Wednesday 16 January 2019

This Man's Life: How Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail force me to face my mortality

A popcorn bucket (christopherhall/Getty Images)
A popcorn bucket (christopherhall/Getty Images)
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

The horror! The horror! It wasn't so much public humiliation as a reality check that I am, statistically, an old dad. Last week an otherwise kindly-faced woman at the cinema in Dundrum Town Centre asked me as I stood in line for Peter Rabbit with my three-year-old daughter: "Are you her grandad?"

It was a minor miracle I didn't burst into tears on the spot and push the woman head first into the popcorn machine. I tried, unsuccessfully, to laugh instead.

At 50 I am hardly Mick Jagger, who has a younger child than me and is 74.

In the end Emilia answered the question for me by grabbing my hand, shouting "Sweeties daddy!!!!! SWEETIES DADDY!!!" and dragging me at some speed towards the area where the treats are sold to poor parents.

The woman looked mortified while I did my best to put on a face that suggested I was not remotely bothered to be considered of an age to be the grandfather of my own child.

Inside the cinema, with Emilia now happily munching away on her sweeties (and watching the star bunny himself Peter Rabbit and his three sisters - Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail - happily munching veggies in Mr McGregor's vegetable garden), my mind was understandably elsewhere.

The worm of existential self-doubt wriggled deep inside me. I imagined that when Emilia had her 21st birthday party, I would be almost Mick Jagger's age. Later on the way home I tried the Stones's classic Exile On Main Street's album on Emilia in the car but she shook her head in a sulk at Keith Richard's hoarse vocals on Happy and asked for her Christmas CD of Santa songs instead. Wise choice perhaps, even for late April in the unseasonally hot sunshine.

Worse still than my ignominy at the cinema in Dundrum was to come later that week. I brought my three-month-old son Daniel for a stroll in his buggy by the sea in Monkstown when an old lady took it on herself to remark to this hardly geriatric ginger: "You're very good to bring your grandchild out."

It was a moment of undiluted irony that Daniel in his bed on wheels choose this exact moment to be sick down his baby-gro. As me and Dan My Little Man headed towards the pier in Dun Laoghaire, I was furiously thinking of Philip Roth's line from his book Everyman:

"Old age isn't a battle; old age is a massacre."

*******

Those of us who went to The Trip To Tipp in 1990 (and right the way through to 1997) for the glorious Feile festival at Semple Stadium in Tipperary are actually old now.

Imagine the memories we will bring, then, in September for Feile Classical (with perennial Feile favs like The Stunning, Hothouse Flowers, An Emotional Fish, Something Happens, etc) as the Trip To Tipp returns for the first time in more than 20 years.

I remember seeing Van Morrison play Moondance with the moon overhead on the Sunday night in 1990. On the following year, The Pogues in their heyday played one of their greatest ever gigs, as did Elvis Costello sporting a Biblical beard. In 1992, Primal Scream were brill as was Christy Moore and PJ Harvey. The following year it was Iggy Pop's turn to be amazeballs.

Feile was no ordinary festival. It as a rite of passage in a field with unforgettable music (Van, Elvis, the Flowers, the Pogues, Blur, The Cranberries, The Black Crowes) and unstomachable food. Stray cat-burgers aside, Feile was surreally beautiful for the music and the experiences you shared away from your parents and going wild in the country.

I recall lots of surreal conversations at all hours with all manner of folks in Feile: shooting the breeze with Mike Scott of The Waterboys about the state of the planet at dawn in 1991 (what else would you be talking to Magic Mike at dawn about?); listening to Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays talk colourfully about hills and trees and cows in 1991; waxing lyrical with Damon Albarn of Blur (this time in Cork's Pairc Ui Chaoimh) about mortality in 1995; chatting to Wendy James of Transvision Vamp in 1990 and the chatter causing a hoo-ha.

At 3am in the hotel after the show, Wendy begins to explain her complex theories on fellatio and men: you don't want to know.

In the hotel, guests' ears are pricked like dogs hearing a distant cat rummaging at bins, listening to Ms James hold controversial carnal court.

The article headlined Last Tango in Thurles appeared in that weekend's Sunday Independent.

The poor editor's desk is soon swamped with angry letters calling for me to be slung out on the streets. No one in Dublin seems to have a good word to say about me. I am suddenly acquainted with what Yeats meant when he referred to "the daily spite of that unmannerly town".

Sunday Independent

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