“Your auntie loves a poem. Tell her the poem you learned this week at school.” On the other end of the phone, G. was being prompted by his father. Gorgeous child, I used to call him. To be fair, he’s not a child anymore; he’s a teenager (just), so I have to drop all that embarrassing nonsense, lovely as he may be. My conversation with G. began a child-filled week back in Ireland; my second interaction being with the Irish-Australian child who dropped her l’s in the cutest way, so that when she told me she was going to be a ‘flower girl’ at the weekend, it became, ‘fower giwr’.
I got to see R., who told me about his larger-than-life blow up Strom Trooper, still in his bedroom from his birthday three weeks before. “How did you get so tall in four months?” I asked him. “Unhealthy food and sunshine?” he suggested, his eyes dancing with laughter. We stood back to back in our socks to mark this point in time. With a steady eye, his mum measured him: the top of his head reached the neck of my jumper. “In the new year we’ll go back to back again and see how much you’ve grown.” Deal.
On another trip out I traded tips with a roller-blading J. on how he might manage the occupational hazard of contracting a sore throat, now that he’s in showbiz. Eleven years old and he’s only gone and landed one of the starring roles in the town’s Christmas show! The occasional bowl of ice cream, throat lozenges and talking less: those were my top tips. Two of the three he said he could manage.
R. is two and a half. He and his mum met me for breakfast, which was a good call. Morning, I have discovered, is the time to meet up with toddlers, when I can, at least, enter the ring with a fraction of the energy that explodes from two year olds. The town stops for this charmer; blonde locks trailing behind as he dashes about, exploring, excavating, shouting ‘hi!’ to whomever he meets. Most cafés these days have play corners for toddlers, and R. paddled about there happily for a while. Eventually, though, a large bowl of brown sugar was infinitely more appealing than his jigsaw. For, just as we had drunk half of our flat whites, he silently, deliberately and defiantly held the bowl from his little arm stretched to its full three feet of height and tipped its contents it the floor. Ah! Watch that sugar go. It’ll be in the cracks of those floorboards for years to come. I had to hold back my giggles as I looked upon two huge brown eyes stare curiously at his mammy with a, “let’s see what she has to say about this?” face. Oh, my sainted friend!
J.’s not at that stage yet. Another wee boy (so many boys), he’s still not one, and he’s a magnet for young and old to coo and hold and whisper secrets to. He reaches out anyone who approaches or passes, which emboldens the adults to ask if they can hold him. So it was when an old man with twinkly eyes approached. “Hey wee man,” he addressed the baby directly, reaching out, “Are you coming up?” A quick glance to mum, from whom he received a nod of agreement, and off they went for a stroll about the room, eighty years between them and unapologetic kisses showered upon the downy head.
But let us go back to my phone call with G., who was doing all in his power to distract me from a poetry recitation, and inveigle me into an induction on the gaming requirements of ‘Fortnite’. He lost me at ‘post apocalyptic zombie attacks’. I persuaded him to take a break from his console and read to me. “I know it by heart,” he said, “I’ll not be reading it.” Off he went, word perfect, reciting one of the saddest poems I’ve heard in a long time.
Eily Kilbride, By Brendan Kennelly
On the north side of Cork City
Where I sported and played
On the banks of my own lovely Lee
Having seen the goat break loose in Grand Parade.
I met a child Eily Kilbride
Who’s never heard of marmalade,
Whose experience of breakfast
Was coldly limited,
Whose entire school day
Was a bag of crisps,
Whose parents had no work to do,
Who went, once, into the countryside,
Saw a horse with a feeding bag over its head
And thought it was sniffing glue.