ROSS O’CARROLL- KELLY
‘ I’m sorry for crying. It’s just my brain feels like it’s turning into paté’
It’s hord to pinpoint the exact moment when I storted to feel like I was losing my mind. But it might have been on Thursday afternoon when I was sitting in The Goat with an hour to kill before collecting Honor from school. It was 48 hours before Sincerity Matthews’ 13th birthday porty and the excitement among the Mount Anville mothers on WhatsApp was reaching what could only be described as fever pitch. I was sitting with a cappuccino and my famous Rugby Tactics Book, playing a game I like to call “Being Joe Schmidt”. It’s where you imagine that you’re the Ireland coach and it’s September 2019 and you have to name the XV who are going to stort the first match for you.
I literally couldn’t concentrate, though. Because my phone was going bananas.
Mallorie Kennedy wanted to know if anyone could give Courage a lift to the porty because she had to bring Valour to Ranelagh for a tuba lesson. Rebecca Leahy said, “No, sorry.” Breena Marron said, “No, sorry.” Grainne Lessing said, “I didn’t know Valour played the tuba!” and Mallorie said, “Yes, he’s ACTUALLY self- taught!” Caroline Landers said, “Go, Valour!” and Lucy Anders said, “Talented family!” but then, on the Mount Anville Wheelers WhatsApp group, Lucy Anders said, “Mallorie Kennedy is at it again!” and Caroline Landers said, “I KNOW! PAINFUL!”
And suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt a tear slip from my eye and roll down my cheek.
“Excuse me,” I heard a voice say, “you’re Ross O’Carroll- Kelly, aren’t you?”
I looked up. Standing over me was a woman in her – I want to say – mid- 40s, who was actually quite attractive even though she was wearing glasses.
“That’s right,” I went. “The one, the only – blah, blah, blah.”
She was like, “My daughter, Eyre, is in Honor’s class. Eyre Byrne?”
“Look,” I went, “whatever you’re accusing my daughter of, it wasn’t her. And if you want to make an issue out of it, I’m going to have to refer you to Hennessy Coghlan- O’Hara.”
She laughed. “No, it’s nothing like that,” she went. “It’s just I noticed you’ve spent the last 25 minutes constantly picking up and putting down your phone. And I thought, there’s a man who’s clearly got sucked into the world of the Mount Anville WhatsApp mothers.”
I was like, “Yeah, no, it’s Sincerity Matthews’ birthday on Saturday.”
“And let me guess: they’ve been talking about it for two weeks now. It started with the invitation. Then you had to read 200 RSVPs – the acceptances and the regrets. Your phone beeping constantly. Now, it’s two days before the party and people are trying to arrange lifts.”
“How do you know all of this? Who the hell are you?”
“I’m someone who’s been through it. Tomorrow, it’ll be, ‘ Oh, what’s everyone wearing?’ because no one wants their daughter’s outfit to clash with someone else’s, but at the same time they don’t want their daughter to stand out too much. There’ll be 12 to 14 hours of that.”
“There’s been more talk about this porty than there was about Prince Harry and Meghan Morkle’s wedding.”
“And it won’t end when the party’s over. Everyone will send their thank yous. Then, in about a week’s time, the birthday girl’s mother will send you 375 photographs from the party and you’ll have to look through every single one and everyone will have to say again what a fabulous party it was.”
“I’m sorry for crying. It’s just my brain feels like it’s turning into paté.”
“It’s all too much, right?”
“It’s only 10 months until we play Scotland and the only name I’ve written down is Johnny Sexton.”
“So why don’t you do what I did?”
“What did you do?”
“Mute them all!”
“What? I can’t do that?”
“Because I’m trying to be a good mother to my daughter.”
“Do you remember what life was like before you joined WhatsApp?”
“Not really, no.”
“Were you happy, though?”
God, her voice was so soothing.
I went, “I think I possibly was happy.”
“And the sun didn’t fall out of the sky,” she went, “just because you didn’t hear what was going on in the lives of all these other mothers.”
“No, I suppose it didn’t.”
My phone beeped on the table. This woman reached for it. She went, “It’s as easy as this,” and she fiddled about with my settings for about a minute, then handed it back to me. “There,” she went. “I’ve muted all your group chat notifications.”
I told her thank you and off she focked. Then I spent the next 10 minutes enjoying something I hadn’t experienced for about two months – specifically, my own thoughts. I managed to write down the names of Peter O’Mahony and Rob Kearney. Then I ordered a second cappuccino and storted to think about what I was going to say to the players I had to leave out. I actually storted to cry again but this time it was in a good way.
I was genuinely fine until I got back into the cor. And that’s when it suddenly hit me. The silence. I couldn’t bear it. I stared at my phone, willing it to beep. I switched on the radio and turned the volume up as high as it would go. But it wasn’t enough. I suddenly had this urge to ring everyone in my contacts list and talk to them at the same time.
I ended up having to pull over on Mount Anville Road. My hort was beating at twice its normal rate. I wondered at first was it the second cappuccino? Or was it the thought of telling Jordan Larmour that he was on the bench?
And that’s when I realised what it actually was. I was wondering how Grainne Lessing was feeling about her driving test today. I was wondering if Sally Ann Morkey enjoyed her shopping trip to New York. I was wondering how Orlaith Stapleton got on with the flourless Black Forest gateaux recipe that Rebecca Leahy gave her. And I wasn’t strong enough. I picked up my phone and I unmuted all of my group chat notifications. At that exact moment, Suzanne Verlaine messaged to say that no, she couldn’t offer Courage Kennedy a lift to the porty because she would be coming from the opposite direction.
And suddenly everything felt right with the world again.