Ross O’Carroll-Kelly: ‘I should report you – underfloor heating is a human right’
Ability to fake sincerity in any situation is best thing about a south Dublin convent education
Sorcha looks terrified. She is terrified. But then I’m terrified, too.
She goes, “Do you think we should wake her up?”
She’s talking about Pang, the eight-year-old Chinese exchange student who’s come to live with us as part of the Mount Anville Mandarin Immersion Project.
“I think we should let sleeping dogs lie,” I go. “The more time she spends asleep, remember, the quicker the next 12 weeks are going to pass.”
The next thing we hear is a bump – the sound of her getting out of bed. We stare at each other across the kitchen table, trying to figure out, from the weight of her footsteps, what kind of a mood she’s in this morning. Which is a ridiculous question, of course. Pang has only one mood.
Ten seconds later, the kitchen door flies open and she’s suddenly standing there, her orms crossed in front of her, scowling at us. “Okay, why isn’t the underfloor heating on?” she goes – her English is really coming on, although you’ll have to do the accent in your own heads, because it’d possibly be racist if I did it.
Sorcha’s there, “Good morning, Pang!” trying to keep the porty polite. “I hope you slept well!”
Forget Leaving Cert points tables – the ability to fake sincerity in any social situation is the best thing that comes of a south Dublin convent-school education.
“Never mind how I slept,” the kid goes. “I asked you a question – why isn’t the underfloor heating switched on?”
Sorcha looks at me for back-up, but I’m taking a sudden interest in the dregs at the bottom of my coffee cup. “The thing is,” Sorcha goes, “we don’t have underfloor heating.”
Pang’s there, “I should report you to the school. Underfloor heating is a human right.”
“I’m not sure if I’d call it a human right, Pang. Our winters are actually quite mild in this country.”
“Yeah, you can tell that to the inquest when I die of hypothermia. I’m going to report you for this.”
Sorcha’s like, “Ross, are you going to say something, or are you going to just sit there?”
I was going to just sit here. But then I come up with a compromise that should keep everyone happy. “Okay,” I go, “how much does underfloor heating cost?”
Sorcha’s like, “Excuse me?”
I’m there, “You heard the girl, Sorcha, it’s a human right – and it’d probably add a few Ks to the value of the house.”
Sorcha’s like, “I can’t believe you just said that, Ross”, not a happy bunny.
Women. I’ve loved thousands of them. Understood none.
“You should have had it installed before I came here,” the kid goes. “Now, what are we doing today?”
Sorcha’s like, “What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? Sorry, remind me again which one of us speaks English as a second language? What I mean is, what activities do you have planned for me?”
Again, in fairness to her, Sorcha tries to maintain her enthusiasm. “Well,” she goes, “there’s an amazing, amazing place in Sandyford called Imaginosity, where young people can learn through play.”
“No interest,” Pang goes. “What else?”
Sorcha ends up being a bit thrown by that. I think it was her trump cord. “Er, well, there’s also the National Museum – I was thinking it might be good for you to learn something about Ireland’s, I don’t now, history? ”
“No interest,” Pang goes. “What else?”
Again, I try to come up with something that suits all porties. See, I’m very much a people pleaser. “There’s a massive shopping mall,” I go, “called Dundrum Town Centre. We could bring you there and buy you stuff.”
Pang points at me. “You,” she goes, “the fat one – what’s your name again?”
I’m there, “Yeah, no, it’s Ross.”
“I like the way your mind works,” she goes. “I’ll go and get my coat.”
I can tell from Sorcha’s face that she’s ready to open up on me, but that’s when her laptop suddenly storts beeping away like R2D2 pissed. “Oh my God,” she goes, “that’ll be Honor! She said she’d Skype us today!”
I don’t think either of us has ever been so excited at the prospect of talking to our daughter. Ten seconds later, she’s up on the screen, looking happier than either of us has ever seen her.
“How are you?” Sorcha goes – and I can hear the catch in her voice. “Honor, we miss you so much.”
“Oh my God,” Honor goes, “I’m having an amazing, amazing time. I love it here. And Feng and Zhang are, like, so, so nice. They have underfloor heating.”
Sorcha’s like, “Really? That sounds lovely,” and I watch her wipe away tears with the tips of her fingers.
Honor goes, “Why don’t we have underfloor heating? Oh, wait a minute – Feng and Zhang want to say hi.”
Feng and Zhang end up being Pang’s old pair. Their faces suddenly fill the screen, smiling and looking generally pleased with themselves. “Hello,” he goes – again, you’ll have to do the accent yourselves. “You have a beautiful daughter.”
Zhang nods, agreeing with her husband.
Sorcha goes, “Do you want to speak to Pang?”
The two of them, at the exact same time, go, “No – no thank you.”
That’s when I end up suddenly flipping. “You’ve stung us,” I hear myself go. “You’ve stung us in a major way here.”
Honor goes, “They can’t understand you. Their English isn’t great.”
“I’m saying they’ve stitched us up,” I go. “Tell them we don’t appreciate being stitched up like that. They never mentioned that Pang was a wagon. She’s worse than even you. Actually, tell them the deal is off. We’re swapping back.”
Honor’s like, “I don’t know how to say that in Mandarin.”
I’m there, “Honor, you do know how to say it. Tell them we’ve changed our minds. We’re sending their daughter back.”
Honor goes, “I have to go. They’re taking me to a museum today to learn about Chinese culture,” and she slams her laptop shut.
And me and Sorcha look up to see Pang standing in the doorway again, this time with her coat on. “Just so you know,” she goes, “I heard every word of that.”
ILLUSTRATION: ALAN CLARKE