Growing up in a Dublin suburb, then and now

I grew up in a Dublin suburb, and my son grew up in a Dublin suburb; there the comparison ends


It was my son’s birthday.We spent the day in chaos, dumping the laundry on the floor, sweeping framed photographs off the top of the piano, firing football boots under the sink, shoving the laundry back into the basket again. We put the kitchen table in the garden, pegged a cloth over it, herded the potted geraniums from under its legs, settled them against the wall.

We cleared out the office in the yard, scattered cushions inside it, found an oriental-looking rug and a couple of candles, I stood back to survey the handiwork. It looked like an opium den.

By evening the house was neutral, purged of the detritus we shed like skin, spare keys and hair grips, bits of paper scrawled with anonymous phone numbers, spaghetti string earphones, defunct mobile phone chargers that belong to a Neanderthal generation.

Upstairs the bathroom gleamed like an operating theatre. Soft reggae floated from his bedroom, down the vacuumed stairs.

Early evening there were a handful of guests, sorting out music, putting crisps in bowls. I made myself a chicken sandwich, remembered I had two glasses I wanted to rescue from the press, champagne flutes, sticky with dust, swan-like in their

We married late; colleagues gave us the glasses as a wedding present. I like those glasses, they are heavy in the hand, both fragile and solid; I feel oddly proprietorial about them, I don’t want them filled with bubbling cider, kicked under a scatter cushion. I don’t want them to serve as a delicate open mouth for the butt of a rolled-up cigarette.

I took the glasses upstairs to my bedroom, along with the sandwich, wrapped them up in T-shirts, put them in a drawer. This room would be my home for the night. I wasn’t unhappy, I had a glass of wine and my laptop, and a view from the window of the opium den.

I grew up in a Dublin suburb, and my son grew up in a Dublin suburb; there the comparison ends. The distance from my childhood to his deep teenage hood could be measured in light.

I grew up on a newly built estate of semi-detached houses. On my road there were saplings tied to posts, bristling hedges were planted, scarlet Dahlias bled earwigs in neat front gardens, pale green Cortinas were parked in driveways. There were net curtains, and garden gates, and dishes of holy water inside the front doors. At the kitchen tables there were fathers and mothers, sons in short trousers with conkers in their pockets, and daughters with Alice bands taming their well-combed hair. Everybody was Mrs This and Mr That.

There were places you could play and places you couldn’t, and you were careful not to touch the wallpaper when you were allowed upstairs, to sit on a friend’s bunk-bed and marvel at her Sindy dolls.

One day my friend’s mother and father got a new carpet and a brand new three-piece suite. There was hush and awe, we were allowed to stand quietly in the sittingroom doorway and look. The carpet was flecked with tiny mounds of tumbleweed, new born fluff.

“It’s supposed to shed,” my friend whispered.

The suite was covered in plastic, probably still is. When, occasionally, we were given permission to sit on it, our thighs glued themselves to the surface.

My son’s guests arrived all at once, a wave of youth. Beautiful girls with long legs in sheer tights and Doc Marten boots, their faces framed by mermaid hair. Boys with nervous beards and low-slung jeans.

They were wild and lovely; music pumped into the night, the erstwhile opium den smouldered.

The sleeping boy in the bath looked comfortable enough; unfortunately he had two of my nice orange cushions under his head. I ventured downstairs and fed them hot dogs. They were gracious and humorous and so tall. God almighty, when did we start making such tall children in this country?

I looked up into their open, optimistic faces – to me they seemed in some way fearless, or maybe they are just freer, maybe they’re not afraid to unwrap their lives.

I went back upstairs, took out the laptop, the bedroom door opened, someone had mistaken my lair for the bathroom. “Hey Hilary,” said the smiling teenager in the doorway, “how’s the column going?”

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