Did you miss me? No, don’t tell me, it’s probably better for both of us, if I don’t know. I have been at my friends’ house in East Cork for the week bonding with my children. No television and no computer. It was surprisingly pleasant. And the good news is that I have prepared for you a blow by blow description of our trip. Go on, admit it, you’re delighted.
We drove to Cork in the morning. I know I am becoming somewhat tedious on the subject of the new road to Cork but as a child I spent a minimum of 6 hours on the road to Dublin with my parents and now it can easily be done door to door in three hours. So we were able to have lunch in my parents’ house and then spend the afternoon in Garryvoe. Quite amazing.
On the road from Cork to Garryvoe there is a lake with swans. Mr. Waffle said to the children, “Regardez, des cynges!” “What kind of signs?” asked Daniel. I’m not at all sure this French lark is going as well as I hoped it would. “Is signes not the French for signs?” I asked. “No,” he said, “road signs are panneaux.” The French, they torture me because they can.
The children were delighted to see the beach and promptly flung themselves into the water fully dressed. Fortunately, our friends’ house is right beside the beach and we were able to drip home without suffering from hypothermia.
That evening, I taught herself how to make breakfast for her brothers in the hope that this might allow me to stay in bed a little longer. This was only moderately successful as the excitement her task generated meant that she was bouncing around until 11.30 that night and up again at 6.30 asking anxiously whether it was time to make breakfast.
Meanwhile, Daniel had gone into our bedroom to be alone. When we went up to bed we discovered that he had put to good use the key to the door and locked himself in. We began by whispering and ended by shouting and banging the door but he slept on oblivious. The Princess giggled hysterically and her father became rather annoyed and took himself off to Daniel’s bed. Using my Enid Blyton lore I stuck a piece of paper under the door and wiggled the key in the lock with a corkscrew. The key landed with a thud. Unfortunately, even, if it had landed on the paper (which it did not) it was too wide to fit under the door. Fortunately, every room in our friends’ house had a key and all of the locks turned out to be the same so all was well. The next day, we put all the keys on top of the doors.
Mr. Waffle got the train back to Dublin at lunch time and after dropping him to the station in Cork, the children and I visited my parents. I visited a cousin in hospital and we then retired to our East Cork fastness and out to the beach. The Princess was, by now, on Harry Potter book 5 and she went to bed with it. I was summoned to her room at 11 to look for Voldemort under the covers. She came to sleep with me.
I realised that part of the reason I am never normally cross with the children is that Mr. Waffle does it for me.
My plan for the day is that we will go to the beach until 11 and then on to the fleshpots of Leahy’s fun farm. A plan calculated to bring joy to the hearts of small children one would think. But no.
We have a very frustrating morning. It is a beautiful day and I try, unavailingly, to persuade the children to come to the beach. No, no, they want to stay at the house. The Princess has started on HP book 6. At 10.30, they fancy a snack. I lure them outside by promising to buy them ice cream in the shop. I plan to make it a brief stop on the way to the farm. We go to the shop. Do they have to have ice cream? I suppose not. The Princess fills a bag with what I used to call “penny sweets”, I’m not quite sure what they are now, cents sweets? I make her put half of them back. She is unhappy. We buy buckets (for reasons which are unclear we appear to have packed only one leaking bucket from the sample of hundreds available at home) and a spade (one of our three has been carried away by the tide). I end up spending 17 euros on what was a trip out for an ice cream. No one says thank you. I am unhappy. General peevishness.
It is not yet time to go to the fun farm according to my, suddenly dictatorial, timetable. We go to the playground near the beach. The weather is uncharacteristically warm and sunny. I mop up ice cream. I apply sun cream. I discover, to my horror, there is only enough in the bottle to cover two children. I suggest that we go to the shop to buy more. Nobody will come with me. I consider leaving them and nipping across to the shop on my own. I decide that I can’t, the boys are only 4, after all and herself is really too small to mind them. I sit in blazing sunshine and pray for rain. It does not rain. I try to assert myself again and fail. Michael (the un sunblocked child) assures me that he will not burn. This is unconvincing as his skin is lily white and he cannot prevent sunburn by will power alone.
