Day 7, June 15th 2011, Northern Ireland
Been here a week today! Stayed up late last night to watch the lunar eclipse. Could only glimpse it through clouds, but was definitely worth the effort. I still think that the crimson-hued moon looks like a giant Christmas ornament up there. And if that’s so, what’s the Earth, then? A beach ball under the tree?
Yesterday I drove Dad over to Sketrick Island so we could have lunch out with his girlfriend, Edith. The restaurant is called ‘Daft Eddy’s’ and seems to draw customers on its eccentric name alone. It’s a great drive there, winding through country lanes, and through the town of Killinchy, where a big modernized castle thrusts Camelot-type turrets into the sky.
Down a narrow lane and hairpin turn, and you feel you’re practically driving on the water itself as we take a one-lane causeway to reach Daft Eddy’s, tucked beside a tiny ruin that claimed to be Sketrick Castle.
It had been a bit of a rush getting out of the house. Dad is back in fine form again, and I was treated to intermittent blasts of: “Bastards!” as he shouted at his socks, which wouldn’t comply when he tried to put them on, “You idiot!” at the phone when one of the push buttons got stuck, “Pig arse!” at I’m not exactly certain what, and sure as hell wasn’t going to go and find out.
I tried to be as helpful as possible, (a) by keeping out of the way, and (b) going through the ponderous sequence of finding the back door key, unlocking it, returning the key to its saucepan, locating the garage and car keys, going down there, unlocking the garage, rolling up the bay door, backing the car out and parking it by the back yard gate so Dad and the dogs had easy access. Then rolling the bay door shut, locking it again and locking the garage door. Then I call the dogs, they amble out the back yard gate, with wagging tails. I get the doggy steps out of the back of the car and put them in place so the geriatric quadrupeds can climb in, fill a rinsed out plastic milk container with water in case the dogs get thirsty, get into the driver’s seat and wait. Everything’s ready so all Dad has to do is lock the back door and get in the car.
“Where’s the fucking garage key!” I hear bellowed from within the house.
“I have it!” I call.
I hear a string of curse words and realize he can’t hear me. I get out of the car, go through the back yard gate, into the house and tell Dad I have the key. He makes a tsk! of irritation and grabs his jacket from a hook by the back door.
“What about the dogs’ water?” he demands.
“I got that,” I assured him.
He strides out of the house and I pull the back door closed and lock it. It’s a bizarre locking mechanism, where I have to push the handle upwards with one hand while turning the key with the other. Then I follow Dad out to the car, closing and latching the back yard gate behind. I get into the car, turn the ignition and then I hear:
“That fucking window’s open!”
I look up, and remember too late that I forgot to close the bathroom window before leaving. Before I can react, my 86 year-old father is out of the car and unlatching the gate, disappearing in a flurry of limbs round the back of the house.
I remember how my mother would have reacted. With ice frosting her tone she'd say in an exaggeratedly polite voice: "I don't know about the fucking window, but the window is open, yes."
I take a deep breath, and my nostrils fill with the scent of ancient dog breath and other unmentionable aromas, so gasping, I click the switch on the Mazda door to open all windows fully.
“Where’s the fucking key?!” bellowed Dad in the distance.
Shit! I switched off the engine, grabbed the key, clambered out of the car and hurried round to the back door. I go to insert it but Dad grabs it from my hand, unlocks the door, charges into the kitchen and out to the hall.
A deafening siren warbled, painful in its volume. “For God’s sake!” shouted Dad, coming back into the kitchen to grab the alarm remote control and switch off the cacophony.
I’m beginning to feel jet lagged again, but it has nothing to do with transatlantic travel. I walk slowly back to the car, taking deep breaths.
I hear him slam the bathroom window closed, he thunders back into the kitchen, thunks the back door shut behind him and locks it.
He storms past me through the back yard gate, I latch it and get back into the car. Both dogs pant with their tongues lolling, looking very much like they’re laughing.
I turn the key and the car starts. I begin backing out of the driveway.
“Why are all the windows open?” complained Dad.
“Oh, the doggies might get too hot,” I lied. He gets offended if I complain about their geriatric B.O.
He stabs a finger at the door controls on the passenger side, and all windows but mine slide closed.
We stop off at where the old Dundrum railroad used to be, so the dogs can stretch their legs before we head off to meet Edith. I pulled into the stony parking lot. There was a popping sound as I parked.
“For God’s sake,” muttered Dad, unclipping his seatbelt and getting out. For a man who claims to be an atheist, he calls on the Lord an awful lot.
I got out of the car, opened the back door, put the doggy steps in place and the dogs stumbled out.
Dad is bent over at the passenger side front wheel. I investigate and find that I’d parked the car on a plastic bag that had an empty beer bottle in it. Dad is brushing broken glass off the tire.
“Watch you don’t cut yourself,” I warn.
Muttering under his breath about people leaving litter about, he clears the tire of glass, puts it all back into the plastic bag, and hangs the bag off one of the picnic tables.
At last we step out onto the pathway where the rail tracks used to be. The tide is in, and Dundrum Bay water laps mere feet away. A couple of herons vie for territory, soaring overhead.
A woman dressed in active wear walks at a fast pace on the path. She takes one look at us, spins smartly around and heads back the way she was coming. Do we look that bad?
Dogs settled back in the car, Dad asks me to back up slowly so he can check the tire. I do so, while he peers closely the wheel. The car’s sensor’s go crazy at his proximity, the S.O.S. bleep panicking into one continuous warning.
At last we’re on the road and get to Daft Eddy’s in plenty of time. Edith is there and we are quickly seated at a table by the window. The view is beautiful; blue sea and bobbing yachts.
The young waiter comes to take our drinks order.
“I’ll have a Chardonnay,” says Dad without hesitation.
“I think I will, too,” agrees Edith.
Everyone looks at me. All I can think is coffee-coffee-coffee-coffee-coffee. Dad has the instant kind at home, which feeds my caffeine need in the morning, but isn’t quite what my taste buds want.
“Coffee, please,” I say.
There is a startled silence and the waiter stares bug-eyed at me.
“Coffee?” exclaims Dad. “Before your meal?”
“My goodness,” says Edith. Shock is evident in both their voices.
“Bloody Americans,” said Dad, trying to cover his embarrassment with humor.
The waiter recovers. “D’ye want a cappuccino or a latte or something?”
“Oh, yes please! A latte!” Praise be to whatever God you believe in. Latte is available in Northern Ireland, and all’s right with the world!
“Who has coffee before their meal?“ demands Dad.
I smile and the talk moves on to Dad‘s favorite subject at the moment: assisted suicide in Switzerland. This immediately puts Edith on the defensive; she doesn‘t agree with it at all.
The waiter returns with their wine and my coffee. I gratefully take the frothy, aromatic cup from him and sniff appreciatively.
Dad can‘t help himself. “Coffee? God!”
I look to the waiter for support. “You don’t mind, do you?
“Oh, no, not at all. We see all types here.” He takes off almost at a run for the kitchen. I feel vaguely that I might have been insulted but am not sure.
The food came, which was delicious, and lunch continues on a light-hearted note, punctuated with the Northern Irish knack of gallows humor.
“Why spend ten-thousand pounds to go all the way to Switzerland and die in a corrugated shack?“ demands Dad with a grin.
“Yes,“ I agree. “When we could use that money for a great vacation, and shove you off one of the alps for nothing.“
Edith admits this is funny and people at other tables look round at us, probably wondering why we’re laughing so hard.