We bought a Renault Scenic last month. I didn’t know it at the time but apparently the Scenic is a Surrender Car. And not just because it is French. Other Surrender Cars include the Opel Zafira, Ford Focus C-Max and Citroen Picasso. They are the cars you buy to say it’s all over. I have joined the ranks of cranky dads loading kids into people carriers outside Smyths Toy Store.
You’ll know us anywhere. We could do with a haircut and our jeans have a raggedy, hanging down arse. That’s not because we are rappers or anything – it’s just the way jeans go after wearing them for six days in a row because you are too tired to find a clean pair.
Anyway, here’s the weird thing about our new Surrender Car. I love it. I love how sensible it is. I love the fact that it’s slightly underpowered compared to our last car. I love bobbing around in it with the kids in the back. (And not just because your car is the one place you can legally restrain your kids out of reach. Although it helps.) I love people knowing that I am one of the tribe of raggedy arse tribe of men you see outside Smyths Toy Store, with our mad looking hair.
This is just another example of what I have suspected for some time. The secret to happiness in this life is simple – you’ve got to love your tribe. And no I don’t mean you need a Celtic away jersey and 26+6=1 tattooed on your forehead. Unless that is where you are in life – in which case go nuts.
No, by your tribe I mean, whatever bunch of people you find yourself lumped in with at any given time. The thing about life is you don’t always get to choose your tribe. Your parents and your job and your age will often take that choice out of your hands. But life works best when you can look around the room and say these are my kind of people.
I’ve been in a few tribes in my time. I started following Man United by accident in 1973. That worked out pretty well. Up to now. I fancied myself as an intellectual in college. That would have meant dickie bows in another university, but this was UCC, so we all wore second hand coats. I was a late raver in my 30s, jumping around Sir Henry’s in Cork with people half my age. I hung around with a gang of armchair Provos for a while because they were mad for the booze.
There was only one tribe that didn’t really work out for me. That was when I worked in Germany for a year. I spent most of my time hanging around with a bunch of ex-pats. A few of them were great fun. A lot of them weren’t. Let’s just say a lot of English people live abroad to make sure they will never run out of things to complain about. I ended up living with two Italian guys who kept trying to steal each other’s girlfriends. They were hilarious but watching two guys screaming at each other in Italian wears thin after a while. I came back to Dublin and slotted in with my old tribe of friends, who had all become professional slackers. Nice work if you can avoid it.
And now I have joined the loading-up-the-surrender-car-in-suburban-car-parks brigade. I know for a fact I could walk over to any one of these guys and fall into easy conversation. (‘Can you get the Peppa Pig theme tune out of your head?’ ‘No.’) The earlier versions of me would have found this depressing. In fact, most of the tribes I have gone through in my life probably hate each other.
The intellectual in UCC would have looked down his second-hand sleeve at the aging raver in Henrys. The raver would have pitied the man in the Scenic, while also wanting to give him a hug. The only interest the armchair Provos would have had in the Scenic is whether it might work as a getaway car. (It wouldn’t.) They would have debated this over a load of pints.
I’ve no regrets. At the heart of every mid-life crisis is the temptation to step back and join one of your old tribes. Here’s the problem – they’re gone. The ravers, the intellectuals and the armchair Provos have all pitched tent and moved on. They were just pop-up tribes that we put together in a moment of time. Myself and the other raggedy arse jeans guys have our own stories to tell, about various tribes that came and went. The only problem is we haven’t got time to tell them because the youngest fella just had a puke. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and get my hair cut.