Friday, 24 June 2011

It's all about the Craic

My beloved and I have just returned from a long weekend in one of our favourite cities, Dublin. We have been sloping off there for a weekend, mostly sans enfants, for the last fifteen years or thereabouts - and we love it.

I know some people don't 'get' our love for Ireland, and Dublin in particular, but to us, it's not just another city. There is something magical about Dublin and although I love the architecture, the great shops, the green space of St Stephen's Green, the rough and tumble of Temple Bar, what I love the most is the people. Everywhere you go, whether they are propped up next to you at the bar in McDaid's, driving the taxi, sitting next to you in a restaurant or squashed up next to you at a concert, the people are so friendly. However much I try, I simply can't imagine that tourists in London get the same warm glow of hospitality that we get every time we go to Dublin.

One of our favourite things to do is to catch a concert - indeed, that is generally our excuse for a trip to Dublin these days. This year's offering was Take That, supported most ably by the Pet Shop Boys. We 'darted' across town from our hotel to a station about 10 minutes' walk from Croke Park and, armed with some top info from friends who'd seen Take That in Manchester, we headed across the hallowed pitch to the centre stage rather than the stage at the front. Standing three rows from the stage in an arena where the women outnumber the men by ten to one requires strong elbows and a sense of humour. By the time Take That came on, we had formed a close band of six - the two of us, two girls who had driven down from Belfast and a couple from Bournemouth and we repelled all boarders who wanted to edge their way to the front! It was a great craic!

We've also seen Phil Collins, Robbie Williams, George Michael and latterly Eric Clapton in Dublin. The Eric Clapton concert at Malahide Castle was in torrential rain and our friendly hotel gave us bin liners to wear - not just bin liners, but wheelie bin liners which not only covered us, but were large enough to have a party in! When we got to Malahide, number 1 daughter and the Barnsley lodger went off exploring and my beloved went for beer (well, it has to be Guinness) leaving me standing in a seething mass of humanity somewhere close to the stage. By the time they all re-appeared, I had made friends with a delightful couple with dreadlocks and an interesting whiff about them. They had kindly offered to share the source of their interesting whiff - I refused, of course, but the rest of the team were vastly amused at my bonding with the local drug culture. Harmless perhaps, but catch one of mine doing a little experimenting and I'll be going through the roof!

On this trip, we also met two sets of brothers who were sitting next to us in one of our favourite restaurants. They were in their fifties and had not played golf together for twenty years but had had a day's golf and a great day and were happy to share their celebratory mood with us. They carted us off to the bar at the Shelbourne for more celebration and we really felt a part of it all.

So now all we need is another concert and we'll be off again - and I shall be more than happy to spend the money we would have spent on Olympics tickets - if only we'd got any - on the craic in Dublin.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Like Father, like daughter

It's a long time since my dear old dad was with us - some twenty years - and the world has changed in so many ways - I just can't see him dealing with a mobile phone or a laptop. But he's been in my thoughts a lot recently and it is one of my wistful regrets that my lovely husband and children never knew him in his heyday. Of course, my beloved knew him but he was getting on a bit then and the older two children, knew him briefly but probably can't remember much about him.

In his sixties, which is the time I remember best, he and I were continually at loggerheads - he because he was always right, even when he was wrong - and me for exactly the same reason! He was not tall in stature but a huge character - an orator (so that's where number 1 daughter gets it from), ambitious (number 2 daughter obviously), charismatic, charming and stubborn. He was intensely physical - my strongest memory of this is when he held my hand, his grip would be so tight that the bones in my knuckles would grind together.

Sometimes I think he was probably rather disappointed in his children - no Olympic sportsmen, no England rugby players, no captains of industry or famous actors. You had the sense with dad that he could have been all of these things if he had so chosen - or perhaps that's just a child's simple worship of her father. He wasn't tactile or affectionate but we all strove to achieve his good opinion which, when received, you wore as a badge with pride.

