Feeding your firstborn to a shark

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We all did crazy things after 9/11. I became a parent. I was living in Raheny at the time with a girl I had been with for two years. We met in my hometown, she lived in Dublin, we went out for a year and then I moved up to go to DCU and we moved in together. She was Scottish and lovely. She taught me important facets of her culture: Irn Bru, Greggs sausage rolls, thriftiness, and the wonders of Edinburgh. On my first visit to the city she told me she loved me for the first time, I met her parents, and fell in love with the place and the people.

If you’ve been, you will know that it is hard not to fall in love with it – it’s like MC Escher redesigned Hogwarts and chucked the lot down a cliff. It feels like an ever-shifting puzzle – I can never get my bearings between old town and new, night and day, drunk and sober. My relationship with Scotland’s capital was to long outlive my relationship with the Scottish girl. After some time living together, we realized we were really just very close friends, so we moved into separate rooms and got on with life, albeit a life trapped in a sad stalemate, without any new relationships, however fleeting. She had always wanted to move to Australia, so plans were made and she was to go in late autumn.

In early September 2001 I was walking back from Iceland (the shop in Edenmore, not the ethereal country in the north Atlantic). I noticed cars pulled in on the side of the road, radios blaring, doors open, drivers with one leg out, staring blankly. People in gardens staring at neighbours, TVs in front rooms playing loud. It was like the video for Just by Radiohead. I assumed someone important had died, like the Pope or Madonna. I got back to the house, stuck on Sky News and stared blankly at the mayhem. She came in and we sat there on the bed watching the towers fall, bodies fall, and we wondered if her flights would be affected. The world was changing, and ours was ending. A few weeks later she was on the other side of the planet, and I could move on. And so I did….sort of. I had first seen my wife at Castlemartyr Fair when I was a boozed-out 15 year old. She was amazing. I became tragically obsessed, and remained so for years. Four years later a friend was exhibiting some of his fashions at a show in Jurys in Cork, and I got wind that she would be modeling. So along I went, drank too much Linden Village, and told her how I had basically been stalking her for years. We dated briefly after that until she realized I was possibly completely mental. About three years later we dated again, and again she brutally dumped me as I was, unsurprisingly, still mental. But then I moved to Dublin, sorted my head out, and discovered she was working up there too. So after 9/11 I sauntered into her place of work, and we chatted about how terrible it all was and wow what a crazy time and anyway hey what are you doing next Saturday? Six months later she was pregnant. I have zero regrets. I never pictured myself as a parent, and self doubt would have stopped me from ever actively planning to become one. Who is worthy of that gift? Are you the best version of yourself you can be? Could you possibly say you are not going to ruin this little life? I still think those things now, and am plagued with self doubt, but a trip to your local McDonald’s will probably reassure you that you aren’t the worst parent in the world.

Since then we have had three little boys, but Katie – being the firstborn and the only girl – will always have a special place in my heart. So for the last couple of years I have brought her to Edinburgh to celebrate her birthday with her godfather, who has lived there since 1994. He studied marine biology, and loves the sea with a passion rivalled only by Troy McLure, so it was that we booked Katie a shark encounter at the Deep Sea World aquarium near the Firth Of Forth to mark her 12th nameday.

 

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We flew ex-Dublin, as it was half the price of flying from Cork, and Cork Airport is a goddam nightmare. I’ve had many terrible experiences in that airport, most of them to do with cancelled flights, fog, delays, fog, piss-poor communication, fog, and even a shouting match with a security guard who called my family and I (including my elderly father) a ‘disgrace’ as we were late for a flight due to the check-in desk opening late. So when possible, I avoid Cork. We got a train up to Dublin, and even with taxis and buses we still got to Scotland and back for less than flying via Cork.

The highlands of the lowlands.
The highlands of the lowlands.

We flew on Friday the 13th and our seats were on Row 13. We even checked in our bags in area 13. Spoiler alert: We didn’t crash. We got there, had breakfast in Tranent, then visited the natural history museum, visited the Royal Mile, St Giles’s Cathedral, the Heart of Midlothian and Greyfriars Bobby. Katie refused to spit on the Heart (too ladylike), but insisted on touching Greyfriars Bobby’s little nose, which has been turned shiny from all the fingers rubbing off it in search of good luck.

The next morning it was time to don the Speedo and red beanie and get with the life aquatic. We got to Deep Sea World early enough to have some banter with the staff. So how many kids get eaten by the sharks? About one in each group of four, the girl said, telling Katie that this meant she either had a 25% chance of being eaten, or if she wanted to put a positive spin on it, a 75% chance that one of the other kids would die horribly. Oh, the fun we had. They gave her a dry suit, rudimentary training in using her scuba gear, and away she went into the tank. She was on a little platform in the main aquarium, so there was never really any danger, but it’s hard not to start hearing the first bars from the theme to Jaws when you see a 12-foot sand tiger shark glides towards your child. She had a good 45 minutes or so in there, feeding all the smaller fish and rays and eels, as the odd shark slid past them. The only magical experience I had at her age was a trip to Medjugorje so I could see people staring at the sun and speaking in tongues. I like bringing that trip up as it allows me to use the phrase ‘of course I spent some time in Yugoslavia before the war’. It also taught me that there is no god.

After she got out of the tank we spent some time in the aquarium, which is well worth a trip if you are ever in Scotland. Apart from all the smaller sections and tanks, the main one has a glass tunnel you walk through which enables you to feel like you are in the water. It’s also fun to bring someone who studied marine biology along and watch them correct little kids when they get the names of the different species wrong. Then it was back into town to take in more sights, do some bowling and generally lark about. After a shark encounter everything else is going to pale into comparison anyway.

The next day we visited Edinburgh Dungeon. Oddly, it is part of a franchise of three or four ‘dungeons’ in UK cities. Unsurprising though, as all of history is gruesome as fuck, and Edinburgh’s is no different. In almost total darkness we were ushered about the labyrinth of tunnels and rooms, each dealing with a different story from the city’s incredible past. If you’re thinking of bringing children, you might want to bring the bigger ones only – I overheard a little guy who was about six telling his dad that he ‘didn’t want to die’ during one frightfest. Your guides are the characters from the stories and the props and atmosphere generally is dark as all hell, so steel your nerves. We opened with the story of Sawny Bean, which is basically that remake of The Hills Have Eyes, only much, much worse.

The last part of the tour is great fun, one that comes with an in-character disclaimer that you might want to avoid it ‘if ye be pregnant or if ye be suffering from ye olde lower back pain’. Afterwards you get to buy a photo of yourself shitting your pantaloons – a valuable keepsake.   See below:

Edinburgh is an incredible city. A thousand years of history and culture, great nightlife, great places to eat, things to do and places to go. For me these trips are a chance to appreciate how lucky I am – to have found love, become a parent, and have a friend who knows me better than myself. Beyond those simple things is the bigger picture – to live free in a country like Ireland, devoid of war and, despite the overwhelming negativity you encounter in the media, a great place to live, raise a family, work or even lose your job. Since 9/11, hell has broken loose across the globe, and if you need a reminder of why your life is actually pretty great (but can’t afford to throw your child into a tank full of sharks and killer sea monkeys), you can always watch Al Jazeera for 15 minutes.

 

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