“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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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:
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.
We’ve all failed ourselves.
We’ve done the best we can.” – Nicky Wire
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)
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. The hill used to be really steep in my childhood mind – now – it is not steep at all…
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.
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.
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.