While you were away…

We took a pretend holiday home to my folks’ where I pretended we all get on well. A new direction in experimental good relations. Strangely, it sort of worked. I tried to pretend we weren’t broke when we returned; mainly because we were already broke before we left. Hence the word ‘holiday’ inserted into the re-branding of the trip.

Nevertheless, we did get to sneer at holidaymakers other than my beloved fellow gene-poolers having dusted off a hotel voucher veering dangerously close to its use-by date. Our over-nighter of an afternooner in the bar coincided with the Ulster Final. With the aid of German beer, I dug deep into my otherwise latent county loyalties. Nothing makes one yelp “G’wan …eh *whispers what’s his name again?*…” with such intensity than realising one is surrounded by supporters of the rival team gleefully applauding our wides. My right to always see myself as a victim was further vindicated when we lost.

But the trip was not without its enjoyable moments. I checked tripadvisor when we returned to see if anyone had a similar experience. Apart from a few neurotic Americans manically pacing the lower end of the star-ratings, it seems I was alone in the double sink triggering the imaginings of a scene reminiscent of a Wood Allen film. You know the one. The couple having a breakdown. Or one of them accusing the other of having one, just because they’re talking extra fast, and/or having an affair. Despite the opportunity to expand at length on our respective existential crises between moments of synchronised teeth-brushing, my fella declined to join me for the occasion. So I neurotically paced in front of the 800 inch TV instead before switching it on only for some plinky plonky jazz to permeate the room. It was almost authentically New Yoik except for the distant sound of sheep and a dog-eared copy of the RTE Guide on the table.

Which, coincidentally, was not unlike the state of my enthusiasm for returning to work, which I reluctantly undertook to do amid several valid alternatives put forward by myself. I elected to attempt coping with reality by refraining from listening to my voicemails until I had built up sufficient courage, and wearing my sunglasses all day indoors.

It’s been two days and I’ve graduated to answering the phone but my phone voice must still be on leave as everyone asks me if they can speak to me.

Thanks for asking.

Next question?

The universal and the particular

Name the odd one out: James Joyce, Seamus Heaney, Patrick MacGill. All have literary summer schools held in their honour except Seamus Heaney. Only a matter of time. One will likely have been set up by the time I hit publish on this post.

My knowledge of Patrick MacGill is limited to occasional pauses before his memorial statue, and accidental glances at rarely leafed-through books lining a shelf in my parents’ house. “The Navvy Poet”. Journalist. Poet. Novelist. Looks like my cousin Declan. Glenties man.

My Dad. History addict. Through the kitchen window day-dreamer. ‘Pullover’ wearer. Retiree. Looks like his sister. Glenties man.

One as enigmatic as the other. Any child who annually agonises before the array of imported emotional porn lining the greeting card sections of Ireland will understand. So too will those who cling to repetitious small-talk as subtitles for love and affection. That’s just our way.

Glenties. Keeper of both their secrets. And every summer the scene of burning debates on the great national questions of the day. Over the coming week, Very Important People will stride through the doors of the hotel where Meryl Streep stayed during the Irish premier of Dancing at Lunaghsa. Taoisigh and presidents can come and go, she’ll always be their Queen.

Based on the play by Brian Friel, the film captures a summer of upheaval in the lives of the five Mundy sisters in the fictional town of Ballybeg. It is loosely based on Friel’s Mother and Aunts who lived in Glenties. Aunts my Father remembered along with the occasional visit from the young playwright in his boyhood. Like Friel, his was a house of five women. My Mother tells me my Dad tells her I ‘took’ after one. It’s the hair, apparently, and the spirit. She legged it as soon as she could, too. But none of them made it near middle age. TB wiped out their vitality along with the ability of their brother to talk about them much. Buried trauma. That was just the way.

On the corner rounding into town stands his old school. My Mother tells me that my Father told her that the reason he was so keen to attend the funeral of a former teacher recently was because this teacher defended him when he was threatened with demotion from altar boy after his sister had an “illegitimate child”. She kept the child. That just wasn’t the way.

The same school features in the work of poet, Paul Durcan. Inspired during his visit to the MacGill Summer School with a fellow poet, it doubled up as the stage for a duel on meditations on parenting and writing. What scholars would probably call the universal and the particular, while I try to understand what they mean. I can’t claim to know too much about poetry, but I just have to read this one poem to get exactly what they mean.

My Dad.  Former pupil. Table tennis enthusiast. One-time proud altar boy. Brother. Uncle. Survivor. Glenties man.

