The discovery that most of my family are on Facebook and therefore likely to see this.
Thought I’d share something from a couple of years ago, just before my 40th birthday and a Gammy ankle; and an inability to tell a Samba from a Cha Cha Cha) came and tore away my last hopes of winning the World Under 40s Latin Championships…
01/ I’m the first person in my family to have been given my first name.
02/ My middle name was given because it was my grandfather’s name. It’s an old testament Biblical name, and used to embarrass me. I love it now, and love the way it links me to a man who was dead long before I was born, but who’s still a part of me.
03/ I grew up in Dublin, in a small (two rooms downstairs, two upstairs and a loo out the back) terraced house.
04/ I’ll be 40 on the 3rd of July 2008.
05/ I was one of twins. The other twin died before birth.
06/ I still don’t know if my twin would have been a boy or a girl.
07/ I have one brother, who’s younger than me by 18 months.
08/ Neither my brother, nor I, has very traditional Irish names.
09/ I grew up in a house that was directly opposite the one my father grew up in. My paternal grandmother lived opposite us.
10/ I can clearly remember several mornings creeping down the steep, narrow stairs of the silent little house, in the dark; the feel of the plastic patchwork pouffe beneath my feet as I stood on it to pull the cord on the wall lights; hunting Fry’s Chocolate Cream Bars on the bookcase.
11/ I loved books and reading as a kid; I still have vivd memories of walking, hand in hand with my dad, along the canal on the way to the library. That might be my earliest memory. That and the way his beard scratched when he kissed me goodnight.
12/ And the fact that my mother had, at some point, a nightdress that was vivid orange (possibly synthetic, though I don’t know why I’d think that) with black lace trim.
13/ My parents work: Sense memories more than anything. My Dad’s job at Freedex being a bright shiny big and modern place; my mothers job at Dillons as a dark, sweet-smelling, quiet, almost cathedral-like place of red brick and, always, the scent of old oak and port wine.
14/ I’m told I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child; I don’t remember much of it, although I do remember a ukulele I got once, which I loved, and a desperate rush to the emergency ward with suspected appendicitis, which resulted in my receiving a series of rather shocking inspections, a kidney x-ray, and, eventually, the hospital releasing me with “We don’t know what was wrong with him, but he seems to be over it now…”
15/ I went to primary school a few weeks after my 4th birthday – which was younger than many of my contemporaries.
16/ For the first three years, I was taught almost exclusively by nuns.
17/ At school, I was a bit of a child prodigy. My parents were called to school by the head nun. Fearing that I was in trouble for some infraction of the rules, they were met by an amazed woman declaiming me a miracle ‘cos I had a very very advanced reading age.
18/ I was a small and skinny child, and am still short and (usually) slim. Not big, just clever
19/ Note to all child prodigies: Keep it under your hat. Kids don’t like smart kids, and the adults soon get bored of your precocity. Plus, accept this: It’s all downhill from there.
20/ I didn’t have many friends at school.
21/ At least I wasn’t Iber Johnson. Iber was a kid whose mother had never cut his hair. He was a total mother’s boy. He wet himself in class. Frequently. Sometimes, one thanks providence for the Iber J’s of this world.
22/ I remember a Miss Fitzpatrick, who had very angular glasses, a soft cushion of tightly waved/styled white hair, a narrow, lined face, and sensible tweed skirt. I was a teacher’s pet for her, although, now I think of her, I seem to be recalling Agatha Christie.
23/ I was never taught by Agatha Christie.
24/ I also remember a Sister Anthony, who was very petite and had the full black dress and wimple garb. I always wondered what was under the wimple: Did they really shave their heads, I used to wonder?
25/ I was lucky not to have one of the nasty nuns. My brother was left handed, and had a nasty nun who tried to force him to write his letters right handed. Stupid ignorant old bat.
