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It had been described as ‘An evening of the vibrant sounds of modern Ireland,’ and having been to the previous ‘Imagining Ireland’ concert at the Barbican I knew we’d be in for a musical treat. What I didn’t expect was quite how many wonderful, enriching encounters I would have and, fittingly, it being on a day in which I’d been discussing in the office with Breda the kinds of ‘coincidental’ meetings we have in our lives and how we seem to be almost drawn there by some kind of mysterious universal pull.

With Yim Soon away in Korea I went on my own this time and there is always a bit of nervousness about attending something alone. Would I know anyone, would I have the courage to talk to new people? The Embassy of Ireland had very generously given me not only a free ticket but also two complimentary drinks vouchers. When picking them up from the desk I was delighted to see Eilish, with whom I happened to have been exchanging messages earlier in the day about a musical session on the forthcoming Sunday, at which I would be joining in and also saying a few words about my book: a book at the heart of which is those kinds of ‘coincidental’ encounters and events that constantly occur.

I was pleased to bump into more people I knew on the way to the bar to redeem the first of my vouchers. Then when I took my place in the concert hall I almost immediately got chatting with a young couple called Tim and Eileen. My sister’s namesake was, like my mum, a native of Co. Down (of course she was!), having grown up in the shadow of the beautiful Mourne Mountains, near Newcastle. When I spoke about my work and told them that that our office was at the Irish Centre in Camden she said that she’d been to the St Patrick’s Mass there three years previously. I explained that it had been the Irish Chaplaincy Mass and that I’d been there too and that the priest had been our Gerry who is from Newcastle (of course he is!). It was lovely to talk to them. And, by the way, it was indeed a musical treat, involving as it did an eclectic line-up of ‘exciting young Irish musicians’, The Scratch, Sorcha Richardson, Aby Coulibaly and Niamh Regan. I especially liked Dublin-based The Scratch who seemed at first to be sort of folk rock meets U2 meets Motorhead, then spiralled into their very own exuberant genre that had a packed audience up on their feet and dancing.

It was kind of sad to have to say goodbye to Tim and Eileen, as I would have loved to spend more time with them. As I just about made it onto a late train from St Pancras I was still buzzing from the evening’s excitement and still in the mood to talk to someone, anyone. And that’s when I met Dennis! There were only a couple of seats left and both had a man sitting there with his bag on the adjacent seat. I took my chance and motioned to one youngish man with headphones on that I wanted to sit next to him. Thankfully he moved the bag and then said to me in an almost impenetrable sort of London patois, “Where are you going?” “Canterbury,” I replied. “I’m going to Ashford,” he said, “if I fall asleep can you wake me up.” I gave the thumbs up, and he responded by giving me a high-five! An exchange of names was cause for a second high-five! After a short while he rummaged in the aforementioned bag and produced a can. “Have you ever tried one of these?” he asked. I read the label: ‘Smirnoff Summer Fruits Martini Cocktail.’ “Nope,” I replied. He pulled the ring and offered it to me and I took a sip, then he took a sip and gave it back to me for another slug. Praying that he didn’t have Covid but sensing that it was important for him to be sharing the drink like this, we continued in this manner till the can was empty.

After the pleasant encounters of earlier, I was still keen to talk and asked, “have you had a good day?” He took the headphones off. “It’s my birthday,” he said, and I got the impression that not much had happened for him by way of celebration. The reason for his trip to Ashford, however, was to see his girlfriend Amy and a bit later in the journey he asked me to say hello to her on the phone! “Hi Amy, I began, “I’m having a drink with Dennis on the train.” “Thank you so much for being there with him,” she said. “It’s a pleasure,” I replied. And it really was. As we neared Ashford he reached into the bag again and out came a bottle of whiskey, from which I was duly invited to imbibe! There were more high-fives, plus fist bumps, as he prepared to get off the train, and then he disappeared into the night.

In my conversation with Breda earlier in the day I was saying how my previous blog ‘Meetings on the Margins’ had been about the unexpected, mutually-enjoyable encounters that take place and how there seemed to be something almost drawing us together in a particular time and place. I’d mentioned as well to Breda that I thought a certain openness was necessary and simply being in the right place at the right time. Some of those who come fleetingly into our lives in this way, drawn to us and we to them by whatever strange coalescence of forces, we will never see again. But how they touch and enrich our hearts, and affirm our part in this mysterious and interconnected business of being human.




Eddie Gilmore

Author Eddie Gilmore

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