Unlikely Nostalgia For 2020

It seems like such a long time ago now but staggeringly, it was less than a month ago that I was crouching in a woodland field in Longford, eyeing a seven year-old through my cross-hairs, wondering about the moral complexities of gunning him down in front of his parents! Naturally my competitive instincts kicked in and I let fly with an infra-red barrage of destruction, not ceasing until the electronic cry of “Medic I’m down” had been emitted from my target’s device. The briefest of smirks appeared on my face before I moved onto my next target, a mother wearing a luminescent scarf, the fool!

I should explain that just before Christmas, we spent two nights in Center Parcs Longford. We had booked the trip as a treat for the family back in September in order to have something to look forward to after a pretty discouraging year. Little did we know how quickly things would go downhill post our trip, back then COVID cases were still in three figures and travelling between counties was not some narco-esque pastime. Sure, we were denied the full Center Parcs experience in all its glory as the tropical swimming paradise including the water slides was closed and the zip-line experience developed a mysterious technical fault but hey at least we were able to go to restaurants and have food served to us.

I must admit I wasn’t sure what to expect from a holiday resort in Longford, my previous recollections of the county were limited to viewing a grey St Mel’s Cathedral through a damp car window (it always seemed to be raining in Longford) as I passed towards the more pleasant environs of Westport or Ballina or even Belmullet. I’m pretty sure I have never been on the road to Ballymahon (for this is the nearest town to Center Parcs) before and I was very impressed by its straightness, in fact I did wonder if it had been enhanced to attract the resort. However a quick check on wikipedia informed me that the R392 (for that is the road’s official title) closely follows the ancient ceremonial route known as the Slighe Assail, as such it formed one of the legendary Five Roads of Tara. This largely accounts for the remarkable straightness of the R392, so no Padraig Flynn style influencing here!

Anyway I digress. My initial impressions of Center Parcs were positive, our accommodation was very clean and of good standard (to be expected since the place only opened in the summer) and everything was clearly sign-posted. The hub of the resort is beside a small lake and it is here that most activities take place. Indeed the lack of traffic, the cleanliness and the constant sound of music (Christmas carols of course) brought to mind Disneyland (albeit a colder and wetter one than I had experienced previously). Another enjoyable part of the experience was the ability to walk along the tree lined paths without the constant hum of traffic (cars are only allowed into the resort for check-in and check-out). We even managed to spot a few red squirrels, something that is a bit of a rarity in Dublin where the larger grey squirrels reign supreme.

The boating on the lake was good fun as was the slightly water-logged mini-golf, the food was decent although I simply enjoyed the fact that we were able to go to a restaurant and Ella really liked the Christmas village including the animatronic singing reindeer. The highlight for me was undoubtedly the aforementioned laser-tag which luckily we kept until the morning of our departure so we were able to finish on a high. I got to be on a team with the three boys so while they ran about like lunatics helpfully distracting enemy fire I was able to pick off opponents with ruthless efficiency. The battle where I eliminated 7 out of our 8 opponents remains a personal (err, I mean team, well done my sons) highlight for 2020.

One month later it is such memories that help sustain me through multiple google meets sessions, endless homework exercises and not forgetting the excruciating Joe Wick’s sessions. Who’d have thought that nostalgia for 2020 was possible!

I Don’t Care About The Bugs On The Ceiling!

Now a number of years ago, I made the decision to go against tradition (and according to my wife Niki, all things natural) and buy a fake plastic tree. I dreamt of a time when pine needles were no longer a feature of the festive period and I thought by making a wise investment this utopia would be within reach. Indeed for six or seven years this was the case, the hoover lay silent just like Jesus in the manger.

Sure there was the odd difficulty getting the overweight lump of plastic in and out of the attic. And there was that time when the stairway carpet received a slight incision as I tried to slide the thing downwards without fully assessing the consequences. Boy do I never get to live that one down!

But over the last few years Niki has mounted a very successful political campaign to get the children on board (bloody snowflakes) with her idea that natural trees capture the true essence of Christmas, i.e. celebrating the birth of a baby in a stable in the middle east with a gaudy evergreen bush! So slowly but surely the natural tree (and the associated pine needles) has made a return to our household. Well at least I thought that would spare us the ordeal of getting the fake one (I swear it gets heavier every year) in and out of that attic hatch (I swear it gets smaller every year). But oh no, now we have a situation where we are doubling up on trees, twice the fun for all!!

This year, not happy with rubbing my nose in it about our double Christmas tree situation, Niki decided to raise the stakes even further. This year we were going to chop down our own Christmas tree, when I say chop down I mean watch a man chainsaw it in front of us. So last weekend we headed north to somewhere between Swords and Ashbourne to track through a muddy field and choose our own tree (Niki and the kids chose the one the farthest distance possible from our car) to be slaughtered in front of us. It felt a bit like choosing a lobster from a tank before eating it. I think Niki was trying to make an argument that this was more environmentally friendly, a bit like a hunter eating his own prey but I was too busy listening to the tree screaming as it was ripped from its roots. The kids seemed to enjoy it though!