26/ Two of my uncles and aunts on my dad’s side of the family had bungalow summer homes down by the sea at a place just outside of Dublin which we called Rush, but which was really Rogerstown: I close my eyes, and I’m back there again with sand; green fiields filled with tomato-packed greenhouses, sandwiches filled with salty thick cut ham and those tomatoes that, on their own, make a meal, so meaty and sweet and tasty are they; chocolate biscuit fridge cake; super 8 movies filmed in the afternoon by my uncle Sonny, and screened to a room filled with laughter and love in the evening; the same films, moments later, being played backwards to screams of hilarity by the kids; lying in the grass, reading and dreaming; sitting in the deckchairs at 4:45, when the sun was at it’s most golden, the heat gone, and a feeling of glorious, still, eternal summer exhaustion settled over everyone and everything; Knowing that this was always going to be my most favourite part of the day.
27/ My family has always been close, and every Sunday we’d go on outings – to the Botanic gardens, or to Saint Stephen’s Green Maze.
28/ My Paternal grandmother: Sugar sandwiches. The huge oilskin-covered table; the monolith dark wooden sideboard, and the two straightbacked armchairs. Climbing through a window to find her having fallen, and being shocked that she had long white hair.Til then, I had only ever seen it in a tightly coiled bun or under a hat. Sitting in our bedroom watching Scooby Doo on the TV with the curtains closed when her funeral cortege went past our door; my father having decided that the whole thing would be too upsetting for my brother and I.
29/ My Maternal grandmother, a big country woman with an almost constant floral pinny, who’d peel apples, and give the peel to me before eating the apple herself.
30/ We had “Irish Dancing” classes at school. They started, every morning, with the whole class marching around the long assembly hall / gym to a scratchy 7” recording of Sandly Shaw’s “Puppet on a String.” I still can’t hear that song without wanting to put on blue shorts a white vest and march with a stiff back round a square room. Very music & movement.
31/ I was pretty shite at Irish dancing. My mother still reckons it’s a miracle I learned to count beyond eight (Irish dancing joke). You could always see my lips counting the beat (“Onetwothreefour, Onetwothree(pause) Onetwothreefour, Onetwothree(pause) Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneight Onetwothree….”)
32/ My earliest memory of being on stage is being dressed as a bunny rabbit with a little bonnet that sprouted bunny ears and a fluffy sheepskin tail pinned to my navy blue shorts. I remember being afraid someone would stab my butt with the pin when they were putting it on. I was a spectacularly worried child
33/ I almost fell of the stage. Martha Grahame never called again.
34/ When I went to ‘Big School,’ I swapped Nuns for Christian Brothers, with Lay teachers.
35/ I went home for lunch each day, convinced that, if I was fast enough, I’d catch my dad changing out of the costume he wore to be my teacher. Does that make any sense? Even after I realised how unbalanced this idea was, I still entertained it from time to time.
36/ My dad was unemployed for a long time when I was younger, and my mam worked while he stayed at home and looked after us.
37/ My dad made me Vesta Chicken Chow Mein. I’m still a fan of those crispy noodles, although they’re as much to do with authentic Chinese cookery as Graham Norton has to do with Oscar Wilde.My dad also took me to my first proper Chinese takeout – Tony Choys in Camden street. I loved bamboo shoots and water chestnuts.
38/ My ‘Big School’ was a two-storied square block of a building, with two prefab classes on one side of the schoolyard. The other side of the schoolyard had a long shed-like structure, partially open to the elements. This was the school toilets – dimly lit cubicles and urinals in constant twilight. The place was always freezing, and I always waited til I got home at lunchtime to pee.
39/ Every lunchtime, I’d listen, with my dad, to Halfway Hotel – a radio soap that featured a supercillious assistant manager nicknamed “Shiny Shoes.”
40/ My mother always took great pride in ensuring that my brother and I were immaculately dressed, had clean school uniforms and decent and polished shoes. I hoped I’d never turn into a supercillious assistant manager nicknamed “Shiny Shoes.”