A year ago, pleas for an ice-cream cone would’ve detonated animated warnings giving Hong Kong Phooey a run for his money. Neither of us willing to concede the last word to the other in our game of good cop, deranged cop. “Oh Gawd, ice-cream. It’ll give you a sore nose and head”. “Yeah, ice-cream makes you really sick and you’ll have to go to hospital.” I paused to deliver a withering sideways glance in response to this tempered statement before gently adding “well, that could happen if you eat too much of it. Like a swimming pool’s worth”. Less condescending usurper of unfiltered reasoning than Pink Panther laid-backness, I felt.
Hong Kong Phooey expertly eliminates the deadly 99
This year we prepared to chaperone their first stepping out from the newsagents together, fearful it wouldn’t prevent one of them kamikazeing to the ground. She looked through one of us, then the other, and silently mastered it within seconds. Another marker of her skip towards girlhood that announced itself in the unlikeliest of ways.
The rest of the afternoon yawned out in front us, egging us on to take it as it came now that naps are all but erased from the schedule. Her buggy was jettisoned in favour of swaggering ahead with one hand determinedly in a side-pocket before she turned back to reclaim it for her pair of dinosaurs, but we’re too big to fit in, so she belted in her two toy dinosaurs instead. Complaints that her dress didn’t match her runners were ignored, and though she hasn’t a notion what matching means, I exhaled in grim acceptance that her comprehension of it will roll round soon and we’ll all be fucked then.
Those blinding white teeth definitely didn’t match the smile. And the eyes were way out. One dinosaur politely threatened to eat the other while we awaited our coffees, silently studying an amatuer painting above my head. “Nelson Mandela starring George Clooney”, he finally deadpaned, turning away to hide his smile, knowing I wouldn’t better it. It’s the slight movements that announce his air-punches the loudest. With a price-tag of €200, the artist had got to be joking. Perhaps that was the point. In which case, give me the palette and brushes, and I’ll give you Chris deBurgh, starring Enya. Or, more likely, a Lada. An early prototype, anyway.
American tourists lined the tables opposite. Retired mostly, wearing appropriate attire for the scorcher of a day that was in it. One woman studied a landscape painting over her shoulder by peering through glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. Not unlike my Geography teacher whenever I attempted to explain why I hadn’t my homework done. One of those intimidating moves she used to pull along with marching a girl off to head office with a note delivering some urgent news (“Fancy a pint after? This lot are doing my head in”).
I imagined our neighbours were on the big retirement holiday, having taken an ice-pick to that golden egg they’d been squirreling over a life-time of toil. Like any thoughts on the lives of others, they turned back towards mine. I momentarily tried to work out how many more years I’ll need to punch the clock before I bow out to mount the proverbial VW camper. But I tripped over words like pension and plans and grazed both knees of my dreams. “You have a pensionable job!”, I finally blurted. What I meant to say next was that I’ll catch up with him if he wants to bugger off to France, but it came out like “ah I’ll probably die first anyway.” He just smiled like he’d been bemusedly reading my thought-bubbles, and brought my anxiety to a close with the trusty reliable statement of denial: “We’ll be graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand.”
C’mon, man. What’s keeping you?, I wondered as the pair of us hovered on the kerb out front at the foot of the steps leading up to the cafe. Diddly-di music wafted through the streets, pumped across the square from one of the few surviving relics from pre-recession times – the independent music shop. They’ve had to survive somehow. I resisted the urge to peer in the window over the invisible specs on the bridge of my nose for fear of being confronted with Daniel’s big face, or worse still – Enya (cowers), or maybe that was actually Chris.
I looked down to see her tapping her foot in tune to the music before quickly scanning the nearby loiterers to clock who she was copying. No-one. She was, of course, doing her own thing. There was nothing else for it but to take her lead and join in.