The Princess suggests that we test out the new buckets on the adjoining beach for a moment. Weakly, I agree, “but only for a minute”. Once they get on the beach, the children are delighted. I am very bitter that I did not assert myself earlier in the morning and force them to come out. I sit there feeling v. warm (no sunscreen for me either) and praying for rain. It does not rain. The children are having a fantastic time. I am fretting about sunscreen. They have waded into water to their waists despite my begging them not to and will need to go home and change before we go anywhere. It’s time to go home, I say sternly. They ignore me. I sit there getting crosser and crosser. To add to my chagrin, another mother is skipping in and out of the waves with her small son clearly having a fantastic time as I sit on the rocks glaring at my disobedient offspring like some kind of archetypal malevolent step-mother.
Eventually, I lose my temper and announce enough is enough we are leaving. I march towards the car in a towering fury. No one follows. Michael is not budging, he wants to make a sandcastle in his new bucket. The buckets are those square ones with turrets and he is diligently filling it with wet sand from under the water. He ignores my angrily hissed instruction that it will not come out and keeps filling. I give up and angrily help him fill it to the brim. We turn it over, it does not work, he howls. I march off foaming at the mouth with him trotting behind me in tears. I roar at the other two to follow. Daniel, who despite his own temper is actually made very miserable when either of his parents are cross, starts to cry and say “Sorry, sorry, it’s all my fault, it’s all my fault.” I am impervious and as I march towards the car with my gloomy troops, I begin to enumerate their faults. “I am in charge,” I announce “and, in future, when I say jump, you say how high?” They are unfamiliar with this particular cliché and my temper is not improved by having to explain what it means. The Princess says coldly, “There’s no need to shout.” A triumph of parenting.
Despite this, frankly inauspicious, start to the day, the trip to the fun farm is a huge success. We arrive at 12 and do not leave until 6. Lunch appears something of a low point as the children tuck into chips and nuggets and I have an uninspired toasted special. In fact, had I known at that point how low my standards on the children’s food would slip later in the week, I would have been a great deal more relaxed.
At the same time as we were there, there was a bunch of children from the Chernobyl children’s project. They are let in free every year, apparently as part of Mr. Leahy’s programme of corporate responsibility (though I really doubt that he would put it in these terms himself – I have met him both times we were there and he looks and acts exactly like a Cork farmer in his 60s). This is part of a project where Irish families take in children from Chernobyl for a fortnight’s holiday every summer. I couldn’t imagine doing this myself but I really admire families who do year after year. Most of the children seemed fine although there were a couple who were clearly mentally handicapped and I think many of the others probably have nasty, less visible, problems.
We went to the Observatory after a slightly annoying tour of Cork suburbs (only 15 minutes from the ringroad said the brochure, it omitted to add if you know where you are going as signs are few and far between). The children were pleased and I found myself pondering our infinitesimal smallness in the face of the cosmos. A success then until Daniel wet his trousers because he was too absorbed in moving species to their correct habitat to go to the toilet. They all sent a message to space. Michael has been driving me demented since asking where exactly his message is now. Messages travel at the speed of light and the interface helpfully indicated that it would take 1.2 seconds to reach the moon, a month to reach Jupiter and so on. Had I known I was going to be cross-questioned on this for days, I would have paid a lot more attention at the time. Anyhow, it’s going to take 122 years before it reaches its ultimate destination so I have been quoting that at him.
I deposited the children at my parents’ house and went into town to buy trousers, underpants and socks for Daniel feeling that he couldn’t stay naked from the waist down. I don’t much like out of town shopping centres and I prefer to shop in the city centre. As I have always lived near town, I usually walk. On this particular day, it was raining and I drove. I now understand why city traders complain about lack of parking. The whole thing was a nightmare. The city fathers in their wisdom had closed Patrick Street north bound, chosen to relay cobbles on the Coal Quay and have not yet repaired the wall near the Mercy hospital where the river overflowed its banks late last year leading to a lengthy diversion. Cork is small but it was nearly three hours after driving in that I staggered back to my parents’ determined never to repeat the experience. The authorities have been plugging the fact that Cork is one of the Lonely Planet’s top 10 places to visit in 2010 but, clearly, the Lonely Planet people left their cars at home.
I’m exhausted and it’s only Tuesday. More tomorrow, if we’re all feeling strong.