Thursday 27 April 2017

In remembrance of things past - like Dobo's delicious mackerel pate

'The darkness and the sound of the wind screaming existentially outside gave me the fear about an uncertain future'. Stock photo: PA
'The darkness and the sound of the wind screaming existentially outside gave me the fear about an uncertain future'. Stock photo: PA
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Doris woke me up in the middle of the night last week. (My wife Aoife didn't notice.) Unable to go back to sleep, I went into my two-year-old daughter's room and checked her in her cot as Doris howled outside her window. The darkness and the sound of the wind screaming existentially outside gave me the fear about an uncertain future. I started to imagine that the little innocent child so agreeably asleep in the cot with her arm around her teddy would have to grow up and go out in the world on her own one day where I would be unable to protect her from the storms that life would inevitably send her way. As the actual storm outside seemed to grow more angry, the tempest of emotion within me was stirred melodramatically to have me imagine that when this little baba is 30 that I will be 80.

Or dead. Or even worse - alive and all my faculties long lost to the grim realities of old age. I didn't go back to sleep. As dawn began to streak the sky, my darling daughter opened her eyes and, before going back to sleep, gave me a look that appeared to say (not inaccurately): stop worrying about growing old - and think about growing up.

*****

Tell me why I don't like Mondays. Don't worry, I'll tell you myself. Last Monday morning we moved out of our home in Portobello. They say after the death of a loved one the next most stressful thing in life is moving house. This is true for a variety of reasons, chief among them being the sadness of leaving a place you lived in so happily for five years. The house looked directly on to the canal, which, as I packed up the endless boxes with the movers, put me in mind of Toni Morrison's bon mot: "All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was."

I will never forget the February afternoon two years ago that we brought a tiny little bundle of joy home from the hospital; and the emotions of suddenly having in our house this cooing cherub, this permanently poohing alien, that relied on us entirely for her every need and want, and let's face it, whim in the world.

The first night with Emilia in the cot was one of mounting comic-drama, even terror of the unknown. Every sound she made, every slight movement, had us jumping out of bed in a state of heightened terror at what the new baby might be up to.

Trying to get a good night's sleep, perhaps.

This nocturnal remembrance led me to another of my favourite memories of Portobello, and one of my favourite neighbours, to whom I was sad to say goodbye: Bryan Dobson. Late one night last summer some miscreants arrived at the bench on the canal and proceeded to switch on their ghetto-blaster at eardrum-denting volume for the whole of the area to hear Beyonce and Rihanna, whether they wanted to or not. A multitude of curtains suddenly started to twitch furiously as neighbours, woken from their beds, looked out but did nothing. Enter, to the rescue, Montrose superhero Dobo in his T-shirt. The RTE star graciously, but authoritatively, asked them to take Beyonce and Rihanna off somewhere else.

And, remarkably, they did (and Portobello at midnight fell silent again), but not before the miscreants asked Dobo: "Are you yer man off the bleedin' box?"

Yer Man Off The Box also provided another memory I will cherish: at the street party on Longwood Avenue he and his lovely wife prepared some delish mackerel pate one summer afternoon.

I spent so many unforgettable weekend afternoons in the front garden enjoying watching the swans and the ducks swim past. It was all almost as entertaining as Alan Bennett's May 16, 2010 entry in his diary: "Spend part of the afternoon in the gazebo with a water-pistol, hoping to surprise the squirrel rifling the bird-feeder." I wished I'd kept a diary.

The most soul-nourishingly sublime memory of the house, however, concerns a prepossessing girl from Monkstown in a denim jacket. We had been dating for a few weeks while I was in the process of buying the house. As these things tend to, the house sale dragged on interminably: so much so that Louis Murray very kindly had to put me up in his hotel La Stampa on Dawson Street for a month because I had nowhere to live.

When the house sale finally closed and my long-suffering solicitor Michael O'Shaughnessy rang me to say he had the keys of my new home, I decided to have an impromptu party and invite Michael and his 20 sons, and the girl from Monkstown.

The small shindig went on until all hours. At 7am the girl from Monkstown helped me pack up all my worldly possessions into suitcases, ordered a taxi, and off we went from Dawson Street to Portobello on a magical mystery tour.

At 7.15am, I put the keys in the door, turned the lock and we went in. She never left (until last Monday at 8am).

And not long after, the girl from Monkstown became my wife - and the mother of Emilia.

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