“What are we doing today?”, this is one of my earliest memories. I was looking out my bedroom window on an estate in Palmerstown, Dublin. I guess I was about 5 or 6 and life was pretty simple. Except that I couldn’t figure out what we were doing that day. It wasn’t a school day, that much I knew, but apart from that I wasn’t really sure what was going on. Thanks to Google Street view I was able to ‘visit’ the street recently and to be honest the house is a lot smaller than I remember. We were a humble Dublin family, Mum didn’t work at that stage, she’d kill me for saying that, ‘cause she kept the house running and I’m sure we were way more work than a 9-5 job! I made good friends on the estate but have lost contact years ago.
“We’re not going anywhere today”, now I was confused by this. My mother was very clear, but I was so young I couldn’t really figure it all out. Were we going to town, or school or worse… mass? When the answer came back that we were in fact going no where well, I thought the week had an extra day. I would remember later that it was in fact a Saturday but my brain was still figuring it all out. I knew somethings tho… I had a Dad who was not always around, he was working on a big boat. I’d waved him off at the airport a few times. This was back in the day when Dublin airport was a shed and you could almost say good bye to people on the apron. Once my granny even brought a huge monkey wrench that she found in a ditch right into the foyer (we’re still unsure as to why she decided to pick it up)…that was a time when there was no security at all. But we digress.
I shared a room with my sister, she mostly spent time in her cot and didn’t really do much except cry and make nasty nasty smells. I wasn’t a great help, though to be fair I was only four when she was born but I remember pushing her over to see if she could get back up again and again when no one was looking.
As I said our Dad was away a lot but when he was back we would do fun stuff. He like to play football and he would take us to his practice where we were basically sent on laps where the ‘training’ took place. It was at one of these sessions that I heard loads of new words, which I really liked… that sounded cool but the adults either laughed at you or put their hands over your mouth! Our trips to training ended shortly after I told my mother to turn off the car engine while she was talking to a friend, apparently “turn the bloody engine off” was not suitable chat for a 5 year old.
Dad of course got the blame, but to be fair, this was a tough part of Dublin where the guys who showed up for training were pretty rough. As if to try and improve our chances in life we were sent to all sorts of activities over the years.
Activity number 1 – ballet.
We would walk to the little community centre behind the house and then the humiliation would begin. The hall has long since gone but the memories of the paint flecking off the walls and the smell in the toilet is something that has stayed with me. Mum decided that I should have all the gear and so we were dressed in stupid pink leotards with pink ballet shoes and a white hairband. Even at this age I knew that I was never going to be good at this sort of thing. Then there was the way the parents called you cute… especially if you were completely out of sync with everyone else in the room. Which crescendoed at the “end of year recital”. Dad was back for this and was dragged along… if I was uncomfortable, he was ridiculously out of his happy place. To the degree that peaking from behind the curtains I could see my Mum, but Dad was sat in the middle of the parents reading… the largest newspaper I’d ever seen. Afterwards he hugged me and called me his rugby player ballerina. I didn’t really understand but I knew that ballet was probably not for me.
So then activity number 2… gymnastics.
Or as I liked to call it… how many ways to kill yourself over the course of an hour. Unlike most girls my age I didn’t have a self preservation button so my career in gymnastics ended after the week long summer course. Whilst my intentions were admired, my technique was not and it was decided I was a danger to myself and others. Most likely to the insurance of the instructors.
Finally I was told what were going to do that day… we were going to go to the park, I say park, it was some fields behind the house but you could kinda walk around if you avoided the trees where the teenagers hung out and were probably doing drugs. As we walked along Mum told me that I would be moving bedrooms. That she needed my bed for a brother or sister that was going to arrive in a few months. Great, another person who was going to poop and scream all the time, I was far from impressed, but I was going to get a room all to myself. Then followed the conversation about how I needed to be a “big girl” and “help mummy” around the house. I’d never actually had to do anything up to this point so I had no idea how I was supposed to “help mummy”. In fact I didn’t call her “Mummy” so this was all very strange. I was 5 or 6 so didn’t really have a huge list of chores. 🙂
But there was more news to follow… Nana was coming up from Cork. I could tell that Mum was very excited about this, but I was not. This woman did not like me, to the degree that at my confirmation she looked at me and said, “nice dress, very slimming”. I mean come on! I asked how long she was going to stay and Mum just smiled… until your brother or sister is born. It was going to be long summer.