What a Complete Aisling: The story of a very particular type of Irish girl

She started off as a Facebook page by friends Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght. It turned out everybody knows an Aisling, or is an Aisling. Read an extract of Aisling, the novel

Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, authors of Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling: The Novel. Photograph: Nathalie Marquez Courtney

Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, authors of Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling: The Novel. Photograph: Nathalie Marquez Courtney

 

I feel like I’ve known Aisling forever, but technically she’s only about 10 years old.

It all started when Emer McLysaght and I moved in together, having met at Ballyfermot College of Further Education where we forged a firm friendship and studied media on the side. Back then, we spent manys the hungover Sunday talking absolute nonsense while eating corn snacks under blankets. One day we started discussing a certain type of girl we’d noticed around town, one we both strongly identified with due to our culchie roots (I’m from Carlow, Emer’s from Kildare).

We decided to give her a name: Aisling. Aisling’s the country girl who works up in Dublin but has precisely zero time for your city notions, thank you very much. She loves working in the Big Smoke – very sophisticated altogether – but she loves going Down Home every weekend even more. We saw Aisling everywhere: walking to work with her packed lunch in an old Brown Thomas bag, minding the handbags in Coppers on a Saturday night, being the one who knows how to work the office fax machine.

And so we started sharing our Aislingisms: “Aisling loves a good wake”; “Aisling has never hidden from the television licence inspector”; “Aisling knows the Weight Watchers points in everything”. Word started to spread because it turns out everyone knows an Aisling, or is an Aisling. Emer set up a Facebook group called Oh My God What A Complete Aisling, which has grown from just our circle of friends to having more than 37,000 members, all there for the love of Aisling and her quirks.

Last year, we were approached by a publisher. Would we like to turn Aisling into a book? We jumped at the chance, but rather than create a sort of compendium of Aislingisms, we decided to write a novel, one that would propel Aisling out of the Facebook group and out into the masses. It’s the least we could do for a character that has brought us so much joy over the years. – Sarah Breen

An extract from Oh My God, What a Complete Aisling: The Novel

My eyelids are sealed shut, but I can tell from the brightness of the room that we’ve definitely overslept. My mouth is dry, my head is thumping and I’m parched. None of this is surprising, considering we started drinking at two o’clock yesterday. That’s the problem with early weddings – everyone is fluthered by teatime. And the dinner took bloody ages to be served – beeforsalmon, naturally.

When my Big Day finally arrives, whenever that might be, I’ve already decided I want the ceremony no earlier than three o’clock and we’re definitely doing the speeches after the meal, not before. Of course Daddy won’t be able to relax and enjoy his beeforsalmon but I couldn’t have the girls as pissed as Denise’s bridesmaids were yesterday. I caught Eimear Flanagan – I used to babysit her – with a fag in her hand puking in the leylandii hedge at nine o’clock.

Slowly, I open one eye, aware of John’s considerable mass in the bed beside me. He’s face-down, snoring softly, absolutely out for the count. Of course he would be, having spent a good two hours on his knees, sliding around the dancefloor to AC/DC and Kings of Leon with his tie around his head. Honestly, lads are so juvenile when they get together. If they’re not trying to outdo each other buying rounds every fifteen minutes, they’re making a show of themselves as soon as the band starts. It’s even worse when the lads in question are all from Knocknamanagh Rangers hurling team because, in fairness to them, they’re very fit. They can carry on like that for hours and not even break a sweat. No wonder they’re county champions.

Suddenly the clock on my phone catches my eye and I sit bolt upright. That can’t be right, can it? 10.52, it beams back at me. I think back to the conversation I had with the lovely Brazilian girl on reception who checked us in yesterday: “The pool is closed for refurbishment. Breakfast ends at 11am, even on Sunday. The sausages won an award.”

John’s out of the bed, stumbling in the half-darkness . . . I'm shocked at how limber he is. Only six hours ago, he was singing Mr Brightside

I grab the phone, beads of cold sweat gathering on the back of my neck. 10.53. Jesus Christ, we’re going to miss the hotel breakfast. It’s a continental buffet as well as hot food a là carte!

“John,” I whisper, my voice shaking. “I think we’re going to miss the hotel breakfast.”

As quick as Clark Kent nipping into a phonebox, twirling and suddenly transforming into Superman, John’s out of the bed, stumbling in the half-darkness, rapidly releasing himself from the many surplus sheets knotted around his ankles. I’m shocked at how limber he is. Only six hours ago, he was singing Mr Brightside with his eyes closed in the residents’ bar and looking back now I’m fairly certain he was crying. Baby Chief Gittons was on the acoustic guitar. John loves The Killers. Everyone was a bit emotional, myself included.

