I’ve always tried to remain on topic with the blog but allow me to indulge in a little personal tale:
On March 8th, 1994, I arrived in London, seeking my fortune. Prior to leaving Ireland, I thought I would always live in my home country but that was the pride of my youth. I was officially a “man” now (whatever that is), ready for new adventures and experiences. I had tasted a few months in America, and that was great, but it didn’t overly appeal as a place of residency (part of me now thinks I should have gone direct to LA but I didn’t have the confidence; that would come later).
After my American spell, I was living in Dublin and things were going well. I had got some TV and film work but these opportunities were coming to an end, and there was nothing else on the career horizon, so I decided ‘sod it, let’s try London’.
In what can only be described as foolish optimism, I arrived in London with nowhere to go and nowhere to stay. When I landed in Heathrow, I got the tube directly to Piccadilly Circus as that was a landmark I knew as a child. So now what? Where should I stay? What should I do?
Luckily, someone I had worked with in Dublin gave me the telephone number of a friend of theirs who worked in a recruitment agency. I thought: “sort out work first, then worry about everything else”. So I phoned the recruitment girl, introduced myself, told her my wicki-wicki-wild typing speed and that I needed to temp as soon as possible in order to quickly settle into London life.
The girl - the magnificent Catherine O’Sullivan (Irish, natch) - told me to meet her in South Kensington, where she worked. We met for a coffee, and she seemed very nice, and told me that temping shouldn’t be a problem but where was I staying? Nowhere, I replied, probably a hostel or something, I wasn’t sure. Why don’t you stay in my house? she said. Eh? I said. Stay in my place. Just for a couple of nights, sort yourself out.
My initial reaction was to politely decline but an impulse flashed across my brain and I said: “okay, that would be great!” But get this: she gave me the keys to the house, told me where to find it, and encouraged me to treat it like home. She shared a house with four Australians but it was far from a bedsit house nightmare. It was a house full of energy and humour, and the people (complete strangers!) couldn’t have been more welcoming and understanding. Here was me, arriving out of the blue, and invading their space unannounced. An half an hour later, we’re eating dinner and drinking beer. I was impressed, and having fun.
A guy was moving out of the house at the end of the month, and although the rent was a bit pricey (it was West Kensington after all), I knew I had to stay and continue to live with my new best friends. So I moved in, full time. And we had a blast. Never have I come across such a bunch of unassuming and friendly people, who are still my good friends to this day.
I temped for six months, got myself accustomed to London life, and then I got a job at Channel 4, and my career started in earnest. It occurred to me that this kind of opportunity could not have happened while I was in Dublin. Times have changed and there may be more opportunities now, but I know I have two things to be grateful for: Catherine O’Sullivan for being so laid back and friendly, and London for giving me the chance to develop myself and my career into a viable and rewarding prospect.
Sometimes you just have to take a chance, I guess. I was only 22 at the time. The world revolves around you at that age, and I was just having fun, never once thinking about dreary realities. In retrospect, I doubt that I would be as spontaneous and carefree as I was then, but I still hold on to that foolish optimism. There’s a fine line between this optimism and delusion, especially as you try to develop your career as a screenwriter, but it’s served me well down the years, and I wouldn’t be anywhere without it.