Previous trips home with a Christmas tree had been of the very short variety so there was a quite a bit of hand-wringing as we strapped the tree to the roof of our car and headed back home. I say “we” but really Niki strapped it while I just stood there going “I’m not sure we’re going to make it on those bumpy and winding roads of north county Dublin, we might as well just donate the tree to the people of St Margaret’s!” This improved Niki’s mood enormously, not! Thankfully after only a slightly stressful journey we made it intact back to Glasnevin.

It was at this point that I took control, ferociously wrestling the tree off the roof-rack and carrying it slung over my shoulder into the house like a mountain buck! It was then that we discovered it wouldn’t fit into our Christmas tree stand, damn those wide trunked north Dublin trees! Out came the saw (probably for the first time in a decade) and we took turns to hack away at the very sap heavy bark. A good half an hour later we managed to just about wedge the tree into the base (although probably not far enough in to reach the water reservoir Niki had prepared for it, this remains a bone of contention). At this point we decided to take a break for lunch.

After we had our fill of luncheon meats and cheeses we returned to the fun part of the day, decorating the tree. As Niki was cutting through the netting to allow our tree to emerge from its man made chrysalis, Oscar (age 7) noticed that the inhabitants of the tree, mainly small flies but also a beetle and a ladybird or two, were now happily settling in to our living room, well mainly the ceiling. Our kids, being very definite city-types and not likely to be in a field unless it has goalposts at each end, are not big fans of creepy crawlies so this immediately sent them into fits of wailing and hair pulling (themselves and each other). It was then that Niki issued the immortal and highly exasperated line “I don’t care about the bugs on the ceiling!” She may have followed up with something along the lines of we are going to enjoy decorating this tree if it’s the last thing I ever do but I was too busy sitting and singing sweet melodies under my fake plastic Christmas tree to care!

Editor’s (Niki’s) note: we are very happy with our Christmas Tree and would recommend Wade’s Christmas Tree Farm!

Is this the real life or is this just fantasy?

I have been drawn back to the world of fantasy football and this time the stakes are way bigger than ever before, for this time I am playing against my sons!

I suppose in these strange times we are all looking for distractions from the daily update of covid cases and fantasy sport has provided one such outlet. For those of you unaware of the concept, it generally follows the same format whether it be football, golf, american football or whatever is your sport / poison of choice. You are granted an initial budget with which to buy players, the better the player the more expensive he is. Often the key is to unearth the jewel in the rough, that player who is about to outperform all expectations. Each week your players will earn points based on their performances which gives you a team total. Your team can compete in public leagues where prizes can be quite substantial (the winner of the official premier league fantasy football with over 7 million teams gets a 7 day break in the UK including tickets to two matches, assuming that is possible, amongst other things) or simply just the pride of beating your friends and / or relatives in a private league.

Now my initial dalliance with fantasy football harks back over a decade ago to simpler times when I was a young, single man with plenty of time on his hands. A man who thought nothing of switching on his TV and lap-top simultaneously on a Saturday afternoon and waiting to hear who had scored the goals and provided those all important goal assists. Then I became embroiled in romance and property, and children followed. Suddenly spending all of Saturday afternoon glued to multiple screens became frowned upon! But then last year I realised something very interesting. My two eldest boys were listening out for the football scores the way I used to when it was Des Lynam on Grandstand, I had a lightbulb moment and casually mentioned to them the concept of fantasy football weaving in tales of the delights of the triple captain and the clean sheet bonus.

Let’s say it didn’t take much persuading to get them on board and I quickly got them set up in a private league with their aunt and cousin as rivals. Initially I didn’t enter a team as I knew that I would be too busy to spend all the required hours doing the necessary and extensive research! I limited my role to that of advisor / troubleshooter for when things got tricky. It’s safe to say that the boys took to it like ducks to water, there were a few anomalies when in particular Lochlan (9) would go with some daring transfer strategies or choose his goalkeeper as captain, but in general they kept within the top 10% of players which was quite an achievement for rookies.

Then back in March lockdown happened, causing a general hiatus and a fixture pile-up. When football finally returned, everything seemed a bit disjointed and that included fantasy football where things (results, player form, goal scorers) got a bit more unpredictable. Aaron (11) made the wise choice to bring Danny Ings (his jewel in the rough) into his team and he promptly scored a bundle of goals allowing Aaron to ride that particular wave to private league glory. Then the bragging started about the depth of his football knowledge and his Mourinho-like understanding of tactics and formations! Of course this was like a red rag to a bull so that when Fantasy Football 2020-21 rolled around there was a new player on the field, Eoghan Doyle (or Daddy Doyle as he is known in Fantasy Football circles) made his long awaited return to reclaim the crown.