“It’s included in the price, isn’t it?” he asks, his voice husky. “The breakfast?”

“It is,” I say, feeling for my jeans.

10.55. I stumble into the ensuite – two sinks, nice touch – where John is simultaneously brushing his teeth, rubbing a cloth across his face and attempting to hold in a puke. I catch sight of my reflection – mother of God, I didn’t even take off my makeup last night, that’s highly unusual – and wince.

10.59. In a cloud of Lynx Africa (John) and Clinique Happy (me), we slip out of the room and leg it to the lift, which – and this is proof that God exists – is apparently waiting for us. Forty-five seconds later, we walk into the diningroom, which, to my horror and disgust, is absolutely heaving.

****

It’s 11.25am and people are still arriving down to breakfast, heading sheepishly towards the buffet like they have all the time in the world. I’m not feeling great. Of course I had the works – fresh fruit and yoghurt, croissant, made-to-order omelette, pain au chocolat, full Irish, about three litres of orange juice in those little thimbles that you get in hotels. But it’s starting to turn on me. The smoked salmon was probably a bad choice.

Beside me, John is horsing into the contents of his second trip to the buffet. He looks so cute that I can’t stop myself reaching out and squeezing his hand affectionately. His plain white T-shirt is inside out, I’ve just noticed – the big gom. He looks up from his sausage sandwich and raises his eyebrows quizzically.

“I was just thinking – imagine, this could be us in a couple of years,” I say coyly.

He raises his eyebrows even higher.

“Here, in a nice hotel, the day after a wedding,” I clarify, looking at him straight in the eye. “Except it could be our wedding,” I add, glancing across at the door where the bride, clearly a bit worse for wear, is making an entrance wearing a blue and yellow Knocknamanagh Rangers jersey with “Mrs Kelly” printed on the back above Liam’s number, 8.

I feel a little sting of jealousy watching everyone crowd around Denise. John and I have actually been going out eight months longer than she and Liam, and they got engaged two years ago. Meanwhile, we’re not even living together.

It’s not that I’m not happy with how things are going – I am; it’s just that I always thought they’d be going a bit quicker after being together for seven years. Sure we were at those three weddings last year alone – all Rangers lads – so it’s not like we’d be blazing a trail or anything.

“Maybe more than a ‘couple’,” John guffaws, looking back at his sausage, knocking me out of my trance. I hold out my cup for a tea top-up. Barry’s, of course.

“What do you mean, more than a couple?” I ask, trying to keep my tone breezy.

“Well, it’s not exactly on the horizon for us, is it? I’m twenty-nine and you’re only twenty-eight. You’d be a child bride by today’s standards,” he adds with a hollow laugh, spraying toast crumbs onto the white linen tablecloth.

“Denise is twenty-seven,” I reply quietly. “She didn’t do Transition Year. She thought it was only a doss and that it would get her out of the routine of studying – she actually never shut up about it . . .”

I let the words trail off and look down at my plate full of croissant crumbs so he won’t see my eyes fill with tears. I can’t cry here, in a room full of girls I went to school with and GAA lads. I haven’t even showered.

“Come on – check-out is at half twelve and I want to have a wash before we go. The toiletries are Crabtree & Evelyn, I’m not missing that,” I say, standing up and throwing my napkin on the chair a little harder than I mean to.

At 12.31, we’re pulling out of the driveway, the atmosphere between us in the car a little warmer than in the diningroom, but there’s still a strange tension, hanging around like a ferocious smell.

“We saw Aisling everywhere: walking to work with her packed lunch in an old Brown Thomas bag, minding the handbags in Coppers on a Saturday night, being the one who knows how to work the office fax machine.” Illustration: Lauren O’Neill
“We saw Aisling everywhere: walking to work with her packed lunch in an old Brown Thomas bag, minding the handbags in Coppers on a Saturday night, being the one who knows how to work the office fax machine.” Illustration: Lauren O’Neill

****

I arrive home to find Daddy asleep in front of GAA Beo, a fluffy ginger ball curled up on his lap. Technically the cat is Paul’s, but since my younger brother’s departure for Australia four months ago, Daddy and Tiger have forged a weird sort of bond, borne out of a fondness for the fire and a desire to avoid Mammy’s incessant questions. He wakes up as I reach for the remote, even though I haven’t made a sound.

“Don’t change that, the second half is just after starting,” he grumbles, pushing himself up in the chair and fixing his glasses. “How did that bloody cat get in?”