A Spin in the Rain with Seamus Heaney

You had to drive across to Donegal town
To drop off a friend at the Dublin bus
So I said I’d come along for the spin –

A spin in the rain.
Bales of rain
But you did not alter your method of driving,

Which is to sit right down under the steering wheel
And to maintain an upwards-peering posture
Treating the road as part of the sky,

A method which motoring correspondents call
Horizontal-to-the-vertical.
The hills of Donegal put down their heads

As you circled upwards past their solitary farmhouses,
All those aged couples drenched over firesides,
Who once were courting couples in parked cars.

You parked the car in Donegal town and we walked the shops –
Magee’s Emporium and The Four Masters Bookshop.
You bought ice-cream cones. I bought women’s magazines.

We drove on up through the hills past Mountcharles
And Bruckless and Ardara.
There was a traffic jam in Ardara,

Out of which you extricated yourself
With a jack-knife U-turn on a hairpin bend
With all the bashful panache of a cattle farmer –

A cattle farmer who is not an egotist
But who is a snail of magnanimity,
A verbal source of calm.

Back in the Glenties you parked outside the National School
Through whose silent classrooms we strayed,
Silent with population maps of the world.

Standing with our backs to a deserted table-tennis table
We picked up a pair of table-tennis bats
And, without being particularly conscious of what we were at,

We began to bat the ball one to the other
Until a knock-up was in progress,
Holding our bats in pen grips.

So here we are playing a game of ping-pong
Which is a backdrop to our conversation
While our conversation is a backdrop to our game.

We are talking about our children and you speak
Of the consolation of children when they grow up
To become our most trusted of all companions.

I could listen to you speak along these lines
For the rest of the day and I dare say
You could listen to me also speak along my lines:

I have always thought that ping-pong balls –
Static spheres fleet as thoughts –
Have flight textures similar to souls’.

I note that we are both of us
No mean strikers of the ball and that, although
We have different ways of addressing the table –

Myself standing back and leaping about,
Yourself standing close and scarcely moving –
What chiefly preoccupies us both is spin.

As darkness drops, the rain clears.
I take my leave of you to prepare my soul
For tonight’s public recital. Wishing each other well.

Poetry. To be able to look a bullet in the eye,
With a whiff of the bat to return it spinning to drop
Down scarcely over the lapped net; to stand still; to stop.

Checkmate

It used to be that visits were so infrequent, I was convinced they’d changed the carpet in my absence. The longer the gap, the odder it looked. Are you sure?, I’d casually interrogate, looking down at a previously unregistered row of flowers snaking under the glass table. From there it zigzagged towards another buoying up an assortment of exhibits proudly wearing their counties of origin like a status-tag.

Waterford still borders Belleek despite the arrival of Galway and other Rocha-come-latelies. Well, something’s different, I mumbled the other evening, ignoring the dust no longer visible to the octogenarian eye. Who’s that making his own tea in the kitchen? “Your Father”.

By the third day, our one wondered when we were going home. This could only have meant one of two things: 1. She was having an enjoyable time 2. She was having such a good time she was growing ever anxious about the inevitable Sunday-night-like Fear. Or (I’m gathering momentum here so feel it necessary to add a third) most likely 3. She was experiencing a disturbing combination of 1. and 2. We’ve all been there. In receipt of unfettered treats knowing there’s a comedown at the bottom of the next empty wrapper and a return to front-seat issued orders about bed-time. They get you into a confined space where you can’t move for two hours and set all sorts of conditions. You hate it now, I smiled sympathetically, but will learn to master it by the time you’re in a serious relationship.

By the fourth day, I was beginning to feel at home. This could only have meant one of two things 1. I was at home 2. I was at home, but it was my home. Or (work with me) 3. I was experiencing a disturbing inner conflict between rejection and romanticising of 1. and 2. We’ve all been there. In receipt of unwavering hospitality from one, and from the other a raised brow at the level of oil usage. They get you into a confined space where you can’t move for two days and set all sorts of unspoken conditions for keeping it civil. You hate it now, she smiled up at me sympathetically, but just think what all’s ahead of me.

I thought better of sticking my tongue out at her, so robbed a Curly Wurly instead.

waterford crystal

Seeing through each other

Audience review

Equidistant from the bar and the bogs. That’s us. Strategic. Lined up at the critical spot where we can fully survey the audience while absorbing the sounds with a respectable three-feet radius between us and the next middle-agers. Plus the occasional reveller, though I suspect they’re just desperately trying to locate the toilets. It’s the three of us. Her, him, and me.

First half-hour:

Her: Fairly decent crowd, eh. That’s the good thing about being among our own – we’ll be spared all the cameras and phones in our faces

Me: And everyone looks like someone slightly famous

Him: ‘Nother pint? *waves empty plastic glass*

Me: Nah, thanks. Driving.

