Last November, I introduced you to a good friend of mine from Law school, who I referred to as ‘Gerard’ – because, well, that’s his name (#139 https://middlerageddad.com/2017/11/10/blogged-determination).
If you read that entry, you may recall Gerard is somewhat hazardous for my health, as we have a history of undertaking crazy challenges for charity, however – due to having young families – we haven’t seen each other in years. Until last weekend.
Gerard is originally from Belfast, but now lives in Aughrim, County Wicklow, with his wife Nicola, and their two children. On Saturday, he turned 40, and earlier this year Nicola contacted me to say she was planning on a surprise party and would love it if we could attend. I didn’t take much persuading, and despite some initial problems sorting accommodation and ferries, the plans – which I have had to keep secret – have been in place since March.
Things were fine, until the middle of last week, when I discovered that mine and Ollie’s passports were missing.
Having checked online, we didn’t technically need passports to enter Ireland (although Ryan Air would have argued otherwise), so long as we had photo ID. However, whilst I had my driving licence, Ollie didn’t have anything, and so the website suggested alternatives, including: birth certificate; bank statement; and, I shit you not, ‘firearms certificate’. It seems the Irish authorities don’t mind kids travelling without a passport, so long as they’re packing heat.
To be on the safe side, I emailed the ferry company to double-check, and their reply was that we ‘should be ok’. How delightfully vague.
What follows, is an account of our trip….
Having got up early to catch our ferry, I had to get over my fear of driving abroad. Now, you might think Wales is not technically ‘abroad’ – and I accept we do share a currency and drive on the same side of the road – but I would also argue that they speak a different language (well, they do when I’m around) and all seem to hate me. As such, it’s abroad as far as I’m concerned.
We got to Holyhead early, partly in case of unexpected traffic, but mostly because, with two missing passports, I wanted plenty of time to argue (in a loud voice in case they DIDN’T SPEAK ENGLISH), that I had an email confirming we would ‘probably be ok’.
Thankfully, our lack of passports posed no problem whatsoever, since they didn’t ask for any ID at all. In fact, anyone with a print-out of our booking could have boarded the ferry in our name without question. With a shotgun.
Once aboard, my wife produced a cool-box of snacks, which she jokingly referred to as her ‘bag of crap’. Unfortunately, Isaac overheard this, and started excitedly jumping around shouting “Yay! Bag of crap! Bag of crap!” He then proceeded to devour the entire contents before we had even set off.
I then began teaching the boys how to say Gerard’s name properly, as I didn’t want them to suffer the same humiliation I had at law school, when calling him Jare-rard. Apparently, to pronounce his name correctly (with a Belfast accent), it must rhyme with ‘turd’.
Ollie, to his credit, at least attempted to pronounce it correctly while we were there; whereas Isaac, in typical Isaac style, insisted on addressing him as ‘Uncle John’, ‘Uncle George’ or ‘Uncle James’, just to spite me.
When we got off the ferry, I was relieved to discover our sat-nav not only worked, but seemed to recognise our destination, so we quickly sent a message to Nicola to give our eta, then headed off.
When we parked at their house an hour or so later, our arrival coincided with a number of other party-goers (mostly family) which reassured me that we had the right place – and thankfully just in time, as Nicola informed us that Gerard would be back from the pub (where his Dad had taken him as a distraction) in fifteen minutes. This meant we didn’t have time to change, so looked a little scruffy, but at least we made it in time for the big reveal.
It would be fair to say Gerard got a shock, when he opened his front door to about forty people getting drunk and shouting ‘surprise!’, and was pleased that we had been able to come over for his big day.
The party was a huge success (to Nicola’s credit); the cake she had ordered was amazing; and the evening was rounded off nicely by a visit to the pub to get drunk. Splendid.
We had no plans for Sunday, and as we couldn’t check-in to our hotel until 3pm (not that I was safe to drive anyway), we decided to spend the day with our hosts.
Having not had chance the evening before, I gave Gerard our gift, which was a 1978/79 Ireland shirt (the season he was born), with his surname and ’40’ on the back, together with a Manchester United programme (his team) – again from the month of his birth, August 1978 – when they happened to play my beloved Stockport County.
We then took the kids to the park to enjoy the glorious weather, and bought ice creams on the way back; at which point Isaac started happily singing a tune of his own creation:
“My lovely legs
My lovely feet
My lovely face
It’s all cool.“
(When singing this in your head, it is important to deliver the final line in a chilled-out ‘Jazz Club’ style, to accurately replicate the original)
We then bid farewell, and drove to Arklow (where we had a hotel booked for the next three nights), but made plans to meet the following day, as it was a bank holiday.
Having considered a few options for a family day out, we eventually settled on Wells House in Co. Wicklow, as it had lots of activities, such as a playground and Gruffalo trail, but also a cafe and ice cream kiosk.
