Before the arrival of Bruno, just after the loss of my dad, we had a carpet delivered. My parents had ordered it in easier times and the company was kind and deferred delivery until my mother had recovered a little from her grief. She was delighted to get the carpet, having chosen it with her lately lost.
It was hideous.
It was like walking across a migraine.
When I saw it being carried in, I decided to take the dogs for a walk. Frankly, I couldn’t be doing with the inevitable argument about how awful/beautiful it was.
When I got back, about half an hour later, the carpet fitters had gone, the carer had gone, and the front door was locked. I didn’t have my keys on me, having thought the chaps would be fitting the carpet for, easily, a couple of hours. My mother had to call the police.
It was the summer, and one of the coppers asked me why I hadn’t left a window open.
I told him, “I’m from Croydon. I wouldn’t leave my mouth open.”
(I was a surly teenager)
The fellas who fitted the carpet all those years ago managed to do the job within thirty minutes because they stapled the underlay directly into the parquet floor underneath. Then, they nailed straight through from the hideous pattern down into the wood.
One summer, we looked after the aforementioned Bruno. He was the sweetest dog in all the world, but something in his breed and bearing freed up my time enormously. He was a Doberman.
I have already said that we were blessed with good carers. When it came to the summer holidays, childcare costs being impossibly high and children being endlessly cute, the carers used to bring their kids with them. The carers looked after my mother, and I in turn took care of their offspring. They were great kids, so I didn’t mind.
However, the summer we had Bruno, we had a sudden influx of dads and my lunchtimes were my own again.
And then, rather unexpectedly, my friends started going on their first holidays without parental guidance..
I am of Irish heritage. The print, the drink and the blood flows through my veins. I don’t begin to explain my accent, that is its own business.
I read somewhere that in ancient Irish culture, the highest position in society, that which now must be occupied by lawyers, doctors, teachers, was the playground of the poet. Clearly, I was born into the wrong time.
The general entertainment for teenagers when I was growing up consisted of getting drunk, getting high, getting laid, or writing godawful, self-indulgent poetry. I think I probably made the wrong choice. There are very few people quite so tiresome as teenage poets.
On my eighteenth birthday, friends of mine took the ferry across to southern Ireland, land of my people. My godparents brought a birthday cake, covered in grey icing (I have no idea how you make grey icing), with a small figure kneeling on the top, looking into a computer monitor with the words ‘Game Over’ printed across the screen.
My godfather took me aside and said, “Eighteen, eh? Read the cake. It’s all downhill from here.”
I wish I were joking. More, I wish he’d been joking.
My friends later told me that they hadn’t invited me on their Irish adventure because, as my mother had been so ill for so many years, they realised I probably wouldn’t be able to go. They were almost certainly right, although it would have been nice to have been asked.
I had some consolation, however.
During their trip, they visited Blarney Castle. My grandmother and her eight surviving siblings visited Blarney Castle before they moved to England; they needed to kiss the Blarney Stone in order to carry the luck across the water and into their new lives. The import of the Blarney Stone was something I grew up hearing about, and I desperately envied all those who’d been and gone and tongued the living daylights out of it.
My friends stood in an extraordinarily long queue for the Stone. They lurked and shifted their weight from foot to foot behind a large, loud crowd of American tourists. Everyone had heard about the Blarney Stone, and I’m pretty sure that even in my frustration, I would have told them to make a point of taking a detour to the Stone. It was terribly hot day. The minutes passed and turned into hours. One hour, anyway. The street sweated.
A brief discussion ensued, and they walked away. From the Blarney Stone. On their return, with their kindly but thrown-together explanations of my uninvited status, I told them they’d brought the curse on themselves and felt quite satisfied.
They were a little lax on details beyond my curse-of-that-cat-woman. I think they went on the Guinness factory tour. If they hadn’t, I guarantee we wouldn’t be speaking any more.
Of the collective who went to Ireland, one went further and decided to go and find herself in India. She was gone for six months or so, and called me on Christmas Day from Delhi. Another went on to be a teacher in Germany. The last went on to lecture in New Zealand.
They’ve all had relationships, friendships, careers on an intercontinental scale.
I promise, I have left the house in the years between then and now.
I guess I’ve always been more inside my head. But I know which rocks to kiss and which ones to walk away from.