Róisín Ingle on ... a new string


If you were the kind of person who noticed these things you might have said the broken string on the guitar was a metaphor. It’s been leaning silently in the corner for a few years now, reminding us of another time, a different life. We’ve both been learning the guitar for as long as we’ve been together. The slowest of slow learners, but still. Then one day a string snapped and the music stopped.

We went into town early on Saturday morning for a wander. Since the girls graduated from the pram to their own two feet, there’s a freedom in wandering around town, the promise of an ice-cream later meaning the children don’t complain too loudly about being dragged into boring old shops to buy boring old socks.

Getting in early means the shops are practically empty so you can go up and down escalators shouting ‘Going up! Going down!’ as many times as you like without annoying anyone – which is the opposite of boring.

Their father says he has something to do so we head for the ice-cream shop and have an intense discussion about who is more powerful: Glinda the Good Witch of the North or the Wicked Witch of the West.

It doesn’t come down to cunning or kindness. “Glinda is stronger because she is much more pretty”. The tyranny of pretty has suddenly begun and I don’t know how it happened. It’s a new world populated by princess dolls with impossible hair-dos and passive storylines.

The radio is talking about a beauty contest for little girls held in the beer garden of a pub which sounds like something you couldn’t make up. “But what is Glinda like on the inside? Is she kind? Is she clever?” I ask. They think for a moment. One of them says: “Her insides are pretty too”.

In the time it takes to eat a strawberry and a vanilla ice-cream their father has returned. We are going blackberry picking with the buckets we used to make sandcastles on our summer holiday. When we get to the lane by a farmyard in deepest Co Wicklow, a secret spot my brother swears by, we realise we are either too early or too late. There are slim pickings. But we get enough for a couple of crumbles and find a hill to roll down and someone gets one of those paper thin but painful scrapes from a blackberry thorn. I am four years old again with a mouth stained with soft purple fruit and I feel her pain.

That night at home I notice the guitar is leaning to attention against the bookshelves and is sporting a new set of strings. There are songbooks on the sofa. While we were eating ice-cream and talking about the power of pretty he was getting the string replaced. A new string for an old guitar. I strum a C chord and think to myself: “I’ve still got it”.

I’ve admitted a few embarrassing things in this column over the years but this might be one of the most mortifying: I love The Beautiful South. I love that band with a passion. It’s their songbook I pick up from the sofa. They have a tune called Let Love Speak Up Itself and when the children are in bed we sing it together, cautiously, as though we’ve never sung it before. Like we’re rehearsing for a show we hope to perform one day. When we’ll be word perfect. When there’ll be no need to look at the book. “Let love speak up itself/ Let it rise up in the morning and take us for that walk/ Let it do the talking when we’re too tired to talk”.

If you were the kind of person who noticed these things you might say the new string on the guitar was a metaphor. That night we sang the old songs together, managing half-remembered harmonies, mouthing words that told our story better than we can tell it ourselves. And the next day that surprising late September sun shone like a healing balm from morning until evening.

We spent the day cycling and feeding ducks and dancing like eejits to a live band playing Blondie’s greatest hits in Farmleigh. We drove home through a sea of smiling blue across Dublin’s north inner city.

Later, there was fish and chips on Clontarf prom and a walk along the wall and waving at the big ships crossing the water that sparkled like a magic spell. Things get broken and things get mended. You try to stay pretty inside. You never stop learning.


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