'You have to give a few quid for the Confirmation, but let's face it, as city breaks go, it's fairly cheap'
WE bring the child to London to meet her cousins, and indeed, to meet again properly the men who will hopefully be her godfathers. I like to joke to them that we tell people that we've found a lovely couple to be the two godfathers. In reality, they are not a gay couple, but two brothers. The occasion this weekend is the Confirmation of one of the godfathers. Assorted clan members have decided to make a weekend of it in the brother's house in London. He and his wife are great hosts/hostesses and they pull off a good old long weekender in their gaff. You have to give the kid a few quid for the Confirmation, but let's face it, as city breaks go, it's cheap. In these recessionary times, I think we'll be spending much more time with the family.
The child is slowly but surely revealing herself as time goes on, and one thing that is becoming disturbingly clear, she seems to be somewhat of a people person. She certainly didn't get that from me. The wife, for her part, thinks that the child was sent to some pre-natal stage school where they taught her, no matter how tired or freaked out she is, to smile like a Billie Barry Kid on Red Bull on the Late Late Toy Show, for absolutely anyone. This means, in essence, that while it can take me up to two hours of smiling crazily at her to elicit one of her crazy, toothless grins in return, any complete stranger can walk up, half look at her, and she'll smile up at them like a maniac and practically do a dance, even though she doesn't have full use of her limbs yet. Perhaps she will be a politician, or Maureen Potter, or, perish the thought, an Irish Model. She does have her father's looks, so a career in modelling could beckon.
I LIKE to think of these family weekends as a bit like one of those weekends where people get together to role play and re-enact old battles. Everybody knows their role, but really you're only going through the motions. There is no real malice intended or violence done. So I fall easily into the role of younger brother which is nice -- given that I've had to be the in-charge dad recently. Funny thing, though, I find my parenting skills -- which I think are fairly good in general -- deserting me in front of the family. There's so much pressure that I just lose confidence in it all, and I find myself handling the baby like I've never handled her before. Given that they all seem to find the child absolutely wonderful, I bet they're feeling sorry for her, thinking, "She seems like a nice kid. Such a pity she has to have that idiot as a dad."
You know how it is with your family. When you're the kid brother they're always going to think you're an idiot, no matter what you do, and you always oblige them by falling into the role of idiot when they're around. The brother, noting my enthusiastic anti-dog shit stance, shows me a letter everyone on their road got from the council. It has come to their attention that some people are allowing dogs to foul on the road. They threaten prosecutions. Best of all, it comes from the council's Envirocrime Prevention Unit. I love it. Sounds like a kind of CSI for dogshit. The brother, I should add, has no dogs.
THE thing about having a child is that she decides when she wants to feed, even her, the best-behaved child in the world. So we're late for the Confirmation. Given that we'd missed the main event by the time we got to the church, me and the brother from America could have decided to go into the church pub.
I'm not joking. They have a pub attached on to the side of the church, and not some room where they try to lure you in with booze and then give you religion. This was an actual pub, in the church, where you could have sat and watched the football, which was blaring off the giant screen, or indeed, where you could have sat out in the beer garden in the sun, literally, as the brother from America puts it, in the shadow of God, and had a cheeky half while waiting to appear by magic from the back of the church to take photos when the service was over. But we didn't do that. I promise, Mum, we didn't.
As is now traditional at these affairs, my family get great value out of the bishop with chat and photographs. He actually half jokes about claiming overtime off us. Most of the kids being confirmed have their parents there, and maybe a brother and sister. My nephew has about a dozen extended family from each side. And we're Irish. You know what they were all thinking. Possibly including the bishop. What's that awful word they have in England? Oh yes, "Pikeys" isn't it?
A FEATURE of getting older is that I am becoming increasingly, ridiculously sentimental. So, as the weekend of all of us together starts to wind down, I get maudlin about the passing of time, and how this particular snapshot in our progress as a family is gone now and things will all be so different the next time we convene. The child will have changed so much and we'll all be that bit older and wiser, and God, how we must treasure every moment together as a family, because it will all be gone someday. And every moment and every weekend like this is unique. These are the times that make memories and these are the times we will tell the child about in years to come and these are the pictures she will look at when she's older, laughing at her old Dad and her funny uncles in their dated clothing. And it's all slipping through our hands all the time. You should see how easily we all clicked back into gear with our cousins from the North that we hadn't seen in years. Family. We just knew each other again.
