KITCHEN SINK DRAMA
We are in the car park at Liffey Valley Shopping Centre in Dublin, a whole big bunch of us, cheerfully waving goodbye to our children, with whom we will now not have any contact whatsoever for 10 whole days. This is A Very Big Deal.
The Teenager has wanted to go to the Gaeltacht for years, but could never seem to find the right combination of dates and friends to facilitate her passage. But this year, at the grand old age of 15, several of her planets have finally aligned and she is Connemara-bound.
I was on this bus myself, once, donkey’s years ago. Well, not this actual bus, but a humming number from the end of the 1970s that took us from Dame Street all the way to Donegal for three weeks of ceol, craic, and, as I recall, rain. I wasn’t even 13 then — which, let the record show, was a little too young for the Gaeltacht, even at that time when children as young as 10 were regularly sent.
For all that I enjoyed it, I do remember having a vague sense that all the serious fun — in other words, the lovebites and the smoking — were being had by the slightly older students. But we made our own entertainment nonetheless, whispering as Béarla after lights out, repeating jokes we didn’t understand, horsing around the dance floor at the céilís and lusting after boys who were only interested in taking lumps from the necks of the older girls.
I can’t imagine any of these fresh-faced boys, clustered in groups in the car park and almost all wielding hurleys, taking lumps out of anything except God’s earth, but because I can still remember the wonderful liberation that the combination of the Gaeltacht and long summer evenings offers, I’ve already warned The Teenager about frisky boys. I’ve also reminded her that she can wash her clothes — something we seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time doing, back in our day — and she reminds me that she’s never washed anything in her life and wouldn’t know where to start.
And it’s then I realise that for all that the Gaeltacht might seem to have been preserved in aspic, its clientele really do come from another time. We had one hairdryer between 13 of us; they seem to have each packed a hairdryer, a straighteners and a curling tongs. Watching
‘The Gaeltacht-bound girls look like they’re headed to a disco, where some will quite possibly be dancing on poles’
them snake into the buses at Liffey Valley, I suspect most of the girls have already pressed their styling devices into use this very morning: while the tracksuited boys look like they’re set for a giant, three-week game of hurling, the girls look as though they’re heading straight for the local disco, where some of them will quite possibly be dancing on poles.
But they have no phones — these are strictly prohibited by the authorities, and handed over with enormous reluctance by the students. And that, it turns out, is the biggest shock of all. Obviously, we didn’t have phones either, but our parents had not become used to endless and occasionally hourly updates from our lives. As the buses drive off, I realise that I have only ever spent a couple of nights at a time away from this child and, when I have, I have always had easy contact with her, even if it was only through maddeningly misspelt texts (hers, not mine).
And now she is gone, to this strange timeless place of no mobile phones, and I have no idea how she’s getting on. I miss her so much that I tidy her room and instead of being infuriated by her impressive collection of empty perfume and nail varnish bottles, I suddenly find her slovenliness endearing.
I wonder if she has washed her knickers and I worry that, like I did, she’ll wear them wet and develop a kidney infection. I miss her so much that I honestly think there is literally nothing she could do, right now, that I wouldn’t reward her with a benign smile and a rub of her beautiful hair.
I don’t say that lightly. And I only say it at all because I know she’s somewhere where she won’t be able to read it (and if you all agree to destroy your copy of this magazine before she comes back, we will never speak of it again).
We will visit her this weekend, for one day only (collect at 11, drop back at five) and I am literally counting the hours. Even if I suspect — and I honestly hope — that somewhere out West, in the wonderful teenage playground that is the Gaeltacht, she is doing no such thing.