Sunday’s Inspiration: The Street I Grew Up on, 35 Years Later

“Take me back to the town where I was born, because I’m tired of being a stranger and I’m miles from home. We can hide by a lonely windowpane. We can walk the streets of my life while they still remain.” – Noel Gallagher.

Sunday's Inspiration: The Street I Grew Up on, 35 Years Later

Sunday’s Inspiration: The Street I Grew Up on, 35 Years Later

We have all had a ridiculously crazy journey on this planet. When we were young we had no idea what we would end up doing in life. Would we get married? Would we play football? Would we study abroad? Would we travel? Would we have children? Would we get a decent job with good money? As a child, I wanted to be a footballer. Norman Whiteside was my boyhood hero and I wanted to play for Northern Ireland in the World Cup. Sooner or later, it will sink in, that I’m never going to make it. But at least I once scored a hat-trick and also once won the Northern Ireland National BB Cup.

Jonny Blair lives a lifestyle of travel but he once won the Northern Ireland BB cup with 10th Bangor

10th Bangor Boy’s Brigade – Northern Ireland Champions 1997 – 1998!! I was proud to be part of the winning team!

I spent the first 11 years of my life living on the same street. In a quiet cul de sac, in a small suburb of Bangor in Northern Ireland. I grew up in Marlo Drive, which was off Marlo Court, which was off Marlo Park. Down a wee lane in Marlo Park I walked to primary school from 1984 – 1991. Kilmaine Primary School. It was massive, a proud school that was also attended by current Northern Irish international footballer Josh Magennis, Blue Peter presenter and model Zoe Salmon and Northern Ireland ladies captain Ashley Hutton. You can read about my return to that school here.

Sarah and I in Mr. Rea's P7 room - we were in his P7 class in 1990 - 1991.

Sarah Bell and I in Mr. Rea’s P7 room – we were in his P7 class in 1990 – 1991 at Kilmaine Primary School

I played football on the streets nearby and in the Linear Park, as well as for the local Boys Brigade team. The area of Marlo back then had lots and lots of children. After school was mayhem. It was all kids in the street. There were lots of us and my childhood friends (in Marlo) from my classes at school were Graham Irwin, Peter “Magoo” McIvor, Mark McCullough, Stuart Hutchinson, Dougie Gordon, Scott Callen. Also friends in the streets but not in my class included Gavin and Michael McClelland, David Gherardi and Gareth Robinson. There were many more. There was always someone around to swap stickers with, go cycling with or more importantly play football with. There were girls too…

Awards day at Kilmaine Primary School, proud and shy next to Claire McKee

Awards day at Kilmaine Primary School, proud and shy next to Claire McKee

There was one girl I was always with in the 1980s as a child and that girl was Claire McKee. At the time of course, it always felt like Claire and I would be together forever. Yes, she was my first crush and “my own childhood sweetheart”, whether or not the feelings were ever reciprocated didn’t matter to me, we had fun. I won’t dwell too much on the streetlife or Claire here, as I’ve some more details in the forthcoming book (yeah – long time coming, long time writing, long time removing stuff from it to put on here/vice versa). I also went on my first ever trip abroad without my parents while I lived here. My school trip to the Netherlands in 1991 was just before we left this house. In short, my Marlo childhood was bliss. I loved it. I loved the street I grew up in. I loved Marlo Drive.

At home in Marlo in the 1980s with cousin Chris and childhood friend (and sweetheart) Claire McKee

At home in Marlo Drive in the 1980s with cousin Chris (middle) and childhood friend (and sweetheart) Claire McKee (right)

Strangely, when my parents first moved us away from Marlo in 1991, I didn’t want it or like it. I didn’t want to change. I thought my whole life was forever going to be condemned to this small estate in Bangor and that was good enough. The world was bigger but my world was viewed from this window (a photo I took myself in the 1980s from my bedroom in Marlo Drive:

The view out my window, aged 10 in Marlo Drive, Bangor

The view out my window from my bedroom, the inside, aged 10, 1990 in Marlo Drive, Bangor

The same window viewed from the outside in 2015

The same window viewed from the outside, from my world, aged 35, in 2015, in Marlo Drive, Bangor

We didn’t move that far away from Marlo in 1991, but it felt like everything had changed. I attended a new school (one which I hated), made some new friends and ultimately never really felt at home anywhere else after that. I lived with my family in a few different houses after that, but life was never the same. I was still a Marlo Boy and I missed it (like a hole in the head because I do boy).

