'I try to avoid envying the young; I also try to avoid Ikea'

Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 01:00

FIFTYSOMETHING:I HAVEN’T HAD the most dignified week. I was run over by a wheelchair in Ikea and hit the deck in a most un-minimalist way somewhere between the induction hobs and the single-lever mixer taps.

My mother was in the wheelchair. I have two long grey bruises on my shins, which are nothing compared to the mental scars.

She was trundling through the many square feet of exhausting Swedish ingenuity with a kind of raging, melancholic admiration. Having manoeuvred the borrowed chair through a hinterland of multiple foil-finished, dust-repellent storage solutions (try saying that with a mouthful of meatballs), she sighed like a wistful Shirley Temple whose ringlets had lost their bounce: “I wish I was young again and just starting out on married life.” Before you could say “pass the flat-pack, Ingvar”, I was on my feet and skippering her to the cafe, hoping that an inkwell of dill mustard and a defrosted prawn sandwich might restore the glow of rationality.

I’m no stranger to the rewriting of personal history but, believe me, this statement of my mother’s was taking the very dry wholegrain biscuit. I suspect – nay, I could bet my rectangular bruises on it – that given her time over, a fjord full of self-assembly shoe racks and a geezer spouting sofa combinations wouldn’t have induced her to walk down the aisle at the tender age of 22.

Were she to have a choice now, between getting hitched or strapping on her platform shoes and high-tailing it out of here to see what the world was hiding under its raincoat, I’m pretty sure she’d be first in the queue with the flimsy boarding pass and the strawberry lip gloss.

Later that night, having abandoned any hope of ever assembling the confidently packaged in-tray/out-tray thing (which will only end up full of old gas bills anyway), I found myself alone in the city, drifting through the remnants of the Dublin Fringe Festival.

The streets around Temple Bar were shot through with snatches of music; there was something iridescent leaking out of a tarpaulin strung across Meeting House Square. I went around the back, snuck up on a wall of wire fencing and spied people enjoying some live entertainment.

The folk on the other side of the canvas were bathed in pinkish light.

They were imbibing hot dogs and cold beers and throwing back their locks in devil-may-care hoots of laughter while, on stage, a clutch of Australian men, wearing nothing much more than pinstriped aprons and a slash of carmine across their cakeholes, swung from trapeze ropes and generally did interesting things with their pectoral muscles.

I couldn’t hear the gags, which must have been awfully funny because the crowd guffawed, but I could see what a good job the waxing specialist had done on the gymnast.

I wanted to join the party; this was much more fun than measuring shelving units with a paper inch-tape. I asked the lady; she said “no ticket, no admittance”. I asked her if I could buy a ticket; she said they were sold out. I stood at the fence for an hour. The tarpaulin covering had a gap at just about my eye level.

The show ended soon after a burlesque barbecue sequence, during which a member of the audience may or may not have been presented with a foil-wrapped penis (it was difficult to see from my vantage point). It was a warm show on a damp night; I applauded with gusto and stamped up and down to regain my blood flow.

I went to a cafe, watched the night outside the window, watched all the young dudes and all the young girls, with their twisted-up hair and sweet waists and big shoes, flinging their arms around each other, talking fast and skidding over cobblestones, the heady business of their lives echoing around them.

I try to avoid envying the young (I also try to avoid Ikea, but hey, what can I say?), especially the ones you see in airport terminals, lying on their boyfriends’ knees across all the available seating, reading books about vampires, their skinny brown ankles swinging a flip-flop to and fro like an insouciant metronome.

But it’s not really envy I feel anyway, so much as a whiff of longing, and I’m sure my mother is not alone in wanting to turn back the clock a little.

But if she’d motored over the cobblestones of Temple Bar in her electric buggy that night, seen the old streets bathed in candy-coloured light, she wouldn’t be yearning to roll back the years just to embrace an extractor fan or imprint herself on a memory-foam mattress; I figure she’d be hanging with the antipodean boys in party frocks.

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