Saturday 25 January 2020

This Man's Life: Did the slaves enjoy carrying Cleopatra across the burning sands?

Elizabeth Taylor in 'Cleopatra'
Elizabeth Taylor in 'Cleopatra'
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

Arthur Miller once said: "Most marriages, after all, are conspiracies to deny the dark and confirm the light."

Well, with the curtains drawn, I left my wife Aoife in the dark last Saturday morning to have a lie-in (a rare and tremendously well-deserved rest), as I took off in the bright sunlight with the baby in her buggy.

The fact that I was bringing Emilia out for the day in a buggy and not a car has been a bone of contention in our house. You see, I am learning to drive. Slowly. Too slowly for my wife, if you must know.

Shamefully, I failed my first test earlier this year - and am currently studying hard before I attempt the dreaded driving test again.

Worse still: I am 49 and my dad is indicating before turning right in his grave at Mount Jerome because he was a driving instructor of some note in his later years. (You would need to understand Freud to get why I never learned with him when I was a callow youth.)

So, in the sweltering heat - pushing Emilia in her buggy for the two miles to Dundrum - I felt like an Egyptian slave hauling Cleopatra towards some important bunch of grapes in the desert.

Emilia throwing her George Pig teddy (Peppa's little brother) out of the buggy at regular intervals and thinking it was all a gas didn't help.

I was banjaxed from all the pushing and the bending and the picking up by the time we reached Dundrum Town Centre. I'd hoped we'd get a break in Funky Monkeys - but she insisted on me going up and down and around and up and back again with her on all the slides for the next 90 minutes. So I was properly banjaxed by the time we got to Milano for our late lunch.

The manager, very kindly if unwisely, gave us a table by the giant water fountain. Unwisely, because that menu was obviously going straight in the water as soon as Emilia saw it.

I was starting to think I was the worst father in the world because everything I asked the smiling assassin not to do, she did.

Don't throw that menu into the water? In it went.

Don't throw your pasta on the floor? Down it went.

Don't climb out of your chair? Climb out she did.

The woman with the two babies at the next table seemed calm. Her two well-behaved babies also seemed calm. I, on the other hand, was Daddy Uncool - with my one child causing havoc. With the stress of it all, I broke my diet and had a beer for lunch. I don't know any diets in the world (apart from maybe the Homer Simpson Diet) where a beer is the mainstay of the lunch. But the child drove me to it.

I told her she wasn't going on the little train around Dundrum Town Centre (a Saturday afternoon tradition for the pair of us) unless she was good. Of course, once I'd uttered the threat, it back-fired.

The food that she had grudgingly undertaken to eat earlier she was now refusing to touch at all.

Definitely the worst daddy in the world now, I backed down on my ultimatum - and off to the little train we went.

As we choo-choo'ed around Dundrum Town Centre I feared for my very soul. It was like an inner orchestra was playing an elegy for the passing of a part of me. My two-year-and-four-month-old daughter had managed to make a fool of me in public.

Again.

Train done, we started out on our journey home in the heat (her sitting back, toes in the air; me pushing, sweating, fearing a heart attack). Until Emilia shouted one word at her daddy, who was now in a state of smiling, nodding silence.

"George!"

And then again, in case its meaning had been lost on me.

"George!"

A quick check of the buggy revealed George Pig was gone. Probably still in Funky Monkeys. If life was to be worth living, we should go seek the young porker. Who was easily recovered. And so, Emilia slept happily in the buggy all the way home. Daddy Pig (me on my all-new beer diet) was practically dropping with exhaustion in the hot sun.

Had I started whistling the theme from The Bridge on the River Kwai (remember the POWs in sweltering Burma, forced to build a bridge for their brutal Japanese captors?) I don't think it would have been overly dramatic.

At 5.30pm, as I put the key in the door, Emilia woke from blissful sleep. Her mother Aoife greeted us and suggested we jump in the car (note the dig at her non-driving husband) and go to Marlay Park to enjoy the sun. I almost bit my tongue off, trying not to say I was about to expire from fatigue.

We returned from the park two hours later. Two hours after that again, after the usual nightly battle of soothers and storybooks, Emilia fell asleep at 9.30pm.

At which point I fell into bed, tired as a corpse.

There is a school of thought, espoused by young single people, that tiredness is caused by spending every second of the weekend drinking, taking drugs and having sex with complete strangers, before going into work like a zombie on Monday morning.

Well, let me put you millennials straight: you don't know real tiredness until you've caught the dinky train in Dundrum.

Sunday Independent

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