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First love

The other night, Agent of Death, Her Goatiness and I somehow got to talking about first loves.

Honestly, I was just grateful the topic wasn’t pus.

However, much to my embarrassment, I realised my first love was in fact a girl.

I was 4 or 5 years old, in Junior Infants in primary school, and still firmly of the opinion that boys were entirely nasty. I couldn’t fathom how one was supposed to coexist with them at all – never mind LIKE them.

There was a girl in 6th Class called Diane Hannagan and I loved her. She had blond hair and a wonderful round, smiley face. At the age of 12, she was the height of sophistication – not that I had any idea what sophistication was, but it definitely sounded like something I should aspire to.

My parents were friendly with her parents, all being members of the Limerick Lawn Tennis Club. I used to love when Mum brought me to the Hannagan’s house, which was big and had lots of windows, and a dog, and Diane’s mother who smelled incredibly exotic.

I condemned my parents for not calling me Diane, and desperately wished I had blond hair rather than brown, and a wonderful round, smiley face instead of a face that was just . . . facey. I bitterly regretted my mum didn’t smell like Diane’s (many years later, I realised Irene Hannagan’s magnetic musk was ‘Opium’ in what must have been scandalous application in 1970s Limerick).

I used to hang around the playground hoping Diane would notice me and say hello and maybe even tell me my schoolbag was nice. Indeed, she often did say ‘hello’, because she was a lovely, friendly girl – although she never did tell me my schoolbag was nice, which was undoubtedly an oversight on her part but did nothing to diminish my lustful thoughts that she might one day admire my finger-painting.

One day I was running in the playground, when I fell and grazed my knee. To my abounding joy, my howl of anguish was answered by Diane, who scooped me up into her arms. I still remember precisely where we sat, on the stairs beside the 6th Class prefab building, me on her lap. I couldn’t believe my luck when she applied a plaster.

It still remains one of the most stunningly profound moments of my entire life.

I was evidently a discerning admirer, because Diane Hannagan won the Rose of Tralee in 1984. I defy anyone who could not love this:

Rose of Tralee 1984


As a schoolgirl, my idea of rebellion was wearing a white shirt when the school handbook CLEARLY STATED IT SHOULD BE LIGHT BLUE.

It might not sound like much, but where does torching the physics teacher’s pet cat with a Bunsen burner get you? Or spraying ‘Fr Mulroney is a cock’ on the gym wall? I’ll tell you: expelled, and double detention with a wire brush and bucket of soapy water respectively. Whereas I was subversively picking away at the very fabric of authority via my choice of fabric colour. You’ve got to admire the symmetrical anarchy of it.

It gets better. When apprehended by a teacher, I would apologise profusely, except that – get this – I WASN’T REALLY SORRY AT ALL. Oh, how I used to laugh behind the bicycle shed later, unbuttoning that same shirt while the boys lined up to see my jugs in exchange for five quid or a king-sized Mars bar.

Most of that preceding paragraph is pure fabrication (still with the textile analogies). I never worked up the enthusiasm or morals to be much success as a slut.

But I did laugh, a LOT.

Many years later, I realised that wearing a white shirt was not the sartorial spit in the eye of The System it could have been because, while my defiant shirt may have been white in a previous life, it was more often than not an off-white blue. Although there were days my white shirt was shot through with brilliant vermillion streaks like the rising dawn – or more pedestrianly yet accurately, streaky bacon – which was quite the statement.

The statement being that my mother had washed my shirt with a red sock.

For many years – in the region of 25 – I thought a side effect of the washing process was that it turned white clothes grey. Sometimes it took only one wash; sometimes more. Occasionally white garments emerged from the wash still pristine but for a violent pink spackle over one nipple; or a joyous blue Catherine wheel effect radiating from the armpit.

For mum, laundry is an outlet for all the pent up creativity she never had the time to burn off with a spot of watercolouring, or extreme macramé away. I’ve never caught her at it, but I imagine her with a basket of dirty clothes before her front-loader, rubbing her hands, going, “So, three white t-shirts and some cotton knickers . . . in we go . . . lalala . . . what if I casually toss in this green scarf with . . . a blue singlet? – no – let me see – mmm lala lalaa . . . oh! – what have we here? ah, my maroon harem trousers . . . oh yes, I think that would be lovely and festive . . . LalaLAA. I wonder whether the expression ‘evil genius’ has been coined yet? Mwa ha haa. Mwa ha ha ha haaaargh.”