He shakes a startled Tiger onto the floor and she stalks out, glaring at me like it’s my fault – which, technically, it is.

“The match is in extra time with less than a minute to go,” I point out, nodding at the telly. “You were out for the count.”

He pretends not to have heard me. The lambs are coming early this year and he was probably up half the night. He should be in bed, not sleeping awkwardly in an armchair. He’s getting a bit old now for that carry-on and he’s just not able for it any more. Mammy will go through him for carrying in half a bale of hay in his brown Work Trousers and bobbly old Work Jumper. (All of his Work Jumpers start life as Good Christmas Jumpers, becoming Work Jumpers after they’ve served sufficient years at the top, in a kind of comforting cycle of clothes.)

On the face of it, they’re both sleepy little villages, nearly identical to the untrained eye

“How was the wedding? Mammy said Denise was a stunner. And the Knock lads did a guard of honour at the church for Liam? They stole that idea from us, you know,” he tuts.

There’s nothing Daddy loves more than bringing up the “legendary” (his words) rivalry between Ballygobbard, where we’re from, and Knocknamanagh, our nearest town, six miles away via winding back roads. On the face of it, they’re both sleepy little villages, nearly identical to the untrained eye. We have the Scouts’ den. But they’ve got the library. We were very excited to get a Chinese takeaway in 2001 but were upstaged just a short while later when a gang of Brazilians moved to Knocknamanagh.

You get the picture. They both have one main street and plenty of pubs. The hurling teams play each other in almost every county final, with the competition frequently spilling off the pitch and into everyday life. As a result, Daddy sees myself and John as a sort of modern-day Romeo and Juliet but with fewer suicides and more GAA dinner-dances.

“Oh Daddy, will you give it a rest? I’m in bits here.”

“Right so. Did you have the beef? Was it a late one? I’ll put the kettle on.”

“Yes and yes,” I say, kicking off my shoes and grabbing a cushion. “Will you bring in some biscuits? She has loads of leftover Christmas ones hidden around the place.”

“Are there biscuits hidden somewhere? I wouldn’t even know where to look – that’s your mother’s domain,” he says, heading for the kitchen to first check the USA biscuit tin that we were convinced was a sewing kit. Turns out Mammy had been using it as a kind of double-bluff in her quest to keep anything “good” away from us. A groan of defeat means she knows we’re on to her. She’s so great at hiding treats that I found a packet of Viscounts from 2012 in the food processor two weeks ago. Joke’s on her because we ate them anyway.

I flick through the channels. There’s nothing on, as usual, so I check to see if there are any episodes of Home and Away recorded to catch up on. Bingo, there are – so I flick one on and settle back.

“Ah, Aisling, I’ve already seen this one,” Daddy says, arriving in with a tray laden down.

For a dyed-in-the-wool farmer, Daddy is low-key obsessed with soaps, especially the Australian ones. I think part of him longs for a bit of escapism. He doesn’t get much glamour moving sheep and cattle around all day.

“You’re very quiet, Ais,” he says, eyes firmly on the telly. “Was there a fly in your cornflakes?”

As if anyone in their right mind would have cornflakes at a hotel breakfast buffet.

“John’s driving me mad.” The words fall out of my mouth accidentally. “He said that ourselves getting married any time in the near future was a bit of a far-fetched idea.”

Daddy puts down his cup and reaches for a pink wafer. “Far-fetched? After going out for seven years? Sure, Denise and Liam got engaged two years ago and they met well after you two.”

“I know, that’s what I said,” I half-shout.

“Do you want me to have a word? He’s seen the rifle,” Daddy smiles, and I know there’s about two per cent truth in it.

“Jesus, Daddy, that’s all I need – a literal shotgun wedding.”

  • This is an edited extract from Oh My God, What A Complete Aisling: The Novel by Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, published by Gill Books (€14.99)

Win tickets to Aisling’s table quiz

To celebrate the launch of Oh My God What A Complete Aisling, The Novel, authors Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen, along with publishers Gill Books are hosting a table quiz (what else?) on Thursday September 21st at 7pm in Aisling’s spiritual home… Copper Face Jacks. Dig out those Blackboard Jungle quiz books and get swotting. The Irish Times has tickets for five tables (of four participants) for our readers. Each team member will get a Notions tote bag and Complete Aisling t-shirt on the night, as well as complimentary West Coast Cooler (go EASY on them now girls) and some delicious nibbles (feck the Points!).

To be in with a chance of winning, see irishtimes.com/competitions/aislingtablequiz

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