MY MANN – EAN WOOD
CAN I say ‘I love the Island?’ No, of course I can’t. It’s too much a part of me.
That sort of thing is said only by visitors and comeovers. To say it myself would be like saying I love my own sense of touch, sight or hearing.
It would be like praising birds for flying, or the tide for ebbing and flowing.
But adjusting to living back here again, after years away in London, has been, for me, a strange experience.
Not because of the obvious differences – the lack of distracting lettering everywhere (except shop fronts and road signs), or the way people walk more slowly, and think more slowly, and generally live more slowly (except certain drivers).
I never lost touch with all that during my years away, because I came back often on visits.
No, what feels strange is that the place I remember from years ago is weirdly overlaid on the place it is now, like a double exposure on a film.
Streets that once were cobbled suddenly aren’t. Shops have new names and are painted a different colour, or even rebuilt. It’s all disconcerting, like being in one of those dreams where a familiar road ends up leading somewhere you’ve never seen.
For instance, I’m always surprised that the railway bridge over the road between Upper and Lower Foxdale seems to have vanished.
On Douglas’s promenades, where did the Rendezvous Restaurant go? And opposite the foot of Broadway, what happened to the Red Pier with its bollards boys used to leapfrog over?
Of course, this multi-layered quality, this sense of the past being somehow still present, explains why the Island remains peculiarly rich to me.
Of course, the scenery is beautiful, but beautiful scenery is not uncommon. In Britain alone, Cornwall has coastlines as craggy, Yorkshire has fine sheep-dotted moors, and Skye has peculiar and dramatic mountains.
But here, to me, places contain memories, even long histories.
That restaurant used to be a dance hall and, before that, a sawmill.
There’s the building where the good citizens of Peel hurled apples at John Wesley. Then the rock off Kitterland where 29 local residents were blown up while looting the shipwrecked brig Lily.
The point of all this is, of course, that the important thing about the Island is not the place, it’s the people.
As I said, the Manx live slowly. To a city-dweller, they may seem to expect little of themselves and their lives.
But that’s only the reverse side of choosing a placid, calm existence over an active exciting one. And I’ve got more sense than to make sentimental generalisations about the nature of the Manx character, like poor T. E. Brown did in his day.
Which in turn brings me, I suppose, to the Manx culture.
On the whole I can’t say I’m a great fan. The folk music and the folk dancing, for instance, seem poor and derivative compared to those in, say, Scotland or Ireland. (Who was it said that the reason most folk-songs are so terrible is because they are written by the people?).
But this is hardly surprising. You might as well expect any town of about the same population as the Island – Reading, for instance – to have a flourishing culture of its own. The main thing is that people keep enthusiastically trying. As we do.
And then there’s the language. The careful reader will have noticed that so far I’ve used not a word of it.
I haven’t spoken of going up the river to see if the croaghan are biting, or reminisced about summer evenings sitting on the scrissag to watch for the keimagh.
This is because the purpose of language is to communicate, not to be the secret code of a small society and while learning Manx might be a diverting hobby, with English we can communicate with the world.
But I feel myself getting cantankerous (an old Manx characteristic).
All I can say in apology is – yes, it turns out I do love the Island.
Ean Wood is a Manx-born author, recently returned to the Island to live after many years in London. His most recent book, Headlong Through Life, which is a biography of the dancer Isadora Duncan, is published in April 2006.