It’s an odd thing, familiarity. You never know where you are with it.
This morning I took a walk around a town I’ve lived beside for thirty odd years. I go through Coleraine at least seven or eight times every week. I would know my way around it blindfolded. I know all the shortcuts, all the best parking spots… my car can practically operate in auto pilot I know the place so well. Well, I know the place so well from behind a steering wheel. Other than the town centre, the parks, the area round the football ground and the university my experience of Coleraine is based on what I see while driving about. Today I took to my feet.
I was forced to. Much as I would love to say I just decided to take a long walk I cannot. I had to leave my, recently crashed into, car at the fire station to get some bodywork done (Who’d have thought that firemen moonlight as bodyshop workers? – that’s two months of a dreamboat calendar accounted for right there) Anyway, I was sans wheels in Coleraine with nothing to do while two men repaired my car between callouts – and so I walked.
And walked. I don’t think I’d ever been in Coleraine so early in the morning before. I’d certainly never walked through Coleraine so early in the morning. Snow had fallen overnight and the place looked so clean and unspoiled. It was almost beautiful. And time after time as I walked I saw new things – things I never knew existed. I used to be incredibly disparaging of a friend of mine who, although having lived there almost his entire life, didn’t really know his way around the town. Yet here I was – lost. For three hours I walked through areas I’d never been through, along alleyways I never knew existed, up stairs which ended I had no idea where. As I climbed (very gingerly) a steep hill and spotted an amazing old house, long abandoned and hidden from view of the road by new developments I had a startling feeling – a good startle.
I’ve never been married but I imagine it must be like that when you’ve lived with someone for years, you’re shared your life, your loves, your pains and your joys. You know each other so well that you barely need to utter a sentence to understand one another completely. Then one day you’re looking at your wife and she does something you’ve never seen her do before – It must be wonderful, after all that time together, to be reminded that there are still things to learn about each other and new experiences to be had. It has to be healthy for a relationship… unless of course the something new you see her doing is having an affair with your friend… that wouldn’t be healthy.
Of course it wasn’t all a morning of joy unbounded. I saw an old newsagent where I used to buy comics had been turned into a chip shop. I saw run down residential areas that seemed uncared for. But when I was standing on top of that hill, after seeing that house, I turned around and looked down across the horizontal profile of the town. Looking at those familiar buildings from a new perspective made it seem like an amazing place to be right now.