I am Northern Irish, so I am. Totally. Through and through. I was born there and I was raised there. I sort of have a Northern Irish accent and I definitely have a Northern Irish family. I am Northern Irish. OK, I don't go around marching and I don't have a flag pole actually attached to my house. Yes, and I don't talk about the glory of the IRA or the UVF or the JLS because I don't think there's anything glorious about them. In fact, hardly anyone in Northern Ireland comes close to being the tedious sterotype on TV. Hardly anyone has a shit tattoo with a three coloured flag on it and hardly anyone goes around saying "Ulster is British". And for good reason. You'd look like an idiot if you went around saying that. You might as well say "Europe is French". Northern Irish people are generally cool people who prefer jazz albums, sunglasses, calling people "cats" and making sweet beat-poet love to one another. And THAT is how I always want you to think of Northern Irish people. Get that other shouty stereotype out of your head. Those guys are dicks. The rest of us are smooth cats, you dig?
More than being Northern Irish, I am an Ards man. I was born in Newtownards hospital (now a psychiatric hospital, obviously) and I know where Roma's, the duck pond, Cafolla's and loads of other places you've never heard of are. I may have lived in London longer than I did in Newtownards but it's Newtownards that's in my blood and in my very soul. I just don't relate to London the way I do to Newtownards. I'm not a geezer who cokes it up in Hoxton or the salt of the earth who would kill you for your iPhone in the Isle of Dogs. No. I'm a chunky jumper wearing, saying-hello-to-strangers-in-the-street, country and western music loving Ards man.
I mean, I think I'm an Ards man. I must be. Just because I've lived in London for nearly 24 years doesn't mean I've lost touch with my home. No way. I mean, yes, when I walked down my parents street on my first day back and a man I'd never met before said hello, I did scream like a particularly girly girl and immediately gave him my wallet. Even worse, later that day I saw someone I knew in the street and completely ignored them. Jesus Christ, have I really become so...English?
No. I'm not English. I'm an Ards man. I...I can't be English. My parents couldn't take it. If I sat them down and told them I was English my father would turn his back on me and my mother would cry and say "Now I'll never have grandchildren". It's ridiculous. I'm not English...I'm not a Londoner. I'm an Ards man. AN ARDS MAN.
A few days before I left Northern Ireland, I decided I'd go to Roma's. As I walked down the centre of Newtownards, my HOME, a man came up to me and asked a question that only a local Ards man like myself would know the answer to. This is it! Brilliant! A man needs Ards info and he's come to the right Ards man. A stupid Londoner would be of no help here. This is my chance to cheerily show my Ards soul off in the street.
"My car's broken down and I need to call a repair man. Could you tell me the name of this street, please?"
I was SO HAPPY! As a typical Ards man, this is the kind of thing we love. I imagine. Being helpful and knowledgeable is definitely something all us Ardsmen are famous for, probably. And the thing is, I knew the name of the street and all I had to do to prove how un-Londony I am is to answer his easy peasy question.
"Yes, of course", I replied confidently. "It's...."
Ah, shit. I fucking know this street so well. I mean, I walked up it EVERY FUCKING DAY for 20 years. Of course I know the name of this street. Why isn't it coming out of my mouth?
"I'm so sorry, mate. I'm born and raised here but I left 20-odd years ago and...I've forgotten".
"Not to worry", he said.
NO! (See, I am Northern Irish) I need him to understand that I'm from here and I'm an Ards man and the whole stupid London place has fucked with my lovely, local brain. "I've been in London for 23 years. I know this street so well. I can't believe I can't remember. I'm so sorry".
"London, is it?", he said. "Sure, no wonder you've forgotten here".
NO! (See?) This isn't fair. I might live in London but my heart is in Newtownards. That's who I am. Michael Legge: Ards man.
A couple passed us and the man asked his very easy, local question to them. "This is Regents Street".
FOR FUCK'S SAKE! It might as well have been called London Road or Buckingham Palace Avenue. How could I forget that it's Regents Street? I'm an Ards man who lives in London. I know Regents Street. BOTH OF THEM! How did that get lost in my stupid lost head?
"You sure you live in London?", the man asked. "No. Not really", I replied.
And that's that. With one very simple question, I'm basically homeless.
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