But the pinnacle of her achievements, the jewel in her crown, the Kleenex in the pocket of mum’s laundry career, was my first boyfriend’s Eric Clapton t-shirt.

In the fragile, tender days constituting the birth of our young love, JP brought me to see Eric Clapton play in the RDS in Dublin. It was the best date I’d EVER been on – possibly because it was the ONLY date I’d ever been on, unless you count Gary Hayes trying to excavate my tonsils with his tongue in the back row of The Grand, which I don’t.

JP and I snogged like we had gills for the entire duration of ‘Layla’. God, the romance of it all *sigh!* Afterwards, JP bought himself a limited edition Eric Clapton t-shirt from an Official Merchandising Material vendor. It featured a handsome globe overlaid with a giant guitar: a masterpiece of screen printing.

Evidently, mum still feels guilty about it – as well she should – because even now, fifteen years later, I’ll say, “Hey mum, can you-”, and she’ll splutter, “Look, why the feck was I feckin washing your boyfriend’s feckin Eric Clapton t-shirt in the first place?” and stick her chin out aggressively.

It was because JP sometimes lent me his prized Eric Clapton t-shirt to demonstrate his True, Deep, Abiding Love Which Would Never Die, and at the time I was living at home where mum was the only one who knew how to program the washing machine.

Not only did she dye JP’s Eric Clapton t-shirt grey (alternatively she might have been wiping down the fireplace with it), in a brilliantly devious manoeuvre she managed to shrink it as well.

Our True, Deep, Abiding Love Which Would Never Die did not survive my mother’s washing – or, for that matter, the juxtaposition of JP’s personality with mine.

Mine more than his, admittedly.

At least when we broke up and I compiled a cardboard box of JP’s possessions including the ruined Eric Clapton t-shirt, it was an appropriate metaphor for the demise of our relationship.

I was reminded of all this the other day, when mum put on a load of dad’s and her clothes. It takes a rare degree of skill to mangle clothes in our washing machine, since there is no hot water supply to the tub. Yet somehow, freakily, mum managed to streak dad’s favourite white t-shirt blue.

Bear in mind that, for over 40 years, mum has washed dad’s clothes. So you would expect that, picking his t-shirt out of the wash, a range of emotions might cross his face: futility, bewilderment, dismay, weary resignation, a half-hearted attempt at fury.

You would be wrong.

Bless him, dad actually looked genuinely SURPRISED.

This may be symptomatic of extreme delusion, but I like to think it’s reflective of dad’s abundant hope, optimism, belief in the inherent good of his fellow man, and his love for his wife.

Call me a sucker.

The Man From Snowy River

Since I touched on the subject of my childhood in the last post, I thought I would further explore the theme. Back in the days, Limerick had a cinema down Bedford Row and it was a dingy affair. The red armchairs had bald, sticky patches. A dusty velvet curtain featured an amazing ‘SWISH!’ effect. Instead of trailers, asymmetric bubbles oozed across a bile-yellow background, spawning and splitting in slo-mo until the audience was considered comatose enough to watch the main feature.

[NB: some of this recollection may be influenced by nostalgia and/or bitterness.]

At the time, I didn’t know any of this, because I’d never been to the movies. Just another neglect adding up to the conglomeration of deprivation that was my childhood. My parents are lucky they evaded social services for so many years, what with how they forced me to clean my room every month and only allowed me chips once a week and beat me. Ok, that last bit isn’t true, but the rest totally is. If I weren’t a fiction author, I would write an autobiography and call it ‘A Child Called “Hey You Do The Dishes”: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness’ and make a bloody fortune, I can tell you.

Before he met mum, my father worked on the Snowy Mountains Scheme in Australia. My parents never had a big interest in films, but when they heard ‘The Man From Snowy River’ was coming to Limerick, they decided this occasion merited a Family Outing.

Thus started the great countdown to The Man From Snowy River. We had Man From Snowy River theme dinners, and crossed off days on a Man From Snowy River calendar. It was like the build-up to the Olympics – obviously not on the same cost or magnitude scale, but certainly up there on the emotional and logistics levels.  Planning kicked off weeks before opening night, when dad got a large street map of Limerick and inserted flags denoting potential parking places in the city centre.