THERE'S nothing like a Dubliner dinner. They are always pleasantly bonkers. So a bunch of us end up in this really posh drawing room in the Merrion Hotel while a Romanian winemaker from South Africa tells us a bit about his wine. The bunch includes artists, fashion designers, broadcasters, publishers, beauty pageant impresarios, Irish models, rock stars and a businessman or two. None of us is quite sure what we're doing there, but all gradually starting to enjoy each other. Trevor White is the ultimate collector of people, and it's always great to get in on his coat tails and meet some interesting people, because, God knows, I wouldn't be going to the trouble of finding interesting people myself. But if he's going to manage to gather them all in one place, then I'll happily muscle in.
You have to hand it to Gavin Friday. You could bring him anywhere. In fairness, I should have warned him before I tapped a glass and announced he was going to sing an after-dinner song, but with just 30 seconds of chat to cover him while he decides what to do he's up and doing Brendan Behan to a blushing Andrea Roche. A true entertainer. I like a person who does a turn when they're asked. There's a certain old-fashioned manners in it. Everyone should have a turn.
Gavin Friday had an idea that him and me will do a radio show called GBH -- the Gavin Brendan Haemorrhage. I'm not sure what it would involve exactly but I think part of it would be that as much as we could talk about music and take the piss out of each other, we can also both talk like oul' wans about the relative merits of Arnotts and Brown Thomas and what constitutes old-fashioned good service in a men's outfitters. Honestly, a Virgin Prune who scandalised the country and a rebel without a cause and we're on at each other like two old biddies.
Oh God. Politeness dictated that I go on to the Odessa Club and Renards last night. This is only the second time since the child moved in that Dad has hit Renards, and he has the hangover to prove it and I'd swear she disapproves. She's a bit of an old biddy in her own way (clearly got that from me) and as she sits there in her little rocking chair with her rug over her knees looking disapprovingly at me, I feel my Auntie Nell, Sister Margaret Mary, who was actually my father's aunt and who was in her 90s when I would have known her, floating down through the generations. The pursed-lipped, disapproving face the child makes is reminiscent of Auntie Nell's face the day we got her an Iceberger. Don't ask, it's one of those random memories -- Auntie Nell disgusted that stale biscuit was what was passing for ice cream coverage these days. Everyone, even my father, kind off agreed last weekend that the child does bear a striking resemblance to Auntie Nell when her face is set in a certain way. We also noted other similarities. For example, the child likes to be driven around but hates to stop at all. She goes mad if you stop the car, almost threatening to wake up. Auntie Nell was exactly the same on days out from the convent.
I hope for the child's sake, and for Auntie Nell's sake, that the child isn't the reincarnation of Auntie Nell, because I suspect our local primary school is Church of Ireland and judging by Auntie Nell's reaction to my brief flirtation with the St Fin Barre's Cathedral Choir, she ain't going to like that school.
I'd swear Auntie Nell Junior is still ignoring me. I'm pulling out all the stops today and she won't even look at me, preferring to keep her eyes firmly glued on her hero, Mama, no matter where Mama is. The child would rather dislocate her neck spinning it around to stare at Mama rather than give Dada a smidgen of interest. Obviously, I'm distraught and guilt-ridden. She's right of course. Two days ago, I abandoned her for the bright lights, and she is right to make me pay. God, I've been besotted in the past with the odd woman who drank until she passed out regularly and whom it took loads of effort to raise a smile or a titter of interest out of, but this is a whole new ball game. Imagine if this child ever learns to actually speak, or to have voluntary use of her muscles. Then I will learn true besottedness and manipulation.
I've managed to successfully ignore most of the Lisbon Treaty stuff but the father has taken it upon himself to single-handedly convince me to vote No. Every time I ring to say hello, I get a half hour on our fisheries, our agriculture and a European superstate run by unelected men. In fairness, if anyone knows the EU it's my old man. He was there in the thick of it in the heady days of Irish agriculture. He makes some good points. I've decided to start paying more attention to it all. If only so I can argue better with the old man the next time.