I decided to take the children to Cork for the weekend. Thanks to the portable DVD player, the train journey passed off peacefully. We took a taxi to my parents’ house. The taxi man was horrible. This is the first time I have ever had a horrible taxi man with the children. Normally, I find they are very patient and tolerant and at this time of year, they tend to make polite enquiries about Santa Claus and are, generally, sweetness and light. As I piled the children into the back seat, this man began revving the engine. As any parent of young children will know, strapping them into their seats is a lengthy operation involving kicking and swearing. Once they were in, I tried to get my bags in the boot but it was locked. With a theatrical sigh, the man turned off the engine and came round to open the boot.
I sat in the front which, in retrospect, was a mistake. After three hours in the train, the children were a little, um, boisterous. Daniel kicked the window handle. “He’ll break it,” said the taxi man. “Stop,” I said firmly to Daniel. “He’s kicked it again,” the Princess announced primly. I gave her my force ten glare to which she protested, all too audibly, “Don’t you want me to tell the man Daniel’s kicking the door?” The taxi man then said grimly, “I’m not cranky [manifestly untrue] but, if you can’t control your children, I’m going to have to pull in and put you in the back with them.” “Fine, pull in please,” I said while hissing at Daniel to, for God’s sake, stop kicking. “I am cranky!” said Daniel loudly [manifestly true]. We pulled in and I got into the back. Daniel started screaming blue murder and lashing out all round him. “He hit me,” whined the Princess. “He hit me too, now hush,” I muttered to her. Daniel continued screaming as I tried to get him on my lap and get a belt round both of us. The taxi driver drove on. I arrived at my parents’ house a shadow of my former self. While I was not tipping the cranky taxi driver, the wretched mobile phone rang too.
I called round to my aunt that evening.
Aunt: What a lovely surprise to see you.
Me: Suitable reply.
Her: You’re looking..ok.
Me: Fit of giggles.
Her: Well, I used to say to people that they were looking great but they always say they have just recovered from flu or something so I have downgraded my compliments.
Aunt: I was at mass the other evening and I saw people filing up to communion and the thought slipped into my head “all bloody middle class”.
Me: But you’re middle class.
Her: I’m not.
Me: But you have a degree.
Me: And you’re rich.
Her: But I feel working class.
Me: I’m not sure it works that way.
I come from a long line of eccentrics.
I note that the powers that be have demolished the “Western Star“, watering hole of generations of students. My father used to drink there when he was in college. He knew Starrie who inherited it from his parents, so it must have been there since, at least, the 1930s. God, is nothing sacred?
My father was in unusually reminiscent form at the weekend. When he was a small boy, in the late 1920s, he lived in South Pasadena for a number of years. He remembers passing a valley that was all lit up at night because they were making a film; the ice man coming with his enormous block of ice that was put in the bottom of the ice box with a fork; coming home to Ireland on the boat and going outside in Halifax and seeing the rigging all frozen. Truly, the past is another country. I would love to hear more of these stories but my father is not one to talk very much about his past. Usually, when you ask him, he says “I forget and goes back to his paper in a marked manner.”
We went to the Lough to feed the ducks, as is our custom when in Cork. They were hungry. Every bird in the place came hurtling towards us. Michael got bitten on the hand by a swan who was unhappy with the speed of bread delivery. The seagulls flapped their wings aggressively in my face. Daniel got chased by some greedy pigeons. Only the Princess came through unscathed. I told her that when my great uncle Dan, her grandad’s uncle was a boy, the Lough used to freeze and people used to go skating there. We still have his skating boots in the attic. My prudent daughter observed that this must have been very dangerous as the ice might have frozen unevenly. That girl is her father’s daughter.
Michael, despite absence of any sign of a temperature, spent the day lying down at inopportune moments moaning that he was sick. After I had put them to bed, I began to worry and decided to lay in Calpol. Driving around Cork the Saturday before Christmas looking for a late night pharmacist to sell me Calpol, I felt vaguely envious of the scantily clad young girls laughing outside pubs in the drizzle. I eventually tracked down Calpol at the 24 hour Tesco in Bishopstown (something I immensely disapprove of but needs must) and stood glumly in a queue at 11 at night with huge numbers of unfestive shoppers. All this for a boy who subsequently asked me to “stop kissing me all the time.” Kind Daniel explained that “it’s bold for Michael but nice for me.” At least I am still permitted to kiss one of my sons.
Train ride home was too hideous to describe in detail but we had to wait an hour and a bit in the station which more or less entirely exhausted the children’s goodwill towards travelling. By the time we arrived in Dublin Daniel and the Princess were roaring and hitting each other, Michael was lying in the aisle muttering that he was sick, I was hissing, cajoling and apologising and the occupants of the crowded train were ignoring us as best they could, God help them.