Thursday, February 26, 2015

Things you should know about my father

My father's birthday was in February but we were awash in the various fluids that accompany a dose of the 'flu at the time. As I've summed up my mother, I thought it might be fair to tell you a bit about my father as well.

Things you should know about my father

1. He pushed my mother into a puddle and laughed
My father first met my mother when he was five and she was four (I think. They were, in any case, scandalously young to be running around unsupervised, but this was Ireland in the fifties. I think parents ushered their kids out the door in the morning and did not expect to see them again till supper-time). He shoved her into a puddle and laughed at her. My father claims to have no memory of this incident; my mother, however, does and even maintains that he was wearing one of my grandmother's meticulously knitted pullovers whilst doing the pushing (held at arm's length to this little beast, she was probably in a very good position to view his knitwear.) When she wants a bit of extra sympathy, she also says that he and my Uncle John were laughing ("demonically")  as they pushed her - but, as I said, this bit is only tacked on occasionally and I have a feel that, half a century later, she's just embroidering an already dastardly tale.

But the years passed and my father turned into a skinny teen with a big hat and a lot of angst, and my mother found this quite attractive (I think men in big hats and artistic overcoats were uncommon 1970s Ireland). They got married in a flurry of flares and oversized lapels and produced a plethora of children. Sadly, they do not recreate the puddle-pushing on special occasions nor, to my knowledge, has my mother ever pushed him back.

2. He saved my life
When I was a toddler, I swallowed a fish-bone and started to choke. I don't remember this, but my mother (she of the "he was wearing a handknitted jumper and laughing his head off" version of events, so take it with a pinch of salt) said my lips were turning blue and I couldn't breathe. I'm not sure if deceased relatives were trying to usher me down a tunnel toward the light, but I was certainly in dire straits. Not acquainted with the Heimlich Manoeuvre, my father grabbed me by my chubby ankles, swung me upside-down and shook me hard, as you would do a pillow and - lo and behold - the fishbone was dislodged.
I'm very grateful to him for this and to this day, harbour a suspicion that fish are out to get me.

3. He never wanted us to have pets
"We are NOT getting another pet! I'LL end up looking after it! Not a single ONE will look after this dog/cat/rabbit, you all know I'LL be the one taking it on walks and feeding it!" etc.
My father has spent the last forty years telling us we're not getting another pet.
We've had a succession of pets.
And, to be fair to him, he has in fact ended up looking after every single one of them. On a visit home from Germany a few years ago, I saw my father walk up the lane to our house with his wheelbarrow (because another thing you should know about my father that doesn't warrant a point of its own is that he has filled the potholes in the entrance to our house about a hundred thousand times) and saw him followed by a procession of animals: a Jack Russell terrier, four cats, two miniature ducks and a couple of stray chickens who were out for an opportunistic walk. I have also seen him feed the Jack Russell from a spoon, store a kitten in his coat and pick worms out of a freshly-dug flowerbed for the ducks.
But he hates pets and doesn't know why we keep insisting on having the blighters.

4. He doesn't like people touching his things
Which is unfortunate when you have nine children, because no one ever had anything to call their
This man needs a comb, people.
own in our house. There was always a young child on the rampage, your precious possessions firmly grasped in a sticky paw.
"All I have is this comb!" my father would wail, holding up a plastic comb. "It's the only thing I have, a bloody comb for my hair. I leave it here on the mantelpiece and when I come down in the morning, the comb is gone! Who keeps taking my comb?"
Ah, it was the soundtrack to my youth: my father and his comb. At one point, he got it into his head that he might chain the comb to the mantelpiece - an idea we all found very entertaining. Sadly, though, he much preferred ranting about how he was going to chain the comb to the mantelpiece more than actually chaining the comb to the mantelpiece.

5. He like a rant
The index finger will go up.
"I'll tell you something," he says, leaning in. And he's off. Frequent topics for rants over the years have included: People (more about that in a minute), Not Getting Another Pet, Disappearing Combs, A Packet of Biscuits Not Being Shared Fairly, The State of Ireland, People. It's a very diverse list and it changes, with some points remaining constant (People).

6. He doesn't like people, especially people visiting him
No, don't get the wrong idea. My father's not a xenophobe. He doesn't like most people, regardless of where they're from or what they look like or do. They're loud and they can be rude and a select few of them (most notably - the cheek of them - his family) have the audacity to want to visit him and make him make ... small talk!!! Sometimes when he sees the lights of an approaching car and scarper off down to his shed, conveniently forgetting his mobile phone, leaving my mother with a bunch of unannounced visitors to entertain. (And a short note on this: in Ireland, people still pop in for a visit without calling. Why call and ruin the surprise? Think of the joy you'll give someone by just turning up at their door unannounced, looking for tea and biscuits. Ahhhhh. Maybe I've just been in Germany too long.)

7. He paints pictures in his shed
My father is an artist. Nowadays, that's a mildly interesting statement to make, but when my father was young, I believe saying you wanted to become an artist was about as ludicrous as wanting to become an astronaut or a lion-tamer. I don't know how my grandparents reacted, but I'm sure rosaries were said to save his soul and get him back on the straight and narrow path to the civil service or a nice job in the laboratory of the local roof tile factory. But he painted anyway. And now he does it professionally, as a graphic artist, and semi-professionally as a painter, intrepid blogger and YouTube fiend. By day, he's a mild-mannered (though given to an occasional rant) visitor-hating, animal-loving father of nine; by night he paints pictures and has a cyber-life that includes video channels and fan posts.