I rubbed my hands with relish as I surveyed the options before me using my c. 40 years of footballing knowledge to assemble a crack team of elite players at reasonable prices. No Manchester teams playing for the first week made player choices that bit easier and I promptly rushed into an early lead. Move the clock forward 6 weeks and I am a broken man, continuously banging his fist at Aubameyang’s complete lack of form and cursing my lack of faith in everything Everton. Worst of all is my dismissal of Kane and Son (the two highest scoring players so far) as nothing but makeweights in Mourinho’s defensive system. Needless to say I am now fourth in a league of four, with my sons and sister-in-law all peering down on me from above.

Everyday I scour the football press for tidbits that might improve my chances, I listen to podcasts endlessly trying to ascertain the best strategy not just for the coming gameweek but also for the next month and even beyond. Every week I am closer to playing my wildcard (the ability to swap your entire team for a new one of equal value) but so far I keep on holding off for another week. In fairness I did come out on top in the latest gameweek but only by a small margin and definitely not enough to get me out of my rut!

I like to imagine that my subconscious has deliberately sabotaged my initial selection (who knew that 3 of my original 15 players would have yet to play a single minute) to pile pressure on myself and in this heightened environment I will thrive. But in fact I’d much rather have the league wrapped up already and be able to coast towards the title in a Liverpool-esque fashion. Unfortunately it looks likely that I will be more like Burnley scraping for points than anything else but at least it takes my mind off other things! Not quite the fantasy I had hoped for but beggars can’t be choosers!

Time time time, see what’s become of me!

Time is a funny old thing and I say that as someone who has placed great store in the concept of time, I still remember my first watch with great fondness, a navy digital thing with a spaceman on it. Indeed I am always at a bit of a loss if I don’t have a watch on me, even in these days where the mobile phone is a constant reminder of time, I like to be grounded by a watch on my left wrist. Although I must say that in the past couple of years this faith in time has been shaken first of all by my change in working circumstances, do weekends still hold the same magnificence when you don’t work Monday to Friday? Secondly this unease has been exacerbated by the emergence of Covid 19 with everybody including my wife, working from home, summer holidays being cancelled or foreshortened and of course lockdowns that are forever extended with restrictions heightened. What use is time when it can’t even tell me if the football season will start or end anymore?

I used to like the whole package around Time and I mean not just Time defined as the indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole, although I am big believer in that also. But Time as the measure of when and indeed where we are at any point in the day, month or year. I like the way Time grounds us within our universe, how a birthday represents another trip around the sun.

Needless to say, this reverence for Time means that I am generally regarded as a prompt person. I can definitely say that I inherited this characteristic from my father and not my mother. I know this because my childhood is littered with occasions of waiting with my dad! Normally this waiting would occur at a shopping centre. The Ilac centre springs to mind, endlessly waiting by the indoor pond with the fountains that sprayed water like see-through toadstools. Staring at the nearby ice-cream counter with all those exotics flavours while the scent of cheap donuts filled the air. Watching the world go by and waiting for my sister and mother to return from Arnotts, Roches Stores, M&S or some other equally diabolical place.

This desire for promptness has caused some friction in my relationships over the years but has also given me plenty of scope for what the modern wellness gurus would call self-analysis, in other words wishing I hadn’t forgotten my walkman / discman / ipod / mobile phone so now I have to think about the state of my life while waiting for my girlfriend / friend(s) / wife to arrive! Obviously I try to not to meet my girlfriend and wife at the same place!!

So back to the current situation and 6 weeks of Level 5 lockdown which coincidentally has aligned itself with the moment when we put our clocks back by an hour. Usually I would be delighted for the extra hour sleep but not this year. Yay, even darker evenings when our kids can’t go outside and play with their friends. Days merge into days and the only way of telling where we are in the week is from the memes on the internet, you know the ones where Tina Fey goes “what a week, huh?” and Alec Baldwin replies “it’s Tuesday”, this informs me that it is Tuesday!

The kids seem remarkably resilient around this discombobulation. I mean Oscar (7) never seemed to know what day of the week it was anyway. Five out of seven days he’d be disappointed to find out it wasn’t the weekend, tough odds! But this week they took to writing Santa letters in October without a complaint. In fact they seemed to attack it with relish, perhaps this is because Oscar now believes that Christmas has been brought forward this year! There was a further element of confusion in that the boys managed to unearth last years Smyths’ catalogue and had already prepared a draft of their letters before I spotted this year’s version lying at the bottom of a shelf in their bedroom. This was followed by an in-depth discussion around why Santa would require us to use this year’s catalogue, but I think we got away with it on the grounds that Santa is insistent that he only produces the latest models otherwise the elves might get confused around specifications!

