‘I’m convinced you could tackle the world’s birthrate problem by showing everyone in China a 60-second YouTube clip of Honor’

Illustration: Alan Clarke

Illustration: Alan Clarke


I’m sitting outside L’Officina in Dundrum with a hangover that’s genuinely trying to kill me. Sorcha knocks back the last of her cappuccino and asks me if I’m okay.

I’m there, “Yeah, no, it’d probably help if I borfed at some stage?” and she nods like she understands.

Honor, I should mention, is banging a teaspoon off the table at, like, five-second intervals, while just staring at me. Every time the spoon hits the table, it’s like someone is flicking my brain. I’m like, “Honor, can you possibly stop doing that?”

And she goes, “Yeah, that’s the third time you’ve asked me that question and my answer is still the same? Why should I have to change my behaviour just because you had too much to drink last night? Hashtag, it’s not all about you,” and she continues hitting the table with the spoon.

I notice two or three people outside the restaurant looking over in our direction with their mouths wide open, quietly thanking God that she’s not their daughter. I’m convinced you could tackle the world’s birthrate problem by showing everyone in China a 60-second YouTube clip of Honor, even on a good day.

Sorcha stands up and goes, “Okay, I just have to go to Fran & Jane and Molton Brown and possibly BT2. I won’t be long.”

I’m there, “Sorcha, take her with you. I’m begging you.”

Except Honor doesn’t move. She’s like, “I think I’ll stay here, if it’s all the same to you. I have text messages to catch up on.”

And all Sorcha can say is, “Try to go easy on your father, Honor. Yesterday was a very emotional day for him. It’s all still a bit raw for him,” and off she flounces, leaving me alone with the bill and an eight-year-old girl possessed by the spirit of Chucky.

The second her mother is out of sight, she goes, “He was only a rugby player.”

I tell myself not to get involved. She’s only looking for a reaction. I just stare at a point in the middle distance and I try to block her voice out using the same technique I used to block out the haters back in my playing days. Except this morning, like I said, I’m hungover to fock and Honor can smell weakness like a shark can smell a paper cut.

“I heard you crying when you came in last night,” she goes. “Oh my God, you’re supposed to be the adult.”

I go, “I wasn’t crying. I had a couple of sticks of Heinemite and I spent a couple of hours watching old footage on the laptop.”

“And crying. Like an actual baby.”

“Okay, there may have been a few tears. There’s nothing wrong with crying, Honor, especially when it’s the end of an era. It’d be like if . . .”

I try to think of something that Honor likes – a band, a TV programme, a designer label – that might upset her if it suddenly came to an end. But I can’t think of a single thing that she cares about. Honor came out of the womb bored and her mood hasn’t changed noticeably since then.

She laughs in, like, a cruel way? “You can’t think of anything, can you?”

I’m like, “Not offhand, no.”

The two birds at the next table are talking to each other out of the corner of their mouths – obviously about us.

Honor goes, “It’s a miracle that I’m as emotionally stable as I am. Crying over a rugby player.”

I was actually crying over two rugby players, but I’m not going to give her that ammunition.

I’m there, “Keep your voice down, Honor. He could be shopping up here. And he wasn’t just a rugby player. He was the greatest rugby player of all time – and that’s me calling it. He did things on the pitch that you’d nearly need to watch seven or eight times on the internet afterwards to persuade yourself that they actually happened. And he didn’t just do it against the weaker teams, like Italy and – okay, I’m getting a dig in here – Munster. He did it against Australia, England, New Zealand. It was a case of the bigger the opposition, the bigger the performance – very, very similar to me in an exact-opposite kind of way.”

She picks up her phone, already fed up with the conversation. I’m on a serious roll, though.

“The talk in Kielys last night was that they should retire the number 13 jersey,” I go. “I didn’t think that was enough. I said they should retire the entire sport of rugby. Look, I was pretty blitzed when I said it, but I’m having moments this morning when I think I might have had an actual point. It comes in waves. Actually, I might still be blitzed.

“I suppose the other reason I’m sad is that, for a lot of people, there was always an element of ‘that could just as easily have been Ross O’Carroll-Kelly out there’ whenever he played. Don’t forget, we were schools cup players together. Both went on scholarship to UCD. One just happened to go in one direction while the other went in the other. It’s kind of like that movie Sliding Doors, except Gwyneth Paltrow missed a train and I didn’t bother my hole to train. I suppose seeing him finally retiring is a reminder to me that it’s possibly never going to happen for me.”

Without looking up from her phone, Honor goes, “You mean the fact that you’re three stone overweight and you haven’t played rugby since before I was born isn’t reminder enough?”

And in that moment, I snap. I reach across the table, suddenly remembering the one thing in the world that my daughter actually does care about, and I grab her phone out of her hand. In the same movement, I throw it, like Church feeding a lineout, and it sails through the air and lands, with a little plop, in the middle of the lake.

Honor looks at me in, like, total shock. One or two people actually clap and say fair focks – this dude could actually write the book on how to parent a South Dublin child. And that’s when Honor turns around to me, her face twisted into a sneer and goes, “You know that was actually your phone I had in my hand?”

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