Reel truth about family life in the past
A Dad's life:There I was. Smooth skinned, relatively wrinkle free, puffy faced from beer and next to no exercise. I’m only getting brief glimpses of myself, though, because the camera was trained on the elder who, at one, was already mugging away as the star of the show. Every now and then I flick the camera around to catch myself in a sort of knowing way.
But the message is clear, I’m besotted with this child and no amount of wry, wringing expressions can disguise the fact.
Our recent move threw up a few tapes, a machine to play them on and, miraculously, leads to link said machine to the TV. We are gathered around the box watching these shows from the past like re-runs of Dallas. The younger child, who barely features as she was born just before the damn recorder went kaput, is surprisingly enthralled. “Is this bit just all about Christmas Day?” she asks. “Is there more dancing?” or “I want to watch another one about holidays.”
She sees a narrative, a story arc, where there is none. Every now and then the camera pans to the corner of the room where she sits in a rock-a-tot and gurgles, but the mainstays are family slagathons and her big sister parading in a princess dress at centre stage. Basically, your average extended family shortly after the first grandchildren have been born.
Fact or fiction
But it’s the notion of the arc that hits me. The younger can’t distinguish between fact and fiction; she expects to get in from school today, do her homework, eat dinner, then settle into another episode of My Life in Nappies. I wonder does she expect action, misunderstandings, romance and betrayal? Does she expect “Northsiders” with a big, thumping theme tune? The camera panning up the Liffey before settling once again in our kitchen as I ask my mum does she fancy another cup of tea and she demands that I turn the bloody camera off. Riveting stuff.
It doesn’t matter. All the child sees is her family in forms that are instantly recognisable but slightly different and in an environment that she doesn’t remember. A kitchen that was designed to seat four but where we regularly fed 10; the dark cave of her parents’ old bedroom with her Moses basket alongside the bed, the floor littered with the detritus of nappy bags and piles of washing. Chaos with babies; a theme familiar to anybody with a couple of under-fours under the roof.