Bairbre Power: My best cinema memories include the night a pigeon swooped down and pooed on our heads during Love Actually
Saturdays are for long walks, cleaning the house and a leisurely stop at the 250 Square cafe in Rathmines where Romy, the Yorkie, likes to sunbathe on the window-sill while I enjoy a mocha. On our way home last week, we wandered by the newly refurbished Stella cinema, in all of its gorgeous art deco finery. I smiled as I remembered all the movies I'd seen there over the years and how many hours I lost standing outside, waiting patiently for pals to turn up.
Growing up around that part of Dublin, the Stella was more than just a cinema - it was a geographical landmark just like Clery's Clock or Roches Stores on Cork's Pana. It was like a southside crossroads where we would all meet up before dispersing to parties or rugby matches.
I had a good nosey in the window of the newly refurbished cinema which nowadays reeks of class. It's transformed from its previous incarnation, whose faded elegance was well past its sell-by date. In fact, it was a bit of a flea pit.
My last visit to the Stella was in December 2003, a year before it closed its doors. We took ourselves off to see Love Actually and suddenly, this low-flying pigeon came out of nowhere and decided to swoop down and poo on our heads just as Hugh Grant pranced down the stairs of No 10 Downing Street to the strains of The Pointer Sisters' 'Jump'.
All this got me thinking about the films I've loved. Just as people have music soundtracks to their lives, I have a movie version that started years ago with Mary Poppins at the Savoy. My parents liked nothing better than to go to a movie at teatime on a Saturday after my Dad finished work.
There was only the three of us and my Mum and myself would take the 19 bus into town from Rialto and head to the cinema. And so many childhood celebrations involved a trip to the flicks. My pious Granny brought me to see Song Of Bernadette and I wept all the way home after Jennifer Jones died. For my Confirmation, we went to see Oliver with my cousins at the Ambassador, which sat imposingly at the top of O'Connell Street. We gorged on ice pops, poetically marketed back then as 'a drink on a stick', and later, had chicken and chips in the restaurant at the front of the Savoy. Those were the days when cinemas had their own restaurants. Now they just serve hot food, something I wasn't too pleased about when I ruined a lovely coat by sitting on a puddle of salsa dip someone discarded after polishing off their nachos.
Playing hookie and going to the cinema went hand in hand. I remember skipping school at 15 and being chuffed at getting into an 'over 18s' movie at The Curzon on Middle Abbey Street. I chain-smoked Consulate menthols thinking I was the height of sophistication and came out looking green.
Then I moved into my art house period and managed to see a special screening of the banned Last Tango In Paris at the Irish Film Theatre on Earlsfort Terrace. Nipping in through the front doors, I was convinced that one of the passing Loreto nuns from my school up the pavement would see myself and a friend going in. There were date-night disasters at the cinema too, and sometimes you might not even recognise the guy you had arranged to meet after the Belvo disco the previous week. One was irritated when I spent the evening sitting on the floor beside the sticky popcorn, too scared to look up. In my defence, the movie was Alien.
My first date night out after my son was born was to see Rain Man at the Stella. Because I was breastfeeding, I had only limited time and in true Stella style, they had an enforced ice-cream break. The movie came to a screeching halt, the lights came on for what seemed forever and people brought in McDonald's and even sneaky pints from Slattery's next door.
I loved the fun weekend matinees with my kids and the singalongs were the best, but there's just something deliciously decadent about heading off on your own to a movie in the middle of the day when you probably should be doing something sensible, like weeding the garden or balancing your bank statement. I once snuck in to U2's Rattle & Hum at the Savoy after a work interview was unexpectedly cancelled. Afterwards I went home to make the tea and help with the kids' homework - and no one was any the wiser. Sometimes parents just need a bit of time-out.
We all do. Come to think of it, I feel a whole new midlife phase of mid-afternoon movies coming on.