It’s funny how you can outgrow friends you have known for years and they in turn can outgrow you. That is what has happened to me in the last few months.
Since I’ve turned 60 I’ve dropped a few. One used to come to the cottage every Sunday for breakfast, for 25 years no less. I’d be bursting with delight and enthusiasm, belting out cheese scones, smoked bacon and Hicks potato cakes. She’d often sit by the fire and take shreds off me.
Why did you put up with that, says you? I’ll tell you why. She is fierce smart, one of the sharpest I know. She must be on seven or eight executive boards and has travelled the world. I admired the way her brain worked. I’d listen to her like an acolyte always learning something new –which was stimulating, restorative for sure.
As you can guess, I was a bit in awe of her. Because of that awe, I walked on eggshells, knowing intrinsically there was always a danger of a sudden outburst of scathing criticism.
“Do you know what your biggest fault is, Biddy,” she’d say – and say it often.
What? I’d say. “Your impetuosity.”
Just for those of you who don’t know what this word means, I’ll tell you. It’s used to describe someone who is impulsive, passionate. Now that’s me.
“I actually think they are two great qualities,” I’d say, I don’t see them as a negative at all. Sure she wasn’t having any of it. She’d just roll her eyes toward the rafters in mock dismay. Sure wouldn’t you miss half of what’s going on in the world if you weren’t impulsive?
And do you know what the worst part was? I got used to it. Yes, an independent, strong woman like myself took it on the chin. By the time she’d leave the cottage, I’d be like a flattened balloon. Diminished. Deflated. Drained. ’Twas quite astonishing how grimly determined she was to destroy any bit of aul confidence I had. Yet, like an eejit, I just accepted what she said.
One day she remarked that I had no talent for the storytelling. “Only I would tell you to your face that you’re not a patch on Eamonn Keane,” said she. “Now he was a real storyteller. He had real talent. You are just not cut out for it.”
Well, I’d agree with the Eamonn Keane bit but I was a little nettled to hear yours truly described as talentless. I felt so hurt I nearly took to the aul bed.
Every time she called I watched and waited like a fox, observing her carefully, trying to understand why she was the way she was. I bided my time, listened carefully, and on one lightbulb occasion I broke my pencil with a quiet little snap: I realised what was wrong. She was jealous. And there is nothing as bad as someone who is jealous. It eats them alive.
The last time we met, I cooked breakfast as always and mentioned a vernacular Irish chair I had seen on a Welsh auction site. She’d be an expert in this area.
“Oh you wouldn’t have a clue about its origin,” she remarked. I shall always remember the fierceness of her face as she said those words.
Suddenly a sweet man put his head over the half-door and said he loved my column. Do you know what she said?
“I never buy or read the Sunday Independent. Maybe it’s because I know Biddy, but I can’t read her articles.”
Well, for one that didn’t read the Indo, she was fierce familiar with some of my stories. “You should give that column up,” said she, with nare a smile on her snout. I was speechless.
That final day, after all those years of being dragged down, I decided I’d had enough. I watched as she spoke and lectured me. “Oh Biddy, you love drama,” she remarked at one point. Now that was the final nail in the fecking coffin. I decided if anyone needed drama, this one did. What did I do? I wished her well, which I always do, but told her to leave the cottage and never set her big toe across the door again. Ever.
From now on, said I, I only want to meet people who give me joy and craic. Well, she let rip and gave me a parting shot of rage. And then she was gone. Just like that. The bully had left the building. It was a magical moment.
It took a long time but now I have tacitly decided to live my life on my own terms. As mother said, I didn’t lose a friend, I just realised I hadn’t got one. Well Mum, God help the person who arrives at my door without a big fecking smile on their face. The mother laughed.
Do you know what I did next? I flung myself into Coliemore Harbour and floated. Just floated. I then came home and threw myself into my work with enormous bounce.
I’ve never felt better.
On Tuesday the landline rang. ’Twas my accountant in Donnybrook. “Brighid, could you come in to sort out your tax returns?” says he. Of course, says I, dreading the mere mention of the ‘T’ word.
I arrived armed with an aul shoebox of receipts. You can imagine the scene yourself. The big long mahogany table in an empty room with three grey filing cabinets and yours truly trembling.
Sitting beside the main man was a young accountant I’d never met before. He looked like he had just made his first communion. He was a dote.
“What would be your biggest monthly expense Biddy?” says the elder.
Turf, says I.
“What’s turf?” said the young buck.
So I told him.
“Oh, never heard of it.” This fella was a real millennial.
“There’s a big war going on about it at the moment,” explained the elder.
That’s right, says I. I plan to keep burning it. It’s my most costly delight.
“Would glasses be a big expense too?” says the young lad, perking up.
Drinking glasses or spectacles? says I.
“The latter,” says he, looking a tad more serious.
Oh, yes, says I. I do have a weakness for the aul Tom Ford sunglasses.
“Hmm,” says he. Jesus, there was no flies on the bucko.
“You’ve a lot of expenses in there, including your new bathroom. And a few cases of Champagne from the Grapevine in Dalkey. Neither of those qualify for tax relief. I’m afraid your outgoings don’t match your incomes,” says he, as if I didn’t know.
Sure it’s like a baker’s dozen, there might be an extra receipt thrown in for good measure, says I. “That’s great,” said the elder. The main thing is to keep the taxmen off your back. We’ll do that for you.”
What did I do? I tore into town for a spot of retail therapy and thought of the farmer who boldly told the taxman: “Trying to get money out of me will be like trying to butter a hedgehog’s hole backwards with a knitting needle.”
So much for the outgoings not matching the incomings. Sure aren’t I just the same as everybody else?