Sunday 17 November 2019

This Man's Life: Public humiliation in Dublin suburbia as the ghost of Haughey lingers

 

Charles Haughey Photo: PA
Charles Haughey Photo: PA
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

WH Auden compared writing a poem to cleaning an old piece of slate until the letters appear. Today, with this column, all I have to do is scrub away at the guilt until there it is staring judgementally back at me.

The shame.

The ignominy.

The loss of face.

It wasn't quite a full-on public humiliation; more a case of me making a holy show of myself in front of what appeared like the entire neighbourhood.

First, a little context. My wife and I have recently, and temporarily, moved into a house in south Dublin while we find somewhere to live permanently.

Enough context; back to me making a tool of myself. I came home from the Ireland v Wales ding-dong on the Friday night - and went to the wrong house, whereupon I attempted to open the wrong door with the wrong keys. Maybe a little more context is needed. I had one drink. I would have liked to have had more after a long day in the office, but the special area I had been invited into at half-time at the Aviva Stadium only served teas and coffees and, lamentably, absolutely zero alcohol.

So when I jumped in a taxi straight after the game I was sober. After being stuck in post-match gridlock in Ballsbridge with 40,000 fans for 40 minutes, I eventually got home in something of daze at around 10.45pm. I got out of the car on to the street in semi darkness. My wife had gone to bed. All the houses looked vaguely similar under the street lights. I approached the house that I assumed my wife and child were sleeping in. I put the key in the door and turned it and turned it. When that didn't work, I repeated the process again. And becoming frustrated, I repeated the process once more, until a light went on and a woman's face - mystifyingly not my wife's - appeared at the other side of the door.

The mystery face then asked, quite sensibly: "What do you think you're doing?" Mortified, I replied: "Jesus! I'm so sorry! I've got the wrong house!"

I was too terrified to look around. In my paranoid state, I self-consciously imagined that every light in the vicinity was suddenly on as the neighbours gawked out of their bedroom windows at this f***ing idiot who was trying to gain entry to the wrong house.

Shame-faced, I swiftly slithered a few doors down, found the right number on the door - a give-away sign, possibly - and turned the key.

And - voila! - went in through the right door.

Too embarrassed to tell my wife about the international incident next door, I went to sleep, uneasily, hoping we wouldn't be woken by the guards knocking at the door.

We weren't.

The next morning, my child, Emilia, took me outside to play with her on the grass in the front of the house. For reasons best known to me and the woman two doors up (and possibly the whole neighbourhood - with the exception of my wife who was out of the loop), I was bordering on a nervous wreck.

Worse still, I couldn't remember what the poor woman whose house I had attempted in good faith to gain illegal entry to the night before looked like, because I had only caught a distorted glimpse of her through the front-door glass.

So, on a lovely Saturday morning there were two women out and about enjoying suburbia. I hadn't a clue whether it was either of them and I was loath to come out straight with it lest she or the other one thought I was an escaped lunatic.

Eventually, something in my psyche told me that another woman out by the grass area a few doors away was looking at me in a way that suggested it was her. Then as if guided by the hand of destiny, my two-year-old daughter took me in the woman's direction. It was like Emilia was suddenly charged with a secret mission of particular importance.

Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the woman and was mouthing the words to the effect that - did I by any chance put my key in her door last night and try to go in; and, if I did, please accept my most grovelling of abject apologies. Mercifully, she was an absolutely lovely and remarkably forgiving woman, and, as such, incredibly nice about me making a complete tool of myself the night before.

She laughed and said that she thought it was her brother. Mortified once more, I apologised profusely again and continued to do so until the expression on her face (and Emilia's) told me it was time to go home.

To the right home with the correct key to the right woman. I sensed that even Emilia was looking at her daddy that it was an early April Fool with me as the Fool.

****

I have some previous experience of this. Twenty years or so ago, on April 1, I attended a cultural event at the National Concert Hall where Hothouse Flowers performed. At the end, Charlie Haughey walked straight up to me and congratulated me on my performance. I didn't have the sufficiently sized cojones to point out to the former leader of Fianna Fail and Ireland that I was not, in fact, Liam O Maonlai, the long-haired, scruff-bucket lead-singer with Hothouse Flowers. Nor did I have the will to ask Haughey was he perhaps playing an April Fool on me.

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