The trail had a number of ‘fairy doors’ for kids to knock on – although I did wonder whether teaching them to knock on doors and then run away was a good idea, not least because some little fuckers had done it to our hotel room the night before, and I didn’t want my boys growing up as anti-social little reprobates too.
That evening, having bid farewell to Gerard and his family, we headed back to our hotel, and decided to treat the boys to a cinema trip. Our film of choice was ‘The Incredibles 2’ (which was decidedly un-incredible, but still better than ‘Hotel Transylvania 3’), and we then took them to Eddie Rocket’s for dinner – which is a burger chain of American-themed diners, if you’ve never heard of it.
After dinner, Ollie wanted to add the restaurant to his list of ‘public places to take a shit’, but not only insisted I stand outside the cubicle door in case anyone came in, he then wanted to discuss our favourite parts of the holiday so far. Apparently, my sarcastic response of ‘this moment right now’, was somewhat lost on him.
My wife spent a lot of time on holiday in Ireland as a child (her mother is Irish), and wanted to re-visit some memories while we were there – the first being Glendalough.
Glendalough is a monastic settlement from the 6th Century (so, for all intents and purposes, it might as well have been another fucking castle), but adjacent to the settlement is a woodland walk leading to a large lake.
As you might expect, the scenery was spectacular, but I also found the settlement interesting, and tried to encourage the boys too. Sadly, Isaac was a little on the young side to appreciate it:
“Isaac, come here. I want to show you something.”
“Is it chocolate?”
“Then I don’t want to.”
Ollie showed marginally greater interest, but even he struggled after about half an hour, so we set off in search of the lake.
Ollie then announced he was going on an adventure, selected a stick (for marking his route and clearing foliage), and a rock (the purpose of which was less clear), then headed up a steep embankment, rather than walking along the path with his family.
Even Isaac kept his complaints to an uncharacteristic minimum, and insisted on finding his own stick and rock (for beating small animals – and his brother – with, presumably), before marching off as the ‘leader’.
We shared some of the walk with a coach party from an indeterminate country – my guess would be somewhere South American – but, whatever language they were speaking, I did manage to pick out their word for picnic. Which is ‘picneek’.
When we reached the lake, which was beautiful, everyone stopped to take photos, including two young Canadian girls to my left, who took it in turns to pose for each other in front of the picturesque backdrop. Ever the gent, I offered to take a photo of the two of them together, which I thought was a nice gesture, although it was met with a puzzled, and then reluctant, ‘ok, sure’.
Only after I snapped a few pictures of the two girls, and they again (apprehensively) thanked me, did my wife point out – much to her amusement – their mother had been stood behind me the whole time. I don’t think the situation could have been any more awkward, had I taken the pictures on my own phone and then walked off.
Before heading back to our hotel, we detoured via the village of Avoca (which, I have since learned, is Gaelic for ‘Fuck All Here’), because apparently the popular 1990’s television series Ballykissangel was filmed there. We felt obliged to pop into the pub used in the series, Fitzgerald’s, but rather than be obvious and have Guinness (which, in hindsight, I should have) we opted for cream teas instead.
The place was quiet at first, but soon after we arrived a coach party of Americans turned up, and a group of ladies took the table next to ours, before loudly perusing the menu with confused faces.
“What’s ‘bangers and mash’? What’s a banger? I get ‘fish and chips’, because that’s fish, with chips, but what’s a banger and mash?”
Then, one of them discovered an English £5 note in her purse, and she really wasn’t happy.
“Why would someone do that? What good is that to me? We haven’t even been to England!”
I felt sorry for her, and suggested to my wife that I could offer to swap a €5 note for their £5 (after all, the exchange rate is virtually 1:1), but she advised against getting involved again (oh, sure, now she intervenes….) so I decided to leave it.
I’m glad I did, because it subsequently transpired not only had the Americans visited the Giant’s Causeway a few days earlier, which is famously in Northern Ireland (where the currency is Sterling), they actually had plans to include England in their travels. I then desperately wanted to intervene with:
“Sorry to interrupt, but I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation – mostly because you are SO FUCKING LOUD – and I wanted to explain a few things, before conveying that I truly hope you choke on your bangers.”
Thanks to lack of sleep, the boys were foul for most of the drive back to Sandbach – topped off by Isaac screaming for ALL THE SNACKS; forcing his stinking feet into Ollie’s face (most of the M56 could smell them, so he didn’t need to move them any nearer); and insisting that in ‘rock, paper, scissors’, his rock defeated everything Ollie could offer (it blunts scissors, rips paper, and smashes other rocks, apparently), all of which made Ollie cry, before they both fell asleep.
We are never going away again.