Nightwatch: Boyfriend Initiation
'Is your boyfriend coming on holidays with us this year, Ailbhe?" my mum asks down the phone. "Oh, I don't know," I reply cautiously. "I think he's quite busy with work." There's a pause, and a sort of a "hrmph"-y noise. This answer was not the right one.
I reassess. "Well, I'll ask him anyway, just in case." "Great, we've already booked the cottage -- he'll need a rainjacket," my mother delightedly responds.
It was perhaps ambitious to invite a boy born and raised in East London, who eats his food verrrrryyyyy slowly and enjoys talking about politics, to go on holidays with a five-strong Irish family who hoover up dinner in five minutes while alternately watching The Simpsons and arguing about who has to do the washing-up. It was perhaps even more ambitious to invite him on holidays to the West of Ireland, to a village two hours outside of Galway city. But yet, here we all are.
In the first car driving down from Dublin -- my mother having taken the very sensible option of driving herself with only the bags and our dog for company -- the poor boyfriend is bundled in the middle seat with a brother on each side. (Feigning carsickness, I have already grabbed the premium front-passenger seat -- triumph!)
As my dad argues along to Moncrieff on Newstalk, the brothers hatch a cunning plan. "You know, don't you, that we're going to a very Republican area of Ireland?" opens the elder brother. Worriedly, the boyfriend nods his head. "Yeah," says the younger brother, "they really don't like English accents there." The boyfriend nods his head worriedly once more. "In fact," considers the elder, "you'd probably be better off trying to speak as little as possible when we get there. Just in case."
The boyfriend takes this all in. "Is this true, Ailbhe?" he asks, cautiously. "I wouldn't say it's true, per se," I muse -- trying to stifle a snigger -- "but you might find it easier not to talk." He looks like he might cry.
As we enter Galway city, we stop off to eat. Sitting down for a pub lunch, the brothers shoot the boyfriend meaningful looks. The waitress comes over. "I'll have a burger," says the elder. "I'll have a burger too," says the younger. "Me three!" I add. She turns to the boyfriend, who, panicking, points to me and mimes chewing.
The waitress is unsure what's going on. My parents are equally unsure and, under the table, my mum sends me a text message. "Is dis a LDN ting?" Frantically, the boyfriend grabs the menu, and points a finger at his choice. Aha! It's a burger he wants too. Back at the car, we three siblings are lined up and forced to explain ourselves, and subsequently admonished. As an apology, I allow him to sit in the coveted front seat.
Once at the cottage, we dump our bags before exhibiting the world-renowned Malone Quick Turnaround. "Right folks!" my dad bellows. "Five minutes and then we're going for a walk." Lip-a-quiver, the boyfriend points out that it's lashing rain. "Yes, well, we can't help that, can we?" is the party line.
Piled into the car again, we're a mass of rain jackets and hiking boots. Except for the boyfriend, who is wearing skinny jeans, Doc Martens, and a leather jacket. He also has a hoodie, he points out, when the water permeability of his outfit is questioned. An hour later, standing knee-deep in bog-water, he concedes to wearing the emergency rain poncho we have bought in the gift shop.
The week winds on and features a trip on Ireland's Only Glass-Bottomed Boat and frolicking on cold beaches. Growing more familiar with his surroundings, the boyfriend begins to assimilate. One evening, we find that he's eaten his dinner within 10 minutes. Huge celebration ensues -- welcome to the family!
On our final evening, we wander to the pub, en masse. Confidently, the boyfriend goes to the bar, and orders a pint of Guinness. A hush falls over the room, and the barman eyes him up. Looking him straight in the eye, he counters, "we don't serve Guinness to your sort here". The boyfriend desperately eyes up the exit, until, all of a sudden, the publican bursts out laughing. "I'M ONLY JOKING!" he thunders, pushing a pint of the black stuff towards the boyfriend, refusing payment, saying that the laugh was payment enough.
Clearly relieved, the boyfriend sits and sups contentedly. Leaving the next day, he laughs that he's had enough of the West for the time being. He'll be back though. He has to -- his rain poncho is here waiting for him.