So now we head into the mid-term break and I can’t believe that we’re already halfway between the start of the school year and Christmas. I also struggle to believe that this will be the only break we’ll have before the end of December. In my gut I felt that we should have kept going with school as now we are out we may never get them back in but maybe I am being too pessimistic. Only Time will tell!

No one told us life was gonna be this way!

I miss my friends. The passing of time may have scattered my core group of childhood / young adulthood friends to the four corners of the planet (due to jobs and relationships), but over the past 25 or so years we always made time to meet up whenever possible and had more recently gotten into the habit of planning one annual trip away together. But COVID 19 and its related lockdowns has taken that away from us and now we are left with the occasional Zoom calls and our WhatsApp group.

As WhatsApp groups go, it is definitely one of the better ones (currently competing with my “dad, aunts and uncles” WhatsApp group for top content). First of all we have a broad geographic spread with residents in the US and Belgium and a bonus Asian living in Ireland to give us a global perspective on any hot topic. Although we probably could do with someone from the UK for full coverage given Brexit and all that. A full screening process will be required for new entrants, please see Ewan McGregor interviewing potential housemates in Shallow Grave “what on earth could make you think that we would want to share a WhatsApp group like this with someone like you?” I jest of course, we’re not interviewing at present!

We also have a broad range of professional backgrounds from law-talking guys, to pharmaceuticalists (I know this isn’t a word but feels most appropriate for people who know about pharmaceuticals but don’t work in a pharmacy), to civil servants, to law enforcement officers, to doctors and yours truly as financial services person and wild card! In truth everyone on the group thinks of him or herself as the the wild card. We have a female within the group which I find keeps things on the straight and narrow when they are threatening to get out of control, actually scrap that she is likely to be the one sharing the less than PC stuff. There is pretty much an interesting take on every subject from amorous snails to the best movies of Jack Black (High Fidelity for me). There are a few recurring themes, the top seven of which would probably be (i) bad jokes, you wouldn’t believe the amount of times I’ve checked my phone for something urgent to find a pun about Fergal Sharkey in a fireplace store looking for a good hearth or something similar, (ii) reciting our favourite lines from Modern Family, needs no explanation it’s just so goddam funny, (iii) decrying the high humidity levels which have made our alcohol disappear, seems to be especially a factor in Belgium and the US, (iv) nostalgia for TV programmes of our childhood, did you know Floella Benjamin was on Desert Island Discs last week? (v) anything which involves a poll particularly if it’s on the Guardian web-site, please see the greatest UK no.1s of all time which nearly tore the group apart! https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/apr/27/the-100-greatest-uk-no-1s (vi) Trump and anything Trump related, actually our US member tends to steer clear of this one probably because it’s too close to home but safe to say we normally have a good chuckle and eye-roll at his latest outburst (I have personally championed Sarah Cooper’s approach on a number of occasions) and last but not least (vii) COVID 19, enough said really, we used to talk about it a lot, particularly on our zoom calls, but now like everyone we try to avoid it because it’s just so damn depressing.

Then just when we think we have exhausted our stock of witty banter and repartee one member of the group will butt-dial us all for a group call (actually he clearly is the wild card) and then blame his young daughter. It’s like the moment when the bar staff would drop and smash a pint glass and everybody in the pub gives a cheer. We all smile and shake our heads and go back to our daily life.

Still much as the WhatsApp group provides a great source of amusement and I actually know far more about my friends’ daily lives than I ever did before (like they don’t spend as much time working as they should), it still doesn’t match the enjoyment of meeting face to face. In fact the last time a few of us got together was back in late January / early February in the excellent Boco pizzeria on Bolton Street and I can remember asking our resident doctor what he thought about this coronavirus emerging in China? He shrugged and said nobody knows but it doesn’t look good! Of course we did have an ad hoc Irish meet-up during the summer lull in COVID 19 cases but I chose not to go as cases had just spiked to 200 that day. The increases since then and subsequent lockdowns have shown that perhaps that was a bad call on my part!

Anyway we shall keep going on our WhatsApp group, who knows maybe this blog will generate some discussion. And perhaps next year we will meet up again to sing some songs, drink some beer and play Belgian charades!

Books To Pass The Time By

As the options for leisure have been extremely reduced since Dublin and then the country went into Level 3 covid restrictions, I thought it might be useful to share some of my book recommendations from the past 8 months.

Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell – First up is this tale of fictional band Utopia Avenue as they make their way through the swinging sixties. The book is structured so that each chapter is named after one of the group’s songs from their two albums. In fact the albums are both split into “side 1” and “side 2” in a manner which provides comfort to those of us who can remember such things! So we learn about lead singer Dean Moss’s humble origins and troubled upbringing which he uses as inspirations for his lyric-writing. Dean and Elf Holloway, the folk vocalist with a weakness for toxic males provide the heart of the band with the enigmatic lead guitarist Jasper de Zout providing the soul while battling his own inner-demons (sometimes quite literally). Griff is the drummer from Yorkshire and let’s leave that at that. The rise and fall of the band is told with refreshing zeal including chance encounters with Bowie, Lennon, Joplin and Jerry Garcia along the way. When I first came across David Mitchell I assumed it was the same David Mitchell from one of my favourite off-beat TV programmes Peep Show but no, this David Mitchell is a totally different chap who many will know from his most famous novel and subsequent film adaptation Cloud Atlas. In Utopia Avenue he successfully brings us through high and lows, love and loss, recriminations and forgiveness while keeping the music at the core.

