Do first impressions matter? Writers are told to grab the reader's attention on the first page. Psychologists tell us we make decisions about the people we meet within second. And towns?
I've been in Carrickfergus, in Northern Ireland, for less than two days. I shall be meeting friends on the north coast on Friday, but came early - to have a potter about. And I came to Carrickfergus because I know the traditional song, especially the version by Jim McCann with The Dubliners (you can hear it here).
The people I've met have been kind and welcoming. But the town itself ... many streets in the town are dug up, with red barriers and uneven pavements and bits of rubble in corners. I haven't seen a notice telling me if this is gas or water or just general mending; I'm sure it has to be done and will be wonderful when it's finished, but it looks a bit ragged and downtrodden at the moment.
I'm not deterred by a few road works. I can see beyond a few holes in the roads (I've been to Nepal, after all!). This is Ireland - I'm here for the craic. So I wandered out in the early evening - about six o'clock, to think where I might eat, if there was a bar with music where I might tap my feet and down a guinness.
To find rows of shuttered shops. Grey shutters, cluttered down and leaving the streets looking abandoned. It's light until after ten o'clock at this time of year - that's hours when people could be out and about, enjoying the evening. But anyone tempted into the town centre is met with grim line of shutters and streets full of rubble.
I've a map, and list of restaurants - the wine bar by the harbour is open in the evenings, as is the Chinese restaurant. And a Weatherspoons. An Italian round the corner from my hotel closes at seven o'clock; the 'bistro' at four-thirty.
I'm only here for a couple of days. Not long enough to understand this history of this shut-upness in the evenings. I haven't met anyone yet I feel able to ask if this goes back to the Troubles, if I'm simply looking in the wrong place to find the craic. I can't get to grips with the story of Carrickfergus that might explain it all.
But as a first impression, it's not good. Which is a shame, as Antrim is beautiful - I spent yesterday walking around the glens, savouring the spray of the waterfalls, the smell of garlic in the forest, the glorious views down to the coast. (Today I spent in the rain. Which is how I had time to write this!)
First impressions can be misleading. I hope mine is. Does anyone have tales of first impressions that are upended when you get to know somewhere better? That includes books, as well as towns.