He was ill for quite a long time in the last couple of years. It was heart-breaking to see him lose, first his ramrod-straight physical presence, and then his razor-sharp mind. The last holiday we went on together was to Ibiza where he and mum had been going since I was six. We were there with our two little girls and it was a special but very sad holiday. Dad's favourite place on earth was a tiny cove next to a much larger and more popular beach on the island. He loved this little cove which deterred all but the fittest as the route down to it from the cliff required the sure-footedness of a mountain goat. We drove the car as near to the cliff edge as was possible so that he would have the shortest walk. He struggled out of the car and wanted so, so much to clamber down the slope to the hot sand and the glinting blue of the Mediterranean. He stood and looked and then shook his head. He knew, and we knew, without words that he would never make it.

I hadn't thought about this for a long time, but now, I wonder how will I be when I have my moment on the cliffs which must come to everyone who makes it into old age? Will I be able to regather myself and find things that will make the continuation of the journey worthwhile? I don't know but I suppose we can only hope.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Lionesses for our Children

This week I was touched by the kindness of a stranger. Someone I didn't know who was on the outermost reaches of my cyber network (you know, the people who you only 'sort of know' on the business internet networking sites) very kindly helped number 1 daughter.

Daughter number 1 lives in London and is an actress ( yes, I think you know that but just in case ...) and is up for an award which, unlike other awards that she has been on the very long, long (as opposed to short) list for, this is an audience vote. So I emailed the stranger and asked him if he would contact his network of Yorkshire business folk to vote for her - because his network promotes all things good from God's own county. I wrote and told him that my excuse for being so brazen as to ask was because we are all lions/lionesses for our children. I can't claim that line as my own, incidentally, as it was once said to me by number 1 daughter's speech therapist who I hope is now very proud of her pupil.

I told him how I had been the mother at the school gates, wishing that my child was like everyone else's - because she wasn't. I think before you have children, you think that your child should be wonderful and extraordinary and the envy of everyone else. The reality is that what you really want is one who is just like everyone else. Daughter number 1 is wonderful and extraordinary and she is also deaf. I can still remember the moment we were told. I can remember refusing to believe that this could happen, that somehow it would be a mistake, a case of late development, a clerical error, anything. It took us a long time to adjust and we made a whole host of decisions about her future, and most especially her education, based on no knowledge at all.

One day I took her to a group of deaf children and their parents at York Hospital. It was terrible. I looked at all the other children and all I could think was that we shouldn't be there because we weren't like them. We refused the advice of well-meaning social workers who suggested she should go to a school for the deaf, that we should learn to sign, we should accept that she would never talk. We blindly battled on with no idea how big our task was, how tough life would be for her.

Every hurdle we conquered was immediately followed by another... and another. A kind friend, no longer with us, said that he thought we had succeeded when she was sixteen and doing all the things that other sixteen year olds do. He had no concept of the trials we still faced - imagine learning to drive when you have to look at the instructor when he speaks in order to lipread, rather than looking at the road. She used to say that when boys would try to whisper romantically in her ear, she would tell them exasperatedly that she had to see them to hear. She struggled through hearing in lessons (when she was little, the teacher wore a microphone linked to her hearing aids but they often forgot to leave the microphone with her at the end of the lesson, providing  my daughter with a handy information stream from the staffroom). Chalk and talk was a nightmare - how can you read a teacher's lips when they have their back to the class? And so it went on.

Perhaps being a lioness for her has helped to make her a lion. She has conquered and excelled at every challenge that she and life have set for her. I think she must have forgotten that I once said that she could do anything except be a racing commentator - I thought she wouldn't get the words out fast enough. If she knew, she'd probably give that a try too. She has not let anything stop her. She is, at best and worst, absolutely terrifying.

I hope with all my heart that she succeeds in her acting career - not just because I am her mother and lioness extraordinaire - but because no one should ever be limited by the prejudices and the expectations of others.