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (John Banville) – Now I’m not sure why John Banville decided to start writing crime fiction or why he felt the need to choose a nom de plume (probably something to do with damaging the very earnest Banville brand) but I am very glad he did. Christine Falls is the first in the Quirke series of crime novels. I was about to write detective novels but then Quirke isn’t a detective but a pathologist with a curiousity and nose for the truth. A widower with a harrowing childhood and a propensity to drink heavily, Quirke inhabits the dour Dublin of the 1950s, filled with rain and the oppressive power of the church. Indeed it is the descriptions of my hometown Dublin, particularly the areas around the Grand Canal near Baggot Street and Mount Street that drew me into this book. There are sinister undertones everywhere, particularly in the characters who cross Quirke’s lumbering path. Even helpful Inspector Hackett is overshadowed by the powers above who hinder his search for the real truth. Christine Falls is not for the faint hearted as it deals with the death in childbirth of the title character and follows the worrying path of her motherless child. Not usually a fan of crime novels, I would heartily recommend this novel although do not make the mistake that I made of reading the fifth in the series first as it will give away a major plot twist (damn you Eason’s bargain basket). PS no I haven’t seen the tv series with Gabriel Byrne.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens – I read this one back-to-back with another huge international bestseller, American Dirt and my emotions towards each of them couldn’t be more different. I loved the detailed and almost hypnotic descriptions of the natural world in Crawdad’s coming of age tale set in the North Carolina marshlands during the 50s and 60s (American Dirt, not so much). The author seamlessly interweaves two timelines detailing the difficult and often fraught upbringing of the heroine (Kya) and then her subsequent trial for murder. Racial and social tensions are present throughout the story with the one constant source of comfort in Kya’s difficult life being Jumpin’, a put-upon black man who sells gasoline for boats. Together they battle the prejudices and whims of the local white townspeople. The pacing is excellent and you are constantly kept on edge as to how Kya’s story will end.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel – Last but definitely not least is the finale of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy about the life and times of Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son who became the key advisor to Henry VIII during the reformation (and associated beheadings). By the time this book starts we have already said goodbye to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn with Jane Seymour about to become queen. Now we see Thomas at the peak of his powers with a seemingly endless stream of titles and properties. Mantel’s detailed and intricate writing makes it feel like we are almost under the skin of the main character while he schemes and plots to keep the favour of Henry while his enemies become more numerous and vindictive. It is said that Mantel spent an extra two years writing this significant work because she couldn’t bring herself to end Thomas Cromwell (spoiler alert – Cromwell was himself beheaded in 1540) and as an avid reader of the trilogy I almost wished there was more to come. Although at over 800 pages there was plenty in this one to keep me going!

I hope you find my book recommendations useful and any feedback is much appreciated. As an aside I’d like to thank the staff at Drumcondra library for keeping a steady flow of books coming my way even in these difficult times.

The trials and tribulations of a part-time blogger!

Well it has been over 20 months now since I started my own site and went down the route of blogging. My stats tell me that I have published 49 posts (this one being the landmark 50th) and achieved almost 6,000 views (including nearly 100 from China, hey if I can make it there I can make it anywhere). My blog is viewed most frequently on Mondays and the most common time of day for catching up on my words of wisdom is 10pm, so straight after Monday night football then! I now have a merry band of 53 followers (thanks guys and gals) who occasionally cause my phone to beep with a much appreciated “like”. My most popular post was a tribute to Drumcondra library which at one point looked like it was going viral but then lost momentum when it became apparent that it was only of real interest to the library-goers of Drumcondra! So I must admit that I’m far from the Kardashian levels of followership that I aspire to and even my brief dalliance with tik-tok dance routines hasn’t elevated me to influencer status yet! Given my lack of appearances on The Late Late Show to date, I do sometimes ask myself the question why am I putting all this out there into the online universe? Occasionally there is a little nagging voice on my shoulder (or as I like to call her, Niki) saying why are you doing this for no financial gain (or when you could be doing housework)?

