Ballymoney aka Brigadoon

When I was a kid our mum used to make us sit quietly on rainy Saturday afternoons and watch some tedious black and white movie on BBC2 whilst it bucketed down out’a the heavens, sometimes the movies were so bad that the rain seemed the better option. The story of my youth was to spend Saturday afternoons in Conlig with extended family and assorted pets, rodents (and various wildlife pretending to be my brothers), attempting to find a space to sit on the floor in the living room between all the bodies and tails. It was a tight fit with nine of us and mum and pets, trying to get close to something approximating comfortable; not too far from the fire to get cold, not to close to get burnt, not too near to the constant draft of the living room door and most importantly not within arm reach of mum or we’d get a clip around the ear if we dared make a noise and distract her from the movie.

We’d be bored senseless with various Al Jolson musicals but at least warm, and occasionally there would be a movie I actually liked. One particularly wet afternoon there was a movie on called Brigadoon and I was mesmerised. It was about a Scottish town lost in the midst of time;

Quote from IMDB

“Americans Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas, on a hunting vacation in Scotland, discover a quaint and beautiful village, Brigadoon. Strangely, the village is not on any map, and soon Tommy and Jeff find out why: Brigadoon is an enchanted place. It appears once every hundred years for one day, then disappears back into the mists of time, to wake up to its next day a century hence. “

Ignoring the awful American attempts at a Scottish dialect (filmed all in Hollywood and not one single Scottish actor in the whole movie), I thought it was a sweet movie, a love story but in Brigadoon (circa 1956) there were no telephones, no radios, no cars, no mod-cons, no Facebook, no modern day attitudes, and dating life meant being chaperoned by some uncle.

It puts me in mind of the town my mother Doris and her hubby Bob live in. She lives on the outskirts of a town called Ballymoney and I like to think of it as the Northern Irish version of Brigadoon, a town of people interested only in Daniel O’donnell and the benefits of cod liver oil.

They have this strange tradition that I completely forgot about now that I live in London, it’s called ‘half-day closing’ and on Wednesday afternoons most of the stores shut up shop so you canny even buy a loaf of bread, never mind internet access time. I’d forgotten about half-day closing, as kids the only shop in Conlig used to close on Thursday afternoons and it was always a disappointment to run around to the shop on pocket-money day and find the door to the sweetie shop firmly shut.

There’s very restricted mobile phone coverage, I always struggled to get a signal when there, I had to balance on a stool in the upstairs back bedroom and hang out the window and could only get a signal when I implored the great God T-Mobile and the wind blew from the south, a rare occurrence in Northern Ireland. So in a town of 10,000 there’s no official internet café which is a surprise as most of the residents seemed to be under sixteen and bound to be Facebookers. Perhaps they haven’t discovered ‘the internet thing’ in Ballymoney yet. Or deodorant. Some of the school kids sitting beside me in the bakers-come-coffee-shop-come-part-time-internet-café stank and yes, I had to email via a bakers shop and I had to sweet talk the girl behind the counter into letting me use her steam powered computer.

There’s a city 120 miles to the north east of London called Norwich. I visited it a few years ago and right from the moment I got off the train I realised there was something different about this city, everyone seemed to be just slightly out of phase with London, people wore slightly different clothes and attitudes seemed a step back. However, travel 500 miles northwest of London to Brigadoon – I mean Ballymoney, and it’s like travelling through a time warp, Ballymoney seems to be the town that style passed by, just like the 70’s (the decade that fashion passed by) everyone wears clothes that are impossible to find in the London High Street, polyester slacks were for sale in the local market, I thought there was some UN treaty banning the use of polyester worldwide but apparently Ballymoney didn’t get the memo.

And the pace of life is much slower there, glacial if truth be told, there doesn’t appear to be any rush hour as far as anyone can tell – except on Wednesday mornings when the OAP’s (Old Aged Pensioners) race and I used that word in the loosest possible meaning, to the Post Office with their zimmer-frames, thick stockings falling down their legs, to collect their pension and do a discrete head count to see if anyone has kicked the bucket since last Wednesday.

However, it’s not all bad, there are some good things going on there that, living in a big city like London, I forgot about. They drive under the speed limit. And will let you out of junctions unlike here in London where it’s every man, woman and car for themselves. And people talk to you. People are friendly and people will make time for you and will engage with you. I always get caught out by that and considering I spent the first 25 years of my life growing up in Norn Iron then I don’t know why I should be surprised.  In fact, the more I think about it, the more Ballymoney is like Brigadoon and that’s not a bad thing to say, it’s actually a compliment. No wonder Doris and Bob live there.

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