearts of gold. A Northsider would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it, he said (or at least, that's what I think he said: it was a nervy game of guesswork and intuition with the accent, in those days).
I was in Ireland on placement for two weeks only. Acting was failing me, and I it, so I'd taken a year out to re-train. Community dance. Exhausting, exhilarating. A turning point. (When they said It's placement time: where do you want to go? I said Ireland, without thinking. Everyone thought it odd but I insisted, I wasn't sure why).
The next morning, I was back on the North side again, trying out my teaching skills at an all-girls Catholic secondary. Coming out of the school mid-morning, after a staggeringly misjudged lesson on my part, I asked three yellow-jacketed workmen where the nearest bus-stop back to the city centre was. There was in fact a stop nearby, but they mistakenly directed me away down the hill, quite some walk, to a stop where a tall, sturdy young man was waiting a few yards away from the stop itself. I was two weeks off my 40th birthday, and very, very alone.
We waited apart for a little while and then the man sauntered over. Excuse me, I said, sounding terribly, terribly English, is this the bus stop for Cork?
He thought it secretly hilarious that I was asking for a stop to the county. I should have said Cork City, apparently. But it was the opening this shy boy had been waiting for. He was off, talking about this, that and everything - approximately one third of which I actually understood. But he was funny, and made the 20 minute wait for the number three bus fly by.
When it came we sat together. We talked easily all the way, but when we arrived he said a hurried goodbye, and rushed off the bus. I thought little of it, I was simply glad of a little company. Told a couple of people what a great chat I'd had. The Irish are so friendly! I said.
Five days later - St Patrick's Day - I went to watch the parade going by. It was cold and wet and I had noone to spend the Bank Holiday with. I went into the HMV store to shelter from the rain and found a spot in the window. And there I was, immobile, lost in thought, wishing the reason I'd insisted upon Ireland for my placement would reveal itself, when it did. The same young man walked by, looked up and saw me.
I heard him behind me before I saw him. Livvy, isn't it? he said.
And that, my friends, is how I met the Bim.