In response, first and foremost I find the whole thing kind of therapeutic, something which has become particularly relevant in the era of wellness, especially during the last six months when social interactions have been reduced to a minimum. Just arranging my thoughts in a matter fit for general consumption has allowed me to put things in perspective and hopefully put a humourous slant on otherwise humdrum or potentially worrisome matters. Sure, occasionally I do get the odd tinge of doubt about whether putting my family’s lives out there for everyone to see is a good way to go. I do have strange visions of my daughter Ella approaching me in 20 years time sitting me down gently and then giving me a good slapping while demanding I delete my life’s work for GDPR reasons! This is indeed a very concerning prospect for me given that she doubles up as my youngest child and my only daughter and is therefore most likely to be the one caring for me in my old age. I only write the good stuff about you honey!

Asides from my family, there is also the understandable worry about who and what topics I can write about, furthermore recently I have received a complaint from a group of friends (who shall remain nameless) as to why I never write about them “I mean you find time to write about storage space and overfull weekly schedules but not one mention of your friends of 40 odd years!”. Don’t worry, a blog about pals who I only interact with via WhatsApp is coming soon.

Of course there are upsides to blogging – myself and Niki no longer need to provide an introduction as to what is going on in our lives when we meet friends on the street as they are already up to speed via my blog. Although I’m not sure that Niki appreciates being blind-sided on work zoom calls where participants seem to know just as much about her children’s daily lives as she does! On a more serious note, I’m very glad that these blogs will provide a record of this period of my life, particularly the interactions with the kids. I know how the wheel turns and how a manic household can turn into a quiet household and having these blogs as a journal will be something to cherish (assuming Ella hasn’t made me delete them all first). On a slight tangent, I used to send weekly group emails when I spent a year in Australia and New Zealand during my twenties and made the far-sighted decision to save all these emails for posterity. So every now and then when I need a bit of nostalgia I dip into those emails and am transported back to sunnier, more carefree and more adventurous times, in fact I’m just reading one now, what, I actually jumped out of a plane! Hope Lochlan doesn’t get his hands on these!

So what do the next 50 blog post have in store. Well hopefully I’ll have the time to write a few short stories, I have one nearly finished and boy is it much harder to write than a blog, it actually needs a structure, not my strong point! Maybe I’ll reach 100 followers and get a few more “likes” from China. Or maybe she who pays the bills will call time on dublindad.com and send me back to earn a few shekels. Only time will tell.

A special thanks to my editor-in-chief Niki who keeps these posts on the straight and narrow, and spots the odd typo along the way. She also has the odd grumble about the 100% veracity of some of my tales but as a wise man once said “never let the truth get in the way of a good story!”

Space The Final Frontier

One of the major issues in a household with four kids is the lack of space and the issue has only gotten worse as they have gotten bigger and they need more, for want of a better word, “stuff”. Sure, we have gotten rid of changing tables and cots but now we have bicycles and scooters to worry about. Up until last weekend the bikes in particular were a source of concern. We don’t have a garage so the typical place for bike storage isn’t available to us. I had tried to convert our spare room into a bicycle bunker but Niki (my wife) was having none of that, something about wanting to have guests sleep without bicycle spokes near their face, pssh. So we had settled on the far from ideal solution of keeping the bikes in the shed out the back. What made this arrangement particularly unappealing was that there is no way around the side of our house, so all bikes needed to be wheeled or carried through the house to get them out onto the road and the same again on the return journey. Now when you consider what young, carefree boys can cycle through, this was a situation we couldn’t allow to continue.

Following a significant amount of internet searching and a lot of measuring of the available space in front of our house, we decided upon a metal bicycle storage unit (see photo above) as the way forward. Problem solved you might think, but then our solution arrived one sunny afternoon in three very large, very heavy, flat-pack containers! Myself and Niki were so overcome by the size of the task ahead of us that the flat-packs were allowed to stay in our hall for two full weeks (further cluttering up the place). Eventually last Saturday afternoon we got up the courage to attempt to put it together. The instructions said that it should take two people three hours to assemble, we budgeted for four and crossed our fingers. We both knew that once we had taken the materials out of the packaging we were “locked in” and would have to see it through until the bitter end, like an astronaut heading to the moon or a contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire!

Things did not start off promisingly. There are two types of people in the world (i) those who follow instructions slavishly and become very perturbed with any deviation from the prescribed method and (ii) those who see instructions as a guideline to be used as a reference when things don’t appear to be going correctly. My wife is very much in the former category, whereas yours truly subscribes to the latter approach, a mix of both is a true recipe for disaster. To make things worse, Niki will freely admit she gets confused by assembly instructions, straight away we were behind the 8-ball. To make matters worse, after we had spread all the parts on the ground Niki asked where the screws were, I looked around and pointed out that there were no screws, only nuts and bolts. Then she asked for a nut while clearly pointing at a bolt! There followed a five minute discussion while I advised that as an easy memory aid “bolt has four letters and is therefore bigger than nut which has three!” Niki accused me of being condescending and started to look menacing with an electric screwdriver in her hand. We had just about completed step 1 out of 10 when father-in-law Mick (an engineer by trade) was called on Facetime to give much needed technical advice and relationship counselling.

