The children began to wonder how the cat was getting on in our absence.
I decided to grace my relatives with our presence. We picked up my mother and drove north to Limerick. The children were exemplary in the car. First we visited my uncle and aunt who have a shop. They each got a bag to fill with goodies. They were ecstatic. They were fantastically well behaved and I glowed with pride as they uttered please and thank you with no prompting. They did not go so far as to refuse the proferred treats (proper polite behaviour in rural Ireland – you must say no thank you several times before yielding) but as townies I think that was forgiveable. Then they settled down to watch a DVD which I had thought to bring with me which guaranteed silence and further good behaviour (some might call this bribery). Over tea, for their own obscure reasons, my mother and my aunt and uncle reminisced about pig slaughtering. “Remember,” said my mother, “how the pig used to squeal and do you remember the blood gushing out from its throat.” My aunt who is, clearly, a more sensitive soul than her husband or his sister confided to me that after seeing pigs slaughtered as a child, she can’t eat bacon or pork.
Then we went to my aunt and cousin’s farm. We had visited at Christmas when the children loved going on the tractor in the dark in the pouring rain so I had high hopes for this trip in daylight in sunshine. I was not disappointed. They absolutely loved it. They got to go on the tractor again and collect a bale of hay.
They met the calf they had named at Christmas (I was pleased to note that he had kept his name and he hadn’t been slaughtered – two worries dealt with). They brought the cows in for milking and then helped to milk the cows and feed the calves. It was fantastic. Now, Michael demonstrates milking a cow by attaching suction tubes, taking them off and spraying the cow’s teats (with water, disinfectant, who knows? Well probably Michael but I’m not going to wake him up now to check). Farm to fork – I think these children know where their milk comes from.
I was in the kitchen eating rhubarb tart with my mother and aunt. My new found enthusiasm made me go out and inspect the vegetable beds where the rhubarb was grown. They were weed and slug free with rows of healthy looking vegetables. I have not at all inherited my relatives’ green thumbs, alas. I returned to find that my mother was talking about rats. Farms are full of rats, it appears. Back on the farm where she spent her teenage years she was reminiscing happily about my grandfather’s rat trap. Apparently you run a plank up the side of a barrel of water and another down the other side. Rats are very curious and they will climb to the top to see what’s in the barrel. They think that they can jump to the other side, but they can’t and they drown in the barrel. “Who emptied the barrel?” I asked. My mother didn’t know, that sounds like a lovely job and probably why the barrel rat trap never caught on in a domestic setting.
We got home about 11 and to my horror all three children were still awake and anxious for the full bed time routine. It was midnight before I got to my own bed with herself tucked in beside me to keep her safe from Voldemort.
I woke to the sound of the Princess admonishing her brother: “You were much less trouble when you were a small boy, Daniel,” she said to her four year old brother.
The Princess got a cactus spine in her finger and howled for her father who is far more sympathetic than I am. The boys, inspired by their sister, also began to wonder where their father was. As I pointed out to him, he was only 24 hours less popular than the cat.
