Like most Irish families, we tended not to be a very talkative bunch.
It would be nice to have an excuse. It would be nice if I could tell you that we were exhausted from labouring on the land, that we had to get up at three in the morning to milk the cows or snag turnips or some fucking thing, but we didn’t. We lived two blocks from the school and I used to get up at ten to nine because it was a five-minute walk.
No. We didn’t have to strangle herons and we weren’t goose-milkers, but we did have one thing in common with our other Irish brethren: we were miserable. Well indeed I remember, after my father came home from a hard day’s labour in the uranium mines, my mother would get out the old geiger counter that belonged to her great grandfather, who was killed twice during the third battle of Ypres. (Incidentally, he was also killed at the Dardanelles, twice: the first time during the siege of Troy, and the second at the battle of Gallipoli, in 1915).
“Dad,” my mother used to say.
“What?” my father used to reply, after a pause.
“Dad, you might be radioactive.”
Oh, how well I remember my father’s adoring smile as he gazed back at Mam.
“I’m fuckin not, ok?” he used to say, “so fuck off and let me alone.”
After that, the family settled into a contented huddle in our miserable hovel, watching Mr Ed and Mission Impossible, both of which became part of Irish folklore. It was enormously fulfilling and we battened on it, becoming strong, healthy and robustly Gaelic children, in the Gaelic tradition, Gaelically. What wonderful days.
Even now, I’m thinking back to those lovely days of childhood, and to one particularly enchanting night, when my father came home after fighting a three-week fire at the reactor.
How could I forget the look in my mother’s eyes as she gazed over at his exhausted form?
“Ars longa, vita brevis”, my mother whispered.
And, after a brief two-hour pause, my father replied in words I’ve never forgotten to this day: “Volare.”