Mick gave us some helpful pointers on the vital importance of the correct use of spanners only for us to discover we didn’t have the correct size of spanner. 45 minutes later, Mick was at our door (having travelled from Shankill so within the county boundary!) with the biggest bag of spanners I had ever seen. Unbelievably, he didn’t have the correct sized spanner either. Drastic times called for drastic measures so I managed to locate our toolbox (which I think has lain unused for the past 12 years) at the bottom of the cupboard with the wedding china, of course that’s where it was! While I didn’t find a spanner, I did find an attachment to a screwdriver that seemed to do the trick, with that one piece of genius, I felt that my work here was done, but alas no. Three hours later with the aid of Mick we finally managed to put the bloody thing together. I am quite confident that without Mick’s arrival, this week’s blog would have been about the end of my marriage and how building something with your wife / ex-wife does not necessarily bring you closer together! Mick had a similar disregard for instructions as I did but with the added bonus that he actually knew what he was doing! We may have had to re-do a few nuts and bolts along the way and things did get bent quite out of shape at one point but the end result was very pleasing. Although Niki is still having nightmares about the bolt (or was it a nut) that went missing down our neighbours’ drain and the fact that we had three parts leftover at the end is a cause of concern (for her, not for me, I think they just gave us some spares).

For now we have solved our bike issues, well at least until Ella (3) starts to cycle and we probably have to buy another one of these yokes. Maybe Ella will just stay petite and perfect forever or maybe we can pay the delivery guy to assemble it for us next time, no price is too much!

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Running to Stand Still

So after four or five months where we were struggling to fill the days for the kids, we have rapidly hit a situation where we need our own personal family organiser to manage our schedules (although maybe not for much longer given how things have gone recently in Dublin). Niki (my wife) has had to point out a few times that the role of family organiser clearly falls under my remit and to be honest it’s hard to argue with her (in general as well as relating to this particular point) so I have been plunged in at the deep end. You see in addition to the GAA training (which in fairness had continued for the bulk of the summer), we now have GAA matches at the weekend and more importantly, swimming lessons have returned with a vengeance. Well I say swimming lessons but that is only true for two of our three boys as Aaron (the eldest) is already a better swimmer than I ever was or will be, the term coaching is more apt in his case but technicalities aside, whether he is doggy-paddling or butterflying he still needs somebody to bring him there!

Now we have five trips to the swimming pool to manage each week in addition to the seven GAA matches / training sessions. As the cherry on this particularly appetising piece of cake, the Saturday swimming sessions are at 7am in the morning. That’s right, weekdays are actually the ones where we get to “lie-in”! I can remember one of my first appearances on the red-eye shift when one of the other parents greeted me with a knowing smile and the comment “the road to glory begins here!”. Did we think that we were doing this for our children’s health and well-being, or did we all secretly believe that an Olympic swimming pool lay at the end of this particularly watery rainbow?!

As the piece de resistance for 2020, Lochlan (my second boy) has decided that he wants to give football (soccer in addition to gaelic) a shot this year. He had been making overtures about doubling up between Na Fianna and local club Glasnevin FC for some time but the pressure was seriously ramped-up in late August early September, dates and times of training sessions were provided and lists of names of friends who were already on the team. Hey presto we have another three matches / training sessions to add to the mix (although this has mercifully dropped to two this week as the evenings start getting shorter). That’s 15 different events that we have to make sure our kids attend each week. Suddenly the weekly planner which Niki bought in Flying Tiger at the start of the year has become my best friend. Without it I wouldn’t know where I was supposed to be from one day to the next. There are no free days and Saturday usually involves five different excursions. Now sometimes you can be lucky and get a string of home matches at the weekend, on others you may not be so lucky and you can end up rushing from a windswept field in Balbriggan to a soccer pitch in Newcastle (south Dublin). Where’s my petrol allowance when I need one?

Of course back in my day, my parents would never take me to away matches (cue violins), you’d be dropped at the home pitch in Clontarf and get bundled into some mentor or parent’s car along with 4 or 5 team-mates for an exotic 20 minute trip to Donaghmede or Edenmore or somewhere similar! Nowadays with health and safety guidelines exacerbated by Covid restrictions it’s every man / child for themselves. Consequently Saturdays need to be planned out with a map and compass (in reality google maps). Who needs orienteering when I have my Friday night logistics sessions followed by a jog on Saturday to find where the correct pitch is. Who knew there were so many pitches in Dublin, one particular sprint (while suffering with tendinitis) to a match in Naomh Maurs following an errant trip to St Maurs Park (not an actual park) in one of the many identical housing estates in Rush was a particular low point! It is during these logistics sessions that Niki will usually throw something into the mix about having to buy food or clothes for the kids which will pile an extra layer of intrigue to the whole experience.

