My summer of travelling got back on track as I took Lilly, Malina and their Polish grandparents to Ireland. My PRACTICAL SILESIAN WIFE, who paid for the holiday, ended up at the last minute not being able to go. I felt sorry for her for all of two seconds, because it meant I had to shoulder the following permutation; my mother+in-laws+two hyperactive children. Good people, all very dear to me, but dealing with them together is much akin to driving a truck-load of dynamite over a rocky road.
Well maybe not my father-in-law. The promise of a beer and a bike and he’s more than happy. I provided him with both and he tore through Connemara, past the fields of turf, cut and stacked high, past the natives in their simple, corrugated huts. The west of Ireland is the edge of world, a lonesome, beautiful, awful place, where you can smell the soft brown patches of rain falling down the mountainside and where a feral goat may or may not steal your children when you’re not looking. Much like east Poland then, only with less bigots running around pulling out people’s toenails.
This holiday, for me at least, was not so much about the travelling or the adventures, or the random buffoonery, but more about reconnecting with my natural environment and letting my wife’s parents see me in a different light; a gliding, fluid, self-sufficient Irishman. Devoid of paranoia. Likeable. Cool. HD Ready de Búrca.
And yet, I must have known it was never going to turn out that way.
This became appallingly obvious as we entered the hallway of my mother’s house, when the first thing that greeted us was a metre-high statue of Jesus Christ. This is in keeping with the various forms she has collected over the years; a golden Buddha, several stuffed witches and a two-metre high bronze goblin in the downstairs toilet. The Jesus likeness is undeniably handsome, doe-eyed, with implausible blonde hair and being thereabouts the same size as my daughters, they took to him immediately;
‘Dad, it’s Jesus,’ said Lilly, her red cheeks glowing.
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Or it could be scruffy Rod Stewart.’
‘I love him,’ said Malina.
‘No I love him. He’s my boyfriend,’ said Lilly, pushing her sister away from this miniature son of God and hugging him. So bizarre to witness your daughters first ever dispute over a boyfriend, especially when said boyfriend is an inanimate wooden deity.
Weirder still is the improbable, yet undeniable actuality of having trumped my Polish in-laws in terms of religious iconography. This truncated, beautific prophet had torpedoed my vague hopes of recasting myself as a suave, urbane Irish, sui generis; not afflicted by superstition. What other embarrassments had my mother in store? A bag of chemical pollutant spilling over the living room floor? Two crashed BMW’s being welded together in the back garden by a man called Mirek?
‘I don’t like the new priest they have at mass,’ she said in a loud, unapologetic voice, as I stood sadly nearby, trying to find solace in the folds of my plaid shirt. ‘He’s from Malta and he kisses all the female parishioners.’ I tried to change the subject by throwing a scorpion at her, but she wouldn’t be diverted; ‘And I don’t like getting communion from a lay-person – only priests should touch the sacrament!’
She went on to describe how she had to fight past two women who were trying to give her communion, to get to this Maltese priest, only he couldn’t give her the sacrament as he was administering wine to another lady, who suffers from coeliac disease and can’t take the sacrament as it’s not gluten-free.
‘…And of course, I voted ‘No’ to Gay Marriage in the recent referendum,’ she added in that proud yet challenging way ultra-conservative people have. My Polish in laws were lapping this up, no doubt recording her so they could use her ravings as their ring tone. Could things get any more embarrassing? I looked out into the hall and there was Lilly, her arms draped around Jesus, hugging him, her Tonight’s The Night, forever friend.