8. He paints pictures in his shed (II)
Before my father became a graphic artist by day, he did actually work in the laboratory of the local roof tile factory. But he and my mother decided that the laboratory of a roof tile factory is a very good place for a soul to die, so they set up their own business. Two weeks before a global recession, oh dear. It was a grim time, a lean time and a very hard time. But in the middle of this very awful, grim period, where we were constantly tiptoeing along the line to bankruptcy and losing - oh, everything, one of my teachers said, "You know, your parents have given you the greatest gift you could possibly get. They took the road less travelled and gave up a steady job to do something they're passionate about. You'll never be afraid to do the same, because you'll come through it and see it can be done."
And she was absolutely right.
Twenty-five years and two recessions later, their business is still going. Bravery is a very good thing to pass to your children.

9. He will wear a fake rabbit in his pullover
... because that's what good parents do. When my brother William was small, he had a soft toy called Baby Rabbit. Baby Rabbit tended to get lost, so my father was given to wearing Baby Rabbit in the V of his v-neck jumper so Baby Rabbit go to see what was going on, while remaining in a safe place. This seems like a random thing to remember, but the other day my husband ate imaginary cake out of Lego blocks at a teaparty for Papa, Wuffie the toy dog and my two-year-old son, and it reminded me that saving a child's life is a magnificent piece of parenting, but eating fake cake and wearing soft toys is just as important, and maybe more.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Fifty Shades Astray

Some time ago, before the book 'Fifty Shades of Grey' became well-known in Germany, I came across it in the English section of our local bookstore. I picked it up, read the names of the two protagonists (Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey), instantly became overcome with the scent of cheap Harlequin romance and returned it to its heap. See, I am a notorious cover-judger, despite the proverb's exhortations to the contrary. On a bad day, I have flung books back on their pile for bearing the two most pretension-laden words in the publishing industry: A Novel. As in, 'Ballyhoo. A Novel'.

Now a film based on this book is hitting the cinemas over here and, sadly, there are abundant clips of two (to me personally) unattractive actors (though I'm sure they're very amiable people) bonking their way through a pedestrian plot. I have no intention of reading the book or watching the film: aside from the fact that I don't want to assault my eyes, my own life reads like a chapter from the aforementioned Novel. At least, I think so - I haven't read it, so I'm not entirely sure. But I'm the only female in a house full of males (albeit, two under three years old), surely that's something similar?

Tell you what, you decide. And, because everyone I know who actually read 'Fifty Shades of Grey' claimed they only "skipped to the good bits", we'll just skip to my good bits as well. Brace yourself, readers.

* * * * * 
Our eyes met across a cluttered room. I approached him slowly, my bare feet almost soundless on the unswept floor. Wordlessly, he reached out and tugged at my t-shirt. He touched it to his lips and let it fall on the floor.
"Please," I whispered.
He didn't take his eyes off me, but pulled the straps of my bra, his fingers playing with the clasp. He tossed it after the t-shirt.
"You can't do this," I said.
But it was too late. He grabbed my knickers and held them aloft, triumphantly, then bit at the lace with his teeth.
"Enough!" I cried and pulled it off him. "I've just folded those clothes!"
I really shouldn't let the baby play with the laundry basket.

* * * * *
 I lay spread--eagled on the bed. He towered above me, a glint of menace in his eyes. He lowered his face to mine, so our eyes met, lashes almost touching.
"Bouncey-bounce," he said in a threatening voice. His breath smelled of cookies. I cowered beneath him.
"We've spent the past twenty minutes bouncey-bouncing," I protested weakly. "Mama's exhausted."
He cupped my face in his sticky hands. "Bouncey-bounce," he repeated. It was not a question, it was an order.
There was no way out.
We bounced.

"Aren't you a bit old to be jumping on the bed with a two-year-old?" my husband enquires casually from the door.
"He made me do it," I say.

* * * * * 

"No!" I cried. Relentlessly, he pushed it in, deeper and deeper.
"Stop!" I said and tried to push him off. He was remarkably strong and I only succeeded in shifting his weight a little.
He grinned and wriggled it around. I shrieked and cried for help.
None came.
Finally, summoning all my strength, I pulled his finger out of my nose. He laughed evilly, his chubby digit extended triumphantly, the bald head of this nine-month-old brimming with possibilities: Mama's face was just full of stuff to explore.
So he poked my ear.

* * * * *

It was quiet. I breathed deeply, afraid to make too much noise in case he would find me.
I hoped in vain.
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" he thundered. He had a paintbrush in one hand and a rubber duck in the other.
"How did you get in here?" I protested. "The door was closed!"
"Oh, yes, he can reach the door handles now," my husband called from the kitchen. "So remember to lock the bathroom if you want some privacy."
Privacy? The very word seemed to inflame him. He looked at me, outraged.
"ARE YOU ON THE LOO?" he asked. "WEE-WEE?"
I tried to get up, but my ankles were bound by the underwear pooled around them. I struggled to pull up my clothes and replace the toilet seat before the rubber duck and the paintbrush went for a swim.
Incredibly, I succeeded.
"Maaaaaaaaaamaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" he roared.
I had to do it: I used the safe word.
"Elmo," I said. "Will we listen to an Elmo song instead of playing with the toilet?"
Sniffling, he marches off, leaving an upturned rubber duck lying forlornly in his wake. 

* * * * *
And so on for another thirty chapters. I'm thinking it would have a widespread appeal for parents and parents-to-be. I think the protagonist - 40-year-old woman with yoghurt-stained trousers and the vestiges of a bad haircut - would speak to many people on a lot of levels. What do you think? Should I be prepared for Hollywood to come calling?