My lovely dad...
Ever since I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Irish not doing enough complaining I’ve been bombarded with complaints from complainers, complaining about my complaint about Ireland’s lack of complainers.
Can’t complain, really, I suppose. If it turns out that the one thing guaranteed to rile the Irish soul sufficiently to catapult a complaint is an English gobshite giving out to them, then amen; so be it.
As it happens there’s been a lovely upside for me to this tide of negativity. Whilst forced to contemplate the nature of complaints, memories of my lovely Dad have been dropping into my brainbox.
Dad was a great complainer, and by that I don’t mean that he did it all the time. After an unhappy childhood, Dad wanted his kids to feel more joyful than he had, but when things went wrong, as they inevitably did, he would complain, and when my father complained, you knew it.
Towards the end of his life, long after he’d lost his joie de vivre, Dad combined an embarrassingly low pain threshold with his natural ability to exaggerate anything beyond all reason.
When a kindly hospital nurse gently wiped his face with a warm towel, Dad would writhe and groan and shout:
“Torture. She’s torturing me.”
Sometimes it was quite hard not to laugh, while at the same time hurting to see a beloved parent so distressed.
Back in his complaining prime, Dad added his unique creativity and a dollop of otherworldliness to things that upset him. Once, while visiting me in San Francisco, the family was waiting at a bus stop. Granted, Dad usually either walked or drove, but still I imagined that he’d have some grasp of the delays inherent in Public Transport.
We stood quietly for ages until suddenly,with an assertive Alpha Male clap of his hands, Dad caught all of our attentions, announcing:
“Right! Waited long enough now!”
For a second we stood in silence, imagining that as he’d decided we were no longer getting the bus, he’d share with us his plan for our next manoeuvre. But no. I soon realised there was no plan and could not hold back my laughter.
“Okay, Dad. I’ll just nip round the corner and tell the bus drivers they can come now. They were just parked out of sight, until you decided you were ready.”
Later the same day in a plush hotel on the city’s Union Square, we sat and took tea. My father had been to the States many times before, so I was surprised that he hadn’t yet encountered the American way of serving our national drink.
My amazement was nothing however compared to his stupefaction and bewilderment when presented with a cup of hot water, alongside a tea bag wrapped in a paper sachet.
He started to roll his eyes and hyperventilate, lifting his hands over and above the cup, raising and dropping the tea bag, as we tried to show him how it worked. Small whines came from his mouth and even though everyone knew he was behaving ridiculously, just like with the nurse’s warm flannel, it was painful to watch him believe he was suffering.
Eventually I became impatient and spluttered:
“For goodness sake, Dad, it’s only a cup of tea!”
This gave my father the perfect opportunity to drop the string with dangling tea bag, replace the cup on the table, raise his back, project himself upwards and outwards until all around were drawn to look at him, and then declare loudly, with a polished English accent able to rip asunder any genteel Californian gathering:
“It's not a cup of tea! It’s a disaster!”
Long before Craig Revel Horwood’