Goodness me. What have we been up to?
Well, the Limpet and I headed off to Ireland for a fortnight to surprise my father on the occasion of a Significant Birthday. While there, I came down with a very, very nasty cold and a dose of laryngitis, which I passed on to my husband upon my return. He wanted me to bring him back something from Ireland, but I don't think he was reckoning on a full-blown headcold.
In any case, Ireland was ... Ireland. It's really quite a bonkers place to be. I always return to Germany with lots of stories, inevitably with a cast of dozens that my husband does not know. But never mind that - he's learned to smile politely and look interested, because every conversation he has with my parents includes enlightening information about the families of people he does not know.
You see, my parents come from a small town. My father's family have been there since the 18th century and my mother's family for much longer. For them, part of the attraction of living there is knowing who people are - their seed, breed and generation. Like most people living in rural Ireland, they possess a vast database of genealogical information and no story is complete without a minor detour into someone's stock. This information is often pivotal to the story. Very often, this
information hijacks the original story and becomes the narrative itself. It's a massive, meandering, complicated web of births, deaths and marriages.
Thus, conversations run like this: for example, my father might raise a finger to launch a discourse on the errant behaviour of some ne'er-do-well in our town and my mother interjects to supply his ancestry. My father corrects her and they get into an argument about the person's grandparents. Some of my siblings might chime in to further detour the conversation. Three hours later, we're discussing how the world might be if it were taken over by chimps and no-one knows how we got there. If it were a screenplay, it would look like this:
Father: ... And the guards caught him in the act, spraying graffiti on the church door. The little pup was standing there with a spray can in his hand when the squad car happened upon him. You have to feel sorry for him though, no rearing on him at all.
Mother: His mother was a Delaney from Leighlinbridge and her brothers were terrible troublemakers when they were younger. One of them even went to prison for a while.
Father: Was she a Delaney from Leighlinbridge? I thought she was a sister to Eileen Delaney from Ballylinan.
Mother: No, Leighlinbridge! Remember their father, Paddy Delaney? The man with a squint? He used to have a little Jack Russell and suck butterscotch in Mass.
Father: You're thinking of Eileen Delaney's father. He used to walk like this [stands up to demonstrate a man limping] and he drove a Morris Minor. He was from Ballylinan.
Mother: I'm sure they came from Leighlinbridge. My sister Maureen went to school with Eileen Delaney till she left to work in the shirt factory.
Sibling 1: I used to go to school with a Patrick Cullen and his mam was a Delaney from Ballylinan, they owned a sweet shop. Is that the one?
Father: No, they're different Delaneys. They were related to the O'Sullivans from Ballyadams, I think their father's mother was an O'Sullivan. Or did an aunt marry an O'Sullivan? Maybe it was the aunt. Now, the O'Sullivans were terrible tearaways but nothing like the Delaneys.
And so on. The fact that my husband is from A Foreign Land and I am generally clueless is really no defence. For example, my parents' dishwasher broke down before Christmas and they got a repairman in to fix it. He provided a short-term solution but, ultimately, the machine died a slow and painful dirty-dished death.
"This dishwasher is useless," I complained, looking at the inside of a cup that had just been "washed".
My father leaned in and said: "That's because the man who repaired it is ..." [dramatic pause] "... a Thompson."
"He wasn't a Thompson," my mother said, tsk-tsking.
And added: "His mother was."
"He was a half-Thompson," said my father, satisfied that his point was proved.
They looked at me, content that I'd understood what that meant.
"What does that have to do with anything?" I asked (and, really, you should never ask.)
They looked at me, incredulously.
"They're fierce rough," my father said. "Everyone knows that."
In any case, my father told the rest of the family the reason for the dishwasher's demise and, to his credit, it sufficed to only mention that the repairman was a half-Thompson. The fact that they're fierce rough went without saying - sure, everyone knows that.