Life goes in a blink. Last Saturday at 8am I was driving in Foxrock when I saw Mario Rosenstock stopped by the side of the road on his bicycle, on the phone (to Eamon Dunphy). I rolled down the window and he told me the sad news that Jack Charlton was dead.
I was transported back 26 years. To the 1994 World Cup finals in America and three of the greatest weeks of my life - courtesy of Jack. And Aengus Fanning, the then editor of the Sunday Independent. He had originally sent me over with a ton of expenses in my back pocket to write about the atmosphere in and around Ireland's first game in New Jersey's Giants Stadium against the much-fancied Italians. The plan was that I would fly back to Dublin after the game. Against the odds the plan changed when, thanks to Ray Houghton's goal and Paul McGrath and Phil Babb's defending, we beat the Italians.
"There'll be parties going on all over the world tonight," Jack said after the game. This was not an exaggeration.
I remember meeting Patrick and Annette Rocca, and Veronica Guerin in New York for a few celebratory scoops. It was a great night out to cap a great win. I will never forget Patrick kicking a football from one end of the lobby of a five-star hotel to another to me at two in the morning. The look on the general manager's face as he feared Patrick's Houghton-like thunderbolt of a shot was going to shatter the state-of-the-art windows was priceless.
As, I imagine, was the look on Aengus's face as he booked me on a flight to Orlando and sent me more money to go to Ireland's game against Mexico in the intriguingly named Citrus Bowl. (We lost that one.)
Ireland only went and qualified for the next round with a draw against Norway (with our hero Jack banished to the stands that day in Giants Stadium in New Jersey following a typically passionate touchline incident during the match against Mexico).
Aengus, to his credit, laughed when I rang from a pay-phone that night.
"I suppose I'll have to give you more money now," he said. That time in America has bitter-sweet memories. Not so much that Ireland got knocked out by Holland back in the Citrus Bowl in Orlando. More that those great souls - Veronica and Patrick and Aengus and Jack - are no longer with us.
Last Saturday morning when I got home with the news of Jack's passing, I played soccer on the green with my kids before we headed off on our first break of the year. We were supposed to jet off to Portugal for a long-booked two-week holiday. The kids were devastated that we couldn't go because of a certain virus. Not as devastated as my wife and I were. So instead of 1,558km to the Algarve, we went for a night in town at the Intercontinental.
The kids had a fabulous time swimming in the pool, to say nothing of trashing the room. That night, mummy and daddy had a glass of wine at dinner. It was glorious, even healing, to have a meal served to us after the relative hell of the past three months of the lockdown in a house with two small and energetic kids.
So it wasn't too much of an inconvenience to have to get up every five minutes, glass of vino clutched in my hand, to check on our children running around the garden area in the sunshine. At one point my two-year-old was climbing into the fountain, with one little leg half way there, just as I arrived, in the nick of time.
His sister had made friends and was running up and down the lobby and out into the car park. Not being able to manage just yet the skill of being in two places at once, I brought the slightly wet two-year-old back to his mother in the restaurant while I raced after the five- year-old in the car park. Despite the exhaustion and such like (there was also a nappy change before dessert; and with no nappies in the nappy bag I had to take Daniel up to the room to change him), it was a beautiful evening.
It wasn't Portugal. It was Ballsbridge. But it was still wonderful. Me being me, I almost screwed the whole thing up. Things had been a little crazy over the few months with the coronavirus pandemic, and I forgot an important date.
Last Saturday morning, I texted my little sister Marina to say: "When are we meeting up?"
I was expecting a reply like: "Soon" or "Next week". Instead, I got "At 3pm."
I had forgotten my two-year-old niece's birthday party.
My wife and kids were already in Herbert Park having a picnic so I had to go on my own... to a kids' party that I had forgotten. Morto isn't quite the word. How about immature for a 52-year-old?
As Philip Roth wrote in The Dying Animal, "Stop worrying about growing old. And think about growing up."