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This Man's Life: Catching life by the tail at Dalkey Lobster Festival



Dalkey Island

Dalkey Island

Dalkey Island

Took the train along the coast to Dalkey last weekend with the family. A beautiful sunny, Saturday evening. The journey brought me back to childhood train trips to the seaside and further afield with my parents.

Laughter and theatrical rows over pots of tea and bottles of red lemonade, home-made sambos and packets of crisps.

My dad neither drank nor smoked. My mother did both, and rather well. The chemistry made for parents who were evenly matched, even good craic, especially on boat or train trips going away on holidays. (I hope to be half as entertaining to my own child as my parents were to me.)

Looking out the window of the carriage last weekend, I recalled random bits and pieces of their conversations, and the love they had for each other until the very end of their lives. How happy they were for the majority of their lives. And how difficult it was for them in the final years when illness caught up with them.

I remember a friend saying to me that I should take the "opportunity" of my father being in his last days in a hospice to tell him everything I had never told him properly up to that point in our lives together.

Like a lot of sons with their fathers, I didn't have the courage to do anything of the sort.

I was far too immature, even in my early forties, to tell him I loved him.

I regret it now, because I wasted a very precious opportunity to say something real, something true, to my dad before it was too late. I felt guilty that my dad went through so much private hell - in his body and in his head - dying of cancer in that hospice and that I was in a way never much of a son to him.

Instead of the inane platitudes I did say to him, I would have loved, in hindsight, to have said something like James Joyce wrote in a 1901 letter to Henrik Ibsen: "Your battles inspired me - not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead."

Or even stood at the end of his bed in the ward in front of all the other patients at death's door and announced in a grand, actor-y voice Stephen Dedalus's closing words in A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man: "Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead."

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My father would have thought me mad. But then he did, anyway, perhaps.

So, on we sped to Dalkey last Saturday for the Lobster Festival. The main street was closed off and the atmosphere was end-of-summer abandon.

Especially in The Queens pub. It was here where my wife and I and baby Emilia met up with my sister Karen, her husband Barry and their two grown-up daughters, Kerri and Holly and their respective partners, plus my sister Marina's two children, Zack and Skye. (It was Marina and her husband's wedding anniversary so they had gone off somewhere nice for the night.) There was much lobster and burger and wine, to say nothing of talk of the past and the future in the sunshine. I don't see my family enough and it was great fun.

Later on, further down Castle Street, a group of people with guitars sat on cushions on the ground and a large crowd - my young daughter in her little red dress and my sister Karen and myself among them - gathered around them to sing songs and clap along to the beat. It had to be done.

At 7pm approximately, I noticed local legend Chris de Burgh walk along Castle Street.

I thought for a moment, then thought better of it, to hand Chris a guitar and ask him to serenade my little princess Emilia with his homage to Princess Diana, Lady In Red.

Seeing Mr de Burgh, coupled with all the acres of newsprint on the anniversary of Diana's death, put me briefly in mind of everything the Princess went through with Charles who was in love with another woman before, during and after their doomed marriage.

Pre-Diana, Charles apparently had an active sex life with well-bred married women whose husbands appeared to turn a dutiful deaf ear to Chuck's cuckolding of their other halves. Not quite stiff upper lip, therefore, but stiff upper something, Chuck.

"The reflected honour of royalty's trust outweighed such déclassé emotions as jealousy, humiliation, and a sense of proprietorship," Tina Brown wrote in her 2007 book the Diana Chronicles, adding that the reason Charles gets on so well with Camilla in bed is that she told him to treat her like "a rocking horse".

When the book came out, I interviewed former Vanity Fair magazine editor Brown in London. She characterised the difference between the sexual chemistries Charles enjoyed with his wife and his mistress thus:

Camilla understood how to "beguile, serve and reassure" Charles, she understood "exactly how he liked to be pleased in bed. She knew how to soothe him. She knew how to flatter him and make him feel a man." Diana, on the other hand, "was just way too inexperienced sexually to know how to do that." I asked Tina Brown was that essential difference summed up by Diana saying something as perfectly coy as "I knew I had to keep myself tidy for what lay ahead" - a reference to virginity - and Camilla saying to Charles in the summer of 1971, "That's a fine animal you have there, sir"?

"That is the difference between the two," Tina answered. "I love that line of Camilla's.

"It was a line that went straight to his heart: speaking of the knowledge of horsemanship which he loved, slightly suggestive in tone. It was the ultimate rather good subtext."

But back to last Saturday and the Dalkey Lobster Festival. At 7.15pm, having had our fill of lobster, the whole gang of us decamped to Benito's for pizza and pasta and another drop or two of wine - the last of the summer wine, certainly.

It was a lovely evening by the sea in south county Dublin and all was well with the world. Better still, Emilia seemed to be getting a second wind. So not wanting the night to end (who ever does?), we got taxis to my niece Kerri and her husband Mark's palatial gaff in Foxrock.

Whereupon, for reasons best known to herself, my sister Karen put on Riverdance being performed by Flatley and Butler on the Eurovision that fateful night in 1994 on YouTube and two-and-a-half-year-old Emila and her six-year-old cousin Skye were soon up dancing around the room to it. This had an extra resonance for me and my sister Karen because our late mother Maureen was a singer and dancer in the theatre Royal in Dublin in the late 1930s and 1940s, and indeed taught Irish dancing in the years before she got ill.

There was another element of sadness to it, too, seeing Gerry Ryan looking so handsome in his mustard jacket introducing Riverdance.

To round off the perfect evening, Riverdance creator John McColgan - who was with us in spirit - was good enough after I texted him to get Emilia and Skye and Zack tickets to see the show the next day at the Gaiety.

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