The event was set to go down in family legend, so that, twenty years in the future when someone said, ‘What do you remember of your childhood?’ we would say, ‘Well, not a lot, although oh yes. There was. That time I saw The Man From Snowy River. *sigh!* It was the best day of my life.’ There was to be ice-cream and Maltesers, and maybe Coke if we were especially good. I’d never eaten ice-cream, and had never even HEARD of Maltesers.

[SCENE: a brown living room. A MOTHER reads in an overstuffed armchair. In the far corner, THREE CHILDREN play with a stick and a cardboard box. The FATHER enters, wearing a paisley shirt with ridiculously pointed collar]

FATHER: I think there’s someone at the door, dear.

MOTHER: Who might that be? Ooh, maybe it’s-



DAUGHTER: I can’t WAIT to see The Man From Snowy River! It’s going to be the highlight of my tragically deprived little life!

On the big day, I woke up at 05:00 and couldn’t eat with all the excitement (although I was also saving room for the ice-cream and Maltesers). Throughout the day the tension built until it was emitting its own frequency by the time we left in the car. Even the driving rain was not sufficient to dampen our enthusiasm.

On the way into town, the three kids in the back sang our Man From Snowy River song:-

The Man From Snowy River <clap!>
He might be called Trevor <clap!>
Or Bill or Ted or Roger
So far he is a mystery
But we, but we, are going to see
Him in all his cinematic glory

When we reached Henry Street, we beheld an awful sight. Our little voices fell silent one by one. A queue extended from the gaping mouth of The Grand, around the block, across the street and up past the Garda Station.

We went home.

There was no ice-cream or Maltesers.

It would be YEARS before I finally experienced cinematic magic. My mother wouldn’t allow me to watch Top Gun due to rumours of a raunchy love scene involving Suggestion of Tongue. Her logic would have better withstood the test of time if she had forbidden me to see Top Gun because Tom Cruise’s tooth-heavy smile was sinister and disturbing even then.

Eventually I saw Man From Snowy River on telly. TELLY! The bit where The Man from Snowy River rides his horse down a cliff would have been so much better on the big screen before I had heard of special effects and knew the director was tilting the camera to make it look steeper

Tragic Argyle

Husband stays connected

I used to hate cycling. (NB: in this context, ‘hate’ is too mild a word, but I am not aware of a single alternative that fully conveys my deep-rooted, fundamental, bone-chilling, teeth-grinding loathing. There can be no more perfect confluence of distilled misery than of being a teenager in Ireland in the late eighties. Add cycling to the mix, and we’re talking about a diabolical form of torture. Cycling to school was an exercise in thriving/surviving against impossible odds, what with drunk truck drivers and waterlogged potholes that extended to the centre of the earth, and the wretched awareness that my arse was the biggest in the known universe, and the mobile audience who stared at it incredulously. Not forgetting the tragic grey Argyle I used to think was cool, but was actually so unfashionable that when I wear it NOW it would almost qualify as trendy. And the plastic Dunnes Stores bags secured to my feet with elastic bands.)

Over the years, I have grown attached to my arse and adept at dodging potholes. Also, it is impossible to dislike cycling where we live. Husband bitches about the number of hills, but freewheeling down them is such fun, it more than compensates for slogging back up.

During the week, I made a Trademe purchase from a seller who lived in Waitakere.

“She’s just up the road,” I informed Husband. “I’ll pedal over on Saturday morning.”

I was surprised when he volunteered to accompany me, although it is perhaps less surprising when the alternative was cleaning the gutters. I tried to avoid distance-related discussion, and told him it was ‘all downhill’.

We shoved the bikes up to Scenic Drive – with a minor detour back to the house when we realised Husband had forgotten his helmet – and cycled north. Scenic Drive is a fair illustration of the word ‘undulating’. However, just before Scenic Drive intersects with Swanson Road/Waitakere Road, there is a kilometre long downhill. This was terrific fun, although a section of uneven tarmac reminded me how vulnerable a bicycle is.

We took an alternative route home, opting to traverse Christian Road and along the Pipeline Track to Mountain Road. We walked the Pipeline Track in summer and even then it was greasy; however, it is only a kilometre long and downhill.

Front brake accessorised with plant

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