After the long drive of the day before, I decided to have a quiet day. The highlight was to be a trip into Youghal to have a pizza in a nice place we found last year. I starved them for the morning (no snack!) so that they would eat lunch and arrived into Youghal at 12.20. It started to rain. The restaurant did not open until one. There is only so much you can do in the rain in Youghal for 40 minutes with three starving children. I capitulated and brought them to another restaurant. It was quite, quite vile. The food was inedible, the children squirmed under the table, the service was atrocious. The Princess refused to eat her pizza and she was quite right, it was pale and undercooked. My chowder was horrible. The children insisted on having scones for desert. The three scones arrived on one plate with no jam (advertised attraction). Our main courses were not cleared away, my tea never came and when I finally managed to get someone to find the jam (my most imperative need as Michael was howling lustily for same) he brought back marmalade and said that was all there was. In the toilets, before we left, Michael managed to knock a picture off the wall on to Daniel’s shoulder. We stepped back into the rain less restored than you might imagine. There was a tourist centre. We went in. There was quite an interesting exhibition but I couldn’t look at it in any detail as the entrance to the exhibition was through an expensive tourist tat shop. The children were entranced. They had each been given a fiver by both my mother and my aunt and the amounts were burning holes in their pockets (or under the table or wherever they let the money drop for me to pick up to forestall a wail of “I’ve lost my money!”) I suggested in vain that €5 fridge magnet with a dolphin was not a prudent investment, that €8.50 for a sheep to stick to the window was both criminally expensive and a deeply unwelcome addition to our household. The Princess said, “I thought it was OUR money.” Alright fine then but you won’t be able to afford much. The shopkeeper took an interest in their travails and gave them money off the sheep and the fridge magnet. Herself lent some of her money to Daniel so that he could afford his dolphin magnet and a water pistol while she herself invested in a cut price starfish magnet. They were delighted with themselves but some unhappiness ensued when a) both magnets broke on the way home and b) Michael discovered that he couldn’t eat his sheep.
After the trials of the morning, when we got back, I got out the portable DVD player, put on Kung Fu Panda and took myself off to make tea and read the paper cover to cover to restore my broken spirit.
Mr. Waffle came back at lunch time. On our way to collect him we stopped off at the local supermarket to buy plasters. I also bought cereal for breakfast except that they didn’t have any Special K which the Princess likes so I let her have a variety pack to ease the pain. Michael asked to buy chocolate fingers. Oh alright, I said. They all asked for a treat. I weakly gave them a Kinder egg each. Michael got a water pistol (following complex negotiations, I will spare you). I got some strawberries for herself as well. As the cashier packed up my purchases she smiled at the children and said, “Are you having a party?” Yes, indeed, a new low for my shopping.
After the excitement of picking up their father we took my mother to East Cork for the afternoon where she dutifully admired our friends’ house and the sea view.
Our Hiberno-Dutch friends had their fourth and, I think, final child recently. They decided to have a big party for the christening in Mitchelstown where the Dutch Mama is originally from. We arrived early for the 12.30 christening. This was our undoing as we thought that we would have time to have a quick bite to eat in town. We did not. When we arrived back in the church at 12.50, the child was christened and Mr. Waffle was rigid with fury (it is hard when the rest of your evil family just do not care about being late). He mellowed as we met friends at the church. It was a huge group. There must have been 40 children (our pension needs will be met, hurrah). We went back to the Dutch Mama’s sister’s house where there was a marquee with enough food to feed an army, two bouncy castles and two babysitters to meet the needs of the younger members of the group. Unfortunately, it was the wettest day of the year so far and all of our children went on the bouncy castle. Afterwards, Michael sat in his underwear watching the “Princess and the Frog”. The Princess was too big to countenance this and sat wrapped damply in a towel. Daniel only went out after the DVD was over. Despite the damp, we all had a very pleasant time. I think I am finally reaching the bit I remember from my own childhood when we went off to play with gangs of children and the grown-ups sat together talking.
When we got into the car to go home, the children all stripped out of their wet clothes and travelled back naked which they hugely enjoyed. Our (childless) friends M and R were staying the night in their house and R arrived slightly before we got back. I think he was surprised to see three naked children scamper in from the car. “It’s a different world,” he said wonderingly. He did, however, enjoy watching Michael imperiously demand that all the rice be removed from his dinner plate and before going out to his party, R pointed out to Michael that quite a few grains had been left behind.
The children were up at dawn with, as far as I can see, the sole objective of waking up M and R who are unused to the patter of little feet. “Shhh,” we would hush. “We are being quiet,” they would shout down the stairs. M and R were the picture of virtue saying, “No, no, no, not loud at all.” Then a last trip to the beach on to lunch at my parents’ before driving back to Dublin where we were greeted with something bordering on enthusiasm by the cat.
Two points worth noting: Doggy did not travel with us – the first time ever he has been left to languish at home – and nobody wet the bed. Milestones, I assure you.