Tuesday 20 August 2019

This Man's Life

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

'Sometimes, I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast," goes the famous line in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Last weekend we tried to do a few relatively impossible things before, and during, breakfast. We were camping in Co Wicklow at the Kaleidoscope Festival. It all started unpromisingly when we were awoken by Mother Nature at 4am.

Or with a start by the thunder roaring outside in the sky - and rain battering our little tent.

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Then just as the wife and I and the two young kids had gone back to sleep again, dawn at around 5am came streaming through the tent and, with it, the dawn chorus of birds singing in the trees nearby.

My four-and-a-half-year-old daughter had complained of being cold going to bed the previous night in her sleeping bag. So I gave her my sleeping bag as well. I slept with a blanket over me. I had the worst - and the coldest - night's sleep in my life.

At 5am, there was nothing else to do but to get up and go for a walk around the campsite in Kaleidoscope. It was drizzling rain. I was cold, tired and now wet. What lightened my mood slightly was that the mountains over yonder looked especially beautiful at this hour, as did the surrounding countryside. The whole campsite was quiet except for a few sleepless zombies like me wandering around at this hour in the morning.

I had brought a book. I had flighty notions about sitting down with a coffee (there was a 24-hour shop at Kaleidoscope), and reading the book on a chair or a log somewhere under a tree on my own. It was going to be a blissful two hours of me-time - Co Wicklow and a coffee and a book at 5am - that I never normally get.

Having got the coffee from the shop and found somewhere quiet to sit under a line of Alice in Wonderland-esque trees in Co Wicklow, only about 100ft from where all my family were asleep in the tent, I opened my book and settled down. It was all going too well.

Then, as I turned the first page, the sound of the dawn chorus was interrupted by the words: "Daddy! There you are!" The dawn din came courtesy of my darling daughter in her jammies. At that, she whisked me off to the playground on the other side of the site, where I pushed her on the swings for the next hour. I went on the swing next to her. It was a completely beautiful moment, just her and me and the dawn. I felt like a lyric in a Van Morrison song or a poem by Yeats or Blake. Some people need to take illegal drugs to feel this good at 6am.

I had had the worst night's sleep of my life and now I was having the most Zen experience of my life: going on the swings at dawn with my daughter in her pyjamas in the mountains of Co Wicklow.

I recommend to anyone experiencing some sort of existential crisis in their lives to get out on the swings at dawn with their kids. That will clear your head and cleanse your soul.

We had muffins from the shop for breakfast, then we went back to the playground for more play on things, like the slide, the see-saw, the climbing frame and the wooden train.

All before 6am.

All relatively impossible things for a 50-something I could not have imagined myself doing before breakfast. At 7am, we went back to the tent, where the wife was half asleep. The 17-month-old child in her arms woke up. So there was nothing else for it but to take him (in my arms) and his big sister for a walk.

He was fascinated by all the sights, pointing at people popping their heads out of their tents to say hello to the child with his little bed-head on him. He made noises and pointed at the birds flying overhead in the Co Wicklow sky. His sister was equally excited at the nature all around us. If we could begin to see the world with even a tiny bit of the purity and absolute lack of cynicism that young kids do, then we would be truly on to something.

Two hours later, we were all - mummy had woken by this stage - doing some sort of communal yoga in a tent together, swiftly followed by a morning bop in the kids' disco in another tent down the hill. There was also a tent where young kids were taught to play the drums.

What added to the overall magic of last weekend in Co Wicklow was that there was no technology: neither I nor my wife, nor our young daughter, was on the internet (on our phones or computers) for the entire time we were there. No coverage, darlings, get over it!

I can't tell you how liberating that felt to be without the internet for three whole days. Instead, we just had conversations and engaged with each other. We had meals that were uninterrupted by checking something that seems important but really isn't important at all.

So we had lovely food in lovely outdoor locations dotted around the grounds of Russborough House. We simply explored Kaleidoscope to our hearts' content, from the giant bouncy castle to going around and around in the tea-cups and on the wooden horses on the carousel (as I imagined the neurons and cerebral connections frantically at work inside our kids' minds) to scooping toy ducks in water to win a prize. We ran about and ate pizza slices and laughed and played chasing and hide and seek, danced to Jerry Fish (my daughter loved his name more than his music).

We loved Bell X1 on the Friday night and Kila on Saturday afternoon and Imelda May playing Teenage Kicks and The Boys Are Back in Town on Saturday night before bedtime for us.

What we possibly enjoyed most of all was not the music, wonderful though it was, but the playground and the fairground attractions and the general atmosphere of freedom billowing over the Wicklow Mountains.

We got back on Sunday night exhausted, stinking and caked in mud from three days of not washing, but happy.

We're going camping to Bob Dylan in Kilkenny next Sunday. It has to be done. Albeit camping in a hotel. Do Lyrath Estate really need to know the kids will be pitching a tent inside the room? Just to put the general manager's mind at ease, I will draw the line at a campfire indoors.

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