“We’ve all had broken plans
All failed ourselves
We’ve done the best we can.” – Nicky Wire

The street where I grew up - Marlo Drive, Northern Ireland

The street where I grew up – Marlo Drive, Northern Ireland

Teenage years were personally unsettling, I didn’t like it, there was some crazy shit going on like the Great Exam Heist at school and nationally, the Omagh, Shankill, Greysteel massacres. My Northern Ireland had changed and it was time to get out, but I was slow to act. I dilly dallied in dead end jobs, went out drinking on the weekends and watching Northern Ireland at Windsor Park was my only genuine release in those days. It was 2003 when I finally moved to Bournemouth in England, later to London and Kent for a while. In between times I was galavanting all over Europe and eventually Asia and North America. That wasn’t enough so from my base in Australia in 2009, it was time to visit Antarctica, South America and Africa. Since then I’ve also been based in Hong Kong, studied in Uruguay and backpacked through the Middle East and Central America. Now, my adventures have no limits. I’m not scared. I go where I want. I tour countries you’ve never heard of. For no reason.

“I’m not afraid any more” – Kevin McCallister (Home Alone)

I'm not afraid any more

I’m not afraid any more

But it all began here. On this street, Marlo Drive, Bangor, Northern Ireland. It’s a quiet street now. It wasn’t in the 1980s. The street has a slight hill on it, and time after time, my tennis balls and footballs would roll into puddles down the bottom. The street looked tiny now. It was massive when I was there in the 1980s.

Standing in Marlo Drive for the first time since the 1990s

Standing in Marlo Drive for the first time since the 1990s

So on my recent trip back to Northern Ireland, I decided to go back to my home street. I had to see it. It had been 23 years since I last saw that house. After all, from this bedroom I had read all those maps, had all those dreams and somehow, I had done somethings I never planned. I had over achieved what I’d ever had expected by the age of 35. All 7 continents! Over 130 Northern Ireland football matches across 20+ countries! Over 100 countries, having friends in most of them. I felt oddly proud and sad. I knew life would never be the same once I left Marlo and there was a real sadness here. But I knew I was happy deep down.

Looking up Marlo Drive into the cul de sac

Looking up Marlo Drive into the cul de sac

The street seemed more sombre and quiet than I remembered it. Life had moved on. Marlo Drive is a “double cul de sac”, both ends come to an end, whether you turn left or right into it from Marlo Court. Perhaps growing up on street with two dead ends was a subliminal reason for my travels. But then so did my brother and sister. We all grew up here.

My childhood home in Marlo Drive, Bangor, Northern Ireland

My childhood home in Marlo Drive, Bangor, Northern Ireland

Marlo Drive was my home and it always will be. If I ever get rich in life, I may well try and buy that house someday. But if I don’t, I won’t mind. It’s still my home. Thanks Mum and Dad – this is my home.

“Wake up the dawn and ask her why a dreamer dreams should never die. Wipe that tear away now from your eye.” – Noel Gallagher

I enjoy lazy Sunday’s Inspiration posts, but the ongoing writings like this will probably be saved for the book from now on. I want it all in one place and I’ll reveal more in due course. The book, Backpacking Centurion starts life in Marlo and carries itself through me, my childhood dreams and onto my “career” in backpacking, with a sentimental, endearing Northern Irish tone. We live a charmed life. Don’t squander it. Don’t stop living.

In my back garden in Marlo dreaming of becoming Norman Whiteside in the 1980s.

In my back garden in Marlo dreaming of becoming Norman Whiteside in the 1980s.

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6 thoughts on “Sunday’s Inspiration: The Street I Grew Up on, 35 Years Later

  • Great but touching story Johnny. Its always nice to go back to the places that started it all or ended it all.

    I was born in Hornsby Hospital 30 yrs ago. That was in the Northern Beaches part of Sydney. But I lived in Parramatta City all 30 years.

    The house I lived in from 0 till 2 was bowled over in 1996 to make way for apartments.

    When I was back in the UK this year I walked past the house on Sidney Street in Whitechapel where I disowned my New Zealand Cousin John in 2012 because he wasn’t supportive of me moving to the UK.

    It took me 3 yrs to go back to that part of London. I even went to London in June 2013 but I couldn’t deal with a wanker cousin in Whitechapel so I took the bus to Middlesbrough to see my Grandma.

    My Cousin moved back to New Zealand with a tramp wife and I never will speak to him again and if I did have something to stay to him id call him all the names under the sun.

  • Hi Martin, thanks for the comment. It’s a wonder we didn’t meet before then, because I lived in Parramatta for over a year (2009 – 2011 with a few spells away) and worked in one of the most popular pubs in town at the time (PJ Gallaghers). It seems you have family all over the place so are sorted for somewhere to stay when you travel to the UK. Safe travels. Jonny

  • While reading the post,I felt like I was traveling through time. I was reflecting on my own life and what I would feel like 25 years later. In my mind I was going through my own childhood days, my first crush, my first everything!! This made me feel nostalgic!

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