I’m listening to it right now…
My first night in Barcelona in 2013 was a tough one. I’d watched my parents round a corner and disappear knowing that I wouldn’t see them again for at least another four months. I had just graduated and was alone for the first time: no friends, no partner, no language and the task of establishing myself in a foreign city – when I had only ever lived in Ireland – stretching out in front of me.
There are things you cling to when you are an emigrant. Objects, postcards or letters or certain items of clothing, even memories become metaphorical comfort blankets that remind you of what you’ve left behind. The life of an emigrant, even the ones who leave voluntarily, is not easy. The transitional period can be never-ending and once you do transition to feeling at home elsewhere there is a sense of loss, even guilt at doing so.
I wasn’t exactly a proud Irish person while I lived in Ireland. The concept of national identity and pride meant little to me likely because I had never had it challenged or never had the need to explain or defend it, or indeed enjoy the sometimes hilarious cultural differences that make having international colleagues and friends so, so worthwhile.
On that first night in Barcelona a I missed the familiarity of Ireland. I missed being able to fall asleep to the sounds I knew from my flat in Dublin; I missed understanding any conversations that floated by underneath my window; I missed the security of knowing what I would wake up to in nine hours time. I think I was scared and I know I was lonely.
I remember turning on my side and switching on my laptop, which was balanced on a chair beside my bed. I went to YouTube and searched for a podcast of a Dublin radio show, previously on FM104 but now on 98FM. The sounds of the presenter’s accent and those of his callers, the arguments and debates about colloquial or national issues and the inside jokes that I have since struggled to explain to my partner or my friends, that night rocked me to sleep, cushioned by the familiar.
It became a constant and has remained so. Dublin Talks on 98FM has been played in Barcelona, in England, on the beach in Gran Canaria, in Paris, on the Eurostar from London, between classes in Switzerland and as background to workouts in Italy! Whenever I have felt lonely, and I frequently do, that radio show has played a very important part in bringing me a much needed solace.
It isn’t just the accents or the fact that it is from home, it is that through it I can feel as if I still belong. I hadn’t realised the extent to which I did it until my boyfriend pointed out that when listening I will answer the debate question raised or give my own thoughts on the topic and often, apparently very often, laugh out loud and without restraint at some joke. Having lived together for the best part of three years he knows I’ll bring that radio show to bed, to the bathroom while I’m having a shower, while I’m cooking, when I come home on a Friday from school or whenever I’m feeling a little down.
I’m not good at telling him what these things mean to me but I think he’s worked it out fairly well on his own and he’s never ever asked that that particular radio show be switched off. I know he doesn’t understand some of what they talk about but it touches me that he understand what it communicates to me.
Which really brings me to my point. We can never be sure of the impact we have on other peoples lives. Sure we may know that someone appreciates us or might like us or may value the work that we do but more often that not the human condition is to remain vastly ignorant or critical of the positivity we can bring to others. When that show goes on air I’m listening to more than just a debate show – I’m listening for the sounds that matter to me and which remind that, no matter where I am in the world, however many hours ahead or behind, there are people who use expression or idioms like I do, who grumble about the things that I do, and for a sense of home that doesn’t seem so very far away at all.