Before I brought my table back to Dublin, my father was reminiscing about having breakfast at it with an English friend many years ago. This man used to say, I understand without irony, “I’m not conservative, but I’ve never had it and I’m quite sure I shouldn’t like it.” This became a catch phrase in our house when I was growing up (something of a dangerous game on my parents’ part, I realise in retrospect but usefully deployed in relation to the introduction of new foods) so even though I last saw this man when I was a child, I hadn’t forgotten about him and when my father mentioned him, I knew who he meant.
We talked for a bit about this man, his family and his habits. “Where is he now?” I asked. My father didn’t know; they had lost touch over the years. I found his obituary after two seconds on the internet. As I read it out, my father he nodded sagely there was a lot he knew already but there were also all kinds of facts my father hadn’t known at all, including that this man’s first wife died tragically. He never spoke of it. I’m not quite sure what point I’m making here; the amazing qualities of the internet which can tell you facts about old friends that you never knew when they were alive; the end of privacy; or the fact that when you are very old (my father is 89), if someone has slipped off your radar, odds on he or she is likely to be dead. It’s all a bit depressing. On the plus side, I was at the dentist the other day and he tells me that his mother (also 89) who was in college with my father is very well thanks for asking.