Him: What about a coffee?

He’s especially polite when he’s the one on the lash and not the designated driver.

Text from mate over at Beyoncé:  Hey!!! Lovely white clouds covering crokers!!!!

I swear the exclamation marks are a wind-up.

Middle section:

Me: There’s yer man. Erm. What’shisname. Eh no, false alarm, it just looks like somebody.

She: Everyone’s aging alright, aren’t they?

Me: I was just thinking that. And there’s a fair few much older. Although we probably share the same age category in the Census. My rule of thumb is if they are old enough to be my parent, well, they’re super oldies.

She: Andrew (her brother-in-law) will be the same age as Joanne’s (her sister) mother-in-law this year

Me: No way. He doesn’t look it. My mother-in-law is 21 years older than me. Just made it.

He: (back from toilet) Just saw Joe Brolly. Pissed.

Me: How did you know?

He: Erm. The way he was walking?

Her: There’s my old college lecturer *waves at grey-haired man smiling over* Can’t you tell he’s one, sure look at him

We both survey the shorts and sandals ensemble

Me: All that’s missing is the socks. Look! It’s Will!

Her & Him: Who’s Will?

Me: Will! From the Ray D’arcy Show! One of the funniest fuckers on radio

*silence*

These people have no appreciation.

Final half hour:

We’re joined by another pair of friends. Let’s call them er.. them.

Her: I thought I saw Leo Varadkar there when I was going to the toilet

Me: Yeah, that’s him. He looks taller on the telly

One of them: He goes to my sister’s gym. Says he’s an awful poser. It’s all about being seen apparently

Her: Well, if I’d known it was him, I’d have tripped him

She’s 5ft nothing and the most polite woman in Ireland. But we’ve gotta take her word for it.

He: (returning with another pint) Just saw Aidan Gillen there at the bar

Me: (in a nonchalant that-don’t-impress-me tone) Meh. He’s everywhere. And a bit self-consciously cool, is he not?

He: Well, he was in The Wire

Me:  You’re right *solemn tone* I take it back

The other one of them: I bet ya Leo is taking a selfie so he can check how many people behind recognise him

Text from my mate at Crokers: Phenomenal!

One exclamation mark. She must mean it.

John Grant: You’ve been a wonderful audience

Him:  Yes, we have been

Her: Yes, we’re still up

Him: Without the aid of any mind-altering substances

Her: Well, I had a cuppa tea

Me: And I had some chewing gum

Her to Him: Just think if you weren’t coming back again tomorrow, we could’ve gone to Coppers

Her, Him & Me: *laughs uproariously*

The following morning:

Text from Beyoncé convert: Were we not all lucky not to be poured on?????

You can take the music fan out of the middle-aged crowd……..

******

This audience review was brought to you in association with the wonderful John Grant from the perfectly intimate surroundings of Iveagh Gardens, Dublin.

Saturday 9th July 2016.

john grant

John Grant takes a moment to welcome Leo Varadkar

Mother inferior

So, wannabe Conservative Party leader, Andrea Leadsom, reckons having children gives her the edge on rival, Theresa May. Apparently, it elevates the status of her stake in the future of Britain to higher worth. It worked for Thatcher, remember?

It’s hardly a surprising assertion given the only comparative differentiation between one candidate and the other is anxiety about getting children into the best private schools. A low point for meaty mud-slinging, but a possible Mexican eye-roll opportunity for women across the Northern Hemisphere who do not have children.

While commentators are foaming at the keyboard, many women will be reminded of how they are regular receptacles for the same assertion made more matter-of-factly along with a number of other assumptions far too frequently strewn around.

If you’re a woman who doesn’t have children, it’s likely you’ll be unsurprised to learn the following:

  • Your capacity to be affected by horrific news stories of children dying isn’t as great as women who do.
  • Sexism and discrimination in the workplace don’t affect you as negatively.
  • Your work ethic is not under the same scrutiny or pressure for reform so you don’t work as hard either. No need for you to prove yourself.
  • It’s your choice to work 80 hours in a top corporate job at the expense of your fertility. Because life’s that simple, and worthy work, or ‘careers’ are only ever to be found in those sectors that require grooming and a third level alma mater.
  • Consequently, you probably haven’t suffered the indignity of participating in ‘low-skilled’ work.
  • If, or when, you ever do have children, it’s only then you’ll realise the need for feminism.
  • You’re constantly hung-over. You lucky sod.
  • You smell of cat wee. Probably.