Of course despite my grumblings I’d like to point out that I’m actually delighted that my progeny are as excited about playing sport as I am (or at least was in my youth). I still find that I have to keep my emotions in check as I prowl the sidelines but definitely cannot contain my joy if Aaron scores 3-1 while putting my old club Clontarf to the sword or if Lochlan notches two goals on his debut for the aforementioned Glasnevin FC. Now all I have to do is wait for Ella (age 3) to make her appearance on the sporting pitches of the capital, what’s another few training sessions to add into the overcrowded mix. Who needs your own social life anyway?!

Losing Our Religion

It had all been going so well. The boys had slotted back into their school routines despite the odd quibble about early rising times and the quality of Daddy’s packed lunches! Even Ella was beginning to get used to life in Montessori and her initial vehemence that pre-school was not the life choice for her had subsided. Then at 7.48pm on Wednesday as I sat listening to the Guardian football podcast in the car park of the Santry SportsLink swimming pool (for context, my eldest son swims three times a week so I know this car park very well), I got a text from my wife that would change my mood and the course of the week. Oscar had a temperature!

Now Oscar had been behaving a bit on the “contrary” side earlier that day but with the return to school and the extra associated physical exertions we put it down to tiredness and over-excitement (also, I love him but he does have a “contrary” element to has character at the best of times). But on Wednesday evening Niki thought he felt that extra bit overheated and so took his temperature which showed a reading of 38.8 degrees. Nothing that unusual there you would think, after all he has just been re-introduced to all his school buddies, whether it be in bubbles, or pods, or whatever and there are likely to be a few germs flying around which he had not been introduced to while locked down at home. But this is H2 2020 and instead of just keeping your kid at home for 24-48 hours while the virus works its way through his system, you now have to ring your GP and arrange for a Covid 19 test. Meanwhile all the rest of your family have to self isolate until a result is received. Now what’s the big deal with that you might think? The big deal was that Oscar’s older brother (and tormentor in chief) Lochlan was due to have his first communion yesterday (Saturday 5th), this was the communion that had already been re-arranged from last May. So I did a quick calculation in my head, earliest time to ring the GP would be Thursday morning, then 24 hours to get a test time and another 24-48 hours to get the results back and realistically communion at high noon on Saturday was not going to happen. Noooooooo!

When we broke the news to Lochlan he seemed less concerned about the fact that he was missing out on one of the holy sacraments (again) and more troubled that he would have to postpone his debut for the local football team!

Thursday and Friday felt like we had been transported back to late March, nobody was allowed to leave the house and Oscar was confined to his bedroom (with a tray service being provided by yours truly). Needless to say that by mid-Thursday morning his high temperature had disappeared but we had already informed a slew of people of his potential infectiousness; school, montessori, GAA club, swim club, football club, multiple relations and multiple neighbours and most importantly our GP. Oscar’s test was set for 4pm on Friday but by Friday morning he was getting very restless so we allowed him to come downstairs but only if he wore his face-mask, I think if Lochlan had his way he would have made Oscar ring a bell also but myself and Niki agreed that this went a bit too far.

Those long two days were definitely a bit of a drag although we did have the online battle royal game Fall Guys to keep our spirits up, thankfully PlayStation’s launch of the game for free coincided with our return to private lockdown, still waiting for our first victory!

I didn’t get to visit the testing centre in Cloghran but Niki says that it was pretty packed and full of kids who didn’t seem too happy about having a giant cotton-bud stuck up their nose and throat! Oscar displaying an unusual amount of stoicism (and with the aid of a lovely nurse) endured the discomfort without any screams or even a tear. After that it was just a matter of waiting.

So on Saturday we all got dressed up but instead of heading into St Patrick’s chapel in Drumcondra, we sat down in front of the television and watched a livestream of the service. Lochlan was able to point out where we would have been sitting and Niki was able to note who wasn’t wearing their face masks correctly! I tell you, when the purge comes I hope to be on her side! The service itself was lovely even if Lochlan didn’t seem overly impressed that he wasn’t in a jersey and shorts on Saturday afternoon. He wasn’t very keen to show us the actions he was supposed to have learnt off by heart either. Apparently missing Thursday and Friday had erased his memory banks, at least where spiritual miming is concerned. Once the service was over we still had pizza and cake but couldn’t be joined by grandparents as had originally been the plan which was a real shame.

Then just before 4pm (less than 24 hours after the test), we got a text message to say Oscar’s test had come back negative. Sighs of relief all round mixed with the slightest twinge of regret that it hadn’t all happened 4 hours earlier! So now we are faced with the prospect of searching for another communion date whether it be with another local school or with this year’s 2nd class in May 2021. Personally I’m hoping that the church is not operating a 3 strikes and you’re out policy because knowing our luck we’ll need another couple of attempts to finally get this over the line! On a brighter note, Lochlan did manage to make his football debut on Sunday and he scored, so the weekend gets marked down as a success in his books!