Jason Byrne: ‘Another baby! I’m not made of money’
It’s 1980s Dublin in Jason Byrne’s new book, and from the moment Mam announces there’s going to be a new arrival in the family, Dad is in a state
Jason Byrne: ‘People nowadays don’t like it when you bring children into bars, but we spent most of our childhood there, along with the rest of the road’
‘Adventures of a Wonky-Eyed Boy: The Short Arse Years’ by Jason Byrne
We were all having dinner at the table. My brother Eric had finished first, my sister was making a mess, I was playing with my burger, my dad was lifting up his fish and saying: “This could have done with longer on the pan.” My mam looked up at us all.
MAM (deep breath): I’m going to have a baby.
SISTER RACHEL: Yeahh!, a little baby.
ERIC (doesn’t care): Right.
ME: But you’re too old, Mam.
MAM: No I’m not, it will be great.
DAD: Another baby! I’m not made of money, you know.
As if my mother had gone out and gotten herself pregnant with a sponge and a stick. My dad was in a pretty bad mood for a while, as he now had four mouths to feed, but that was just the way it was going to be.
After my mam had the baby, myself, Eric and Rachel stood in a line like three orphans in front of my dad in the livingroom. My mam wasn’t coming home for a few days and Dad had to mind us. This was going to be similar to letting a monkey fly a jet airplane.
He had no idea what we ate, how we dressed, what time our schools started at, how to iron, wash; basically he had no idea who we were. That’s how it was in those days: your dad was this fella who hung out in the house like an extra big child and your mam looked after him the same way she looked after her children.
Dad stared at us with wonder. “Right . . . everyone into the car. Chipper.”
Yes, yes, yes!
As a kid, and even now, when you hear the word “chipper” it’s like a shot of adrenaline; we always associated the chipper with excitement. We loved it when we were in the house and Dad would ring from the pub and tell my mam to heat the plates under the grill, that he was bringing home chips. Mam would put on the grill, heat the plates, then Dad would wander in about 11.30pm and we’d all sit around eating chips. I’ve no idea why my mam heated the plates, as the chips were boiling anyway. So we all sat around, cooling our chips before putting them into our mouths: “Hoo, hoooo, hoooooo.” We sounded like a family of owls in a circle.
Most popular things you’d find in a chipper:
1 Fresh cod and chips.
2 20 Silk Cut purple.
4 Very, very busy mammies (red-faced and embarrassed): “Jesus, I didn’t have time to put a dinner on.”
5 Young fellas up to no good.
Most battered items in a chipper:
1 Battered burger.
2 Battered fish.
3 Battered onion.
4 Battered sausage.
5 Battered young fella.
So we were very much in my dad’s way of living; we even stopped at the pub on the way home from everything. This time we had to stop off on the way home from the hospital, with the chips and burgers. It’s as if he didn’t want to upset the barman. We sat around the table, all digging into our burgers and chips. The barman came over and gave us our fizzy drinks.
BARMAN: They’re not allowed eat chips in here, Paddy.
DAD: Ah, shut your mouth. Their mother is in hospital. Where else are they going to have their chips and burgers?
BARMAN: In the house, Paddy.
DAD: And how in the name of jaysus am I supposed to have me pint if I’m stuck in the house with that lot?
BARMAN: Fair point, Paddy.
Oh, the love of a father. We loved being in the pub; it was so different from the way it is now. People nowadays don’t like it when you bring children into bars, but we spent most of our childhood there, along with the rest of the road. There were only two places you’d find out news in the area when I was a kid. The news on telly and the papers? Wrong, it was either: 12.30 Mass on a Sunday, as people hung around to get gossip off each other and there was no Mass coming in after, so you could linger; or in the pub. Mind you, info from the pub about someone else could be sketchy, because drink was in the mix.
On a Saturday afternoon the pub was amazing. The system was as follows: all the dads drove the mam and the kids up to the supermarket. Mammies all headed into supermarket. Dads brought the children into the lounge, a bright part of the pub, bought them a packet of crisps and a “lemo”, which was my dad’s word for a lemonade, but we always ordered Cokes. Another lovely word my dad would use was for a whiskey, which he called “a Henry”: “I’ll have a pint and a Henry,” he’d say to the barman, and the barman knew what he meant. All the dads would then leave all the younger kids to be minded by the older kids, and off they would go into the bar. The bar was a much darker place, with no women or children. It wasn’t that women weren’t allowed in there, it was just that the ladies left the misery of the bar to their moany husbands so they could talk shite to each other. Oh, and the pint was 10p cheaper in the bar.
I think this was due to lack of light; the bar must have made up the money on not using too many lightbulbs. So all us kids would play together in the pub, running around the lounge, off our heads on lemo and crisps. The dads would knock back the pints and talk shite. The mammies pushed the trolleys around the supermarket, squeezing bread and smelling fruit.
Eventually, Mam would come into the lounge looking for us, trolley parked outside in the pub porch. She’d round us up, then we’d all go in and get Dad. Dad drives us home. Mam doesn’t even get a packet of crisps as she needs to get dinner on. “Baby Eithne is coming home,” squealed my little sister. Thank God, the three days were up. We were sick of burgers and chips, none of us had got to school on time and we ended up wearing random variations of our school uniforms. We had a note, though, which explained: “THEIR MOTHER IS IN HOSPITAL, FOR GOD’S SAKE, signed Paddy Byrne. ”
“I’ve a surprise for you all to celebrate the coming home of your new sister,’ said Dad. ‘A video recorder.” My God! I had seen one of these before alright, but wow, now we had one.
“The rules of having this video recorder is that you can’t tell anyone we have one, or the house will be broken into and the recorder stolen. It cost a fortune,” Dad said.
And it did, in those days. These massive rectangular boxes cost around 800 quid; I think my dad had got a loan or something to pay for it. To be honest, a burglar wouldn’t have had the strength to rob this thing; they weighed a ton. They were cool, though: ours had a top-loader mechanism and no remote control, just massive buttons to press to make it do what you wanted.
So now we had one, and that’s why we ended up in the video shop before my dad had to collect my new sister and Mam. Years after this, we used to have a fella in a van who would pull up outside the house, you’d give him a fiver and he’d hand you a pirate copy of a movie that was in the cinema.
You were better off going to the cinema – less stress and a pound dearer – but where’s the fun in that? The video shop was full of my mates and their dads all walking around the shop, all pretending to each other that none of us had video recorders in our houses. No, we were all just having a look around to see what all the fuss was about. I had to keep people talking at one end of the shop as my dad, looking shifty, joined the video shop queue at the other end. The man then gave him a video.
Eric, Rachel and me were sitting on the couch. From outside we heard my dad beeping the beep-beep-we’re-home-with-good- news beep, and we all ran outside. My mam got out of the car with this tiny bundle in her hands, with tiny little fingers waving out at us. We all tried to see inside the bundle, while Mam tried to get into the house.
My mam sat on the couch while my new little sister gurgled in her arms. We all had a go at holding little Eithne. Then my dad walked in with a cup of tea for my mam. My mam stared at him in slight horror.
MAM: Is that for me?
DAD: Course it is. Cup of tea for my lovely lady, and, and . . .
(My dad uncovers the video recorder, which was under a tea towel.)
DAD: A video recorder, so you can watch a movie whenever you want.
MAM: Jesus, how much was that thing?
DAD: Ah not to worry. Sure, you can’t put a towbar on a hearse.
(Dad then leans down, puts the video in, and it makes its alarming churningnoises.)
DAD (to me): The curtains, Jason, get the curtains . . .
I closed the curtains, and we all sat and started to watch our first ever VHS video-recorder movie. The movie started. It was about these college boys getting up to no good: first came the drinking of the cans at the back of the school, then, then . . . the sneaking into the showers to see naked ladies. Oh my God! The movie just got worse and worse, boobs, men’s bits, ladies’ bits everywhere, we were all red-faced watching it.
RACHEL (pointing at the screen): Willies!
My dad and mam didn’t move, it was like they were in shock, like if they moved they might bring more attention to what was happening on the screen. The tape then started to make a really weird noise, the picture left the screen, thank God. The machine had chewed up the tape as if we were all willing it to. Then, blank screen. Silence swamped the room, the only thing we could hear was my new sister, gurgling.
“Tea anyone? Tea?” my mam said.
Everyone in the room said yes, at the same time, then we all ran to different parts of the house to try and understand what had happened – except for my sister Eithne, who had no idea what had happened. Apparently, my dad had hired Porky’s, which was basically a soft-porn movie. When my dad was all shifty in the video shop earlier and he’d asked the owner, “Have you got anything good? I don’t want the rest of them to know,” the owner thought he meant anything racy because my dad looked so shifty. So my dad greets my new baby sister into our house with Porky’s.
“Welcome home, sis.”
This is an edited extract from Adventures of a Wonky-Eyed Boy: The Short Arse Years by Jason Byrne, published by Gill Books, €16.99/£14.99