Marian Keyes reflects on the delights of family time, from weddings and babysitting gone wrong to an oddly uplifting discussion about her mother’s funeral, in this extract from her bestseller Making It Up As I Go Along
Various Family Things
Tadhg and Susan are getting married! This is extra wonderful because Tadhg has always insisted he would never get married, and not that people need to be married or anything to show their commitment, but a wedding can be a great day out. (Also a reason to have a nervous breakdown if you were planning one anyway.)
The only condition Tadhg (which, incidentally, is my favourite man’s name in the whole world and I’d love to write a hero called Tadhg but no one outside of Ireland would be able to pronounce it) . . . anyway, yes, the only condition Tadhg has put on things is that he doesn’t want the big, traditional wedding, and this is fine by me because they’re planning to get married abroad and we’ll all get a holiday out of it.
Initial talk was of the Caribbean, but some older members of the family began cribbing about long flights, so that plan has been abandoned and now Italy is the word on the street.
I’ve never been to Italy, so I’m extra thrilled, but then yesterday my mother came up with some nugget of information that Irish people have been banned from getting married in Italy because they’ve been causing ruckus and commotion. I don’t know if there’s any truth to this rumour, but in fairness there might be because a reliable woman I know says that at any Irish wedding the most important question you must ask is ‘What time does the fight start?’
Then, on Saturday 28th, baby Gabriel was born to Caron (partner of Chris, Himself’s brother). This is thrilling, thrilling news. (I may have already told you that they’re the parents of the beautiful Jude – two and a quarter) and there are celebrations all round. You can’t beat a new baby for cheering everyone up.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, we had an unexpected visit from Ema (almost seven) and Luka (five). Niall and Ljiljana had to come from Prague for a funeral, and Himself and myself were put on childcare duties while they went to the funeral. And of course it’s a bad business to profit from someone else’s misfortune, but we had a lovely time.
I had great middle-class plans for a brisk bracing walk down the pier, pointing out educational things (‘Did you know 4,000 tons of rock were blasted to build Dún Laoghaire harbour?’ and other such boring facts), a healthy home-cooked lunch, educational games in the afternoon, followed by ten minutes of Nick Jr, if they’d eaten all of their organic beetroot.
Sadly, it didn’t work out that way. First of all, Ema tried on all my shoes and went away with a pair of my very highest and later I got into trouble with Ljiljana about it, then she tried on all my lip glosses and later I got into trouble with Ljiljana about that too. Then, after Luka nearly killed himself messing on the treadmill (Ljiljana doesn’t know about that, but if she had I would have got into trouble with her about that also), they watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail and learnt many new words (notably ‘fuck’).
Then we got into the car and went – yes! Where else? – to McDonald’s, where they had – yes! – Happy Meals, with crappy toys, then Ema put a bag of excessively smelly fries into my Balenciaga handbag (which she had commandeered) and we traipsed desultorily around Dundrum shopping centre, buying things we didn’t want and didn’t need (except for my jacket, see below), then we went to see Meet the Robinsons and bought loads of sweets. This, I suppose, is the modern way.
In fairness I had a GREAT time and – of course – got a new jacket. I’d been looking for a jacket and had drawn a blank and then there it was! It’s very nice. Navy, mid-thigh, canvas. My only anxiety is that it has two rows of buttons and I look a bit like Sergeant Pepper.
However, it is very nice, so nice that when my dad saw me in it he said, ‘That’s very nice.’ Which was highly unexpected because he is a) blind as a bat, and b) a man. He called my mother into the hall in order for her to admire it alongside him, and she looked at me doubtfully and said, ‘Has it an awful lot of buttons?’
Then Niall and Ljiljana came home from the funeral, and Ljiljana and I sat on the couch for about ten hours and discussed all the different vitamins and supplements we take every day. I know it sounds odd, but it was HUGELY enjoyable.
Then they went back to Prague and – I suppose triggered by the funeral – Mam and I got into a discussion one night about her funeral. She is incredibly specific about what she wants. She listed out a whole load of yokes – she doesn’t want earrings while she’s ‘laid out’. She does want lipstick but she doesn’t want blusher. Or maybe it’s the other way round. Christ! I was meant to write it all down and she’ll come back and haunt me if I get it wrong.
Honestly, there was a load of specifications: she wants to wear blue and white; she wants her ‘good rosary beads’ wound through her fingers; and she doesn’t care what shoes she wears, because apparently your feet are covered, so no one will see. She doesn’t want a biodegradable coffin because she’s afraid it would be too flimsy and that while she was being carried down the aisle it might give way and she might topple out on top of the mourners and the shame of her bare feet would be there for all to see.
Although she is a humble woman, she was quite definite that she wanted ‘a decent coffin’. Not necessarily made of ‘endangered species’, she said, but something ‘decent’. THEN we had a discussion about who she wanted to carry her down the aisle. She thought the undertaker’s would have ‘lads’ to do it, but I suggested that having family members doing it would be nicer. We tussled a little and then I got to use words that you don’t often get to use in their correct context, which are, of course, ‘Well [heavy sigh], it’s your funeral.’
I know it sounds horribly morbid, but it was actually very funny. ‘Uplifting’ was the word my mother used. Odd, no?
Then, on the 17th, I was on The Paul O’Grady Show and it was FABULOUS. I love that show and he was so nice and funny. I have to tell you something. Dad watches Paul O’Grady and loves, loves, loves Buster the dog. I also (even though I fear dogs) love Buster the dog. (Buster the dog is Paul O’Grady’s dog.) Anyway, when I heard I was going on the show I said to Dad, ‘And I’ll meet Buster!’ ‘Yes,’ he sez, ‘and the other dog.’ ‘What other dog?’ I asked. And he said, ‘The other dog, there’s another dog that’s on sometimes.’ ‘Is that right?’ I said, suddenly going patronizing and like I was talking to a small child. That is because poor Dad sometimes gets the wrong end of the stick; that and the bad eyesight made me conclude that ‘the other dog’ was a figment of his elderly imagination. So on I go to the show and I’m telling everyone behind the scenes that Dad is a great fan of Buster and then someone said, ‘But it’s not Buster who’s on today, it’s Olga.’
‘Olga?!’ I said.
‘Oh yes,’ they said. ‘There’s another dog. Olga.’
The mythical second dog! I was rightly humbled! Rightly! Dad was right and I was wrong.