Nobody goes to Dingle to sleep. This was a thought that occured to me as I lay tucked up in my B&B there on a Friday night at 8.30pm. I was in the village for work, but on the way down I was almost giddy with excitement at the thought of an early night. Naturally, I failed to consider that booking a B&B that is right over a pub right on the main street might not have been the best idea, as this small village on the edge of Ireland is absolutely hopping in summer. As I lay there listening to a multitude of languages and various renditions of Galway Girl, I wondered if this would be what it’s like if I never met my wife, never became a father: Dine alone, pint alone, bed alone. All the sleep you want, endless days to yourself. I’m not sure I would like it.
I lost my virginity in Dingle. Not that weekend, obviously. It was 23 years ago, I had just finished the Leaving Cert and hitched down there to meet with friends and my then girlfriend. It took me six hours and four lifts, each one zanier than the last, but I made it, found my friends, and after we exchanged stories about our Kerouacian journeys down, someone said ‘who brought the tent?’ Nobody was the answer, nobody brought the tent. So we trudged out of the town a bit, found one of the many small cottages with no windows, no doors and a half collapsed roof and made our camp there. And it was there that I supposedly became a man.
Most of my memories are shame-based anyway, but it is my romantic ones that cause me the most chagrin. I wondered what happened to everyone I knew back then, how did they remember me, was I as awful as my memories suggest. If I was faced with all my former lovers I think I would just offer a blanket apology, not just for my performance in the bedroom, but in all the other rooms of the house too. I just wasn’t a very good person – intimacy was an irritant, commitment and love seemed like those magic eye pictures from the 1990s; everyone else got them, but not me, no matter how hard I stared. Of course, saying ‘all my lovers’ somehow implies that there were loads, when you really wouldn’t have to make more than four phonecalls to get them together for their long overdue apology.
I briefly thought about going to see if the old cottage was still there, knocking on the door like the traveller from Walter de la Mare’s poem The Listeners, while my horse in the silence champed the grasses of the forest’s ferny floor:
‘But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Said ‘you were really bad at sex,
Now, as much as then’.
If I could go back, there is not a huge amount I would change, as youth is meant to be a relatively cruel education that prepares you for later life. But I would try to treat people better, and specifically, to treat women better. All these thought came back to me not just because I was in Dingle, but because of a phonecall I got while I was there.
On Friday a package arrived to my house. My wife, thinking it was for us, opened it. Bearing in mind the fact that I got a vasectomy three years ago, you can imagine her surprise when she found a packet of condoms within. I’m amazed she recognised what they were, given that we have four kids and ergo are not overly familiar with the concept of contraception. She checked the address again, but while it was the right house, it was the name that was wrong, as the package was addressed to our daughter, who is 14. There were several options here: It was either a prank, a slur, a practical necessity (dear god please no), or she meant to order some boutique brand of ketchup and due to our failing school system was unable to spell ‘condiment’ correctly. As a father, this is the moment you dread – it means the sharks that you once swam are starting to circle, and you are going to need to get your daughter on a bigger boat, ie, a finishing school in the Swiss Alps.
Whatever the reason for the delivery – early explanations include ‘friendly prank’ which actually means ‘typically inept flirting by some poor kid’ – the hour has arrived where I need to sit down with her and tell her who I was and how to avoid people like me, or at least, people like Early Nineties Me. It seems like yesterday she was this little bundle in my arms, then playing with dolls, starting school, all those growing pains, and now she is drifting away from us into her own hidden world that we have no access to. All we can do is try to make sure she doesn’t make our mistakes, and at least makes some new, slightly less awful ones, like waiting for the right time to take this big adult step, and remembering to bring a tent when you go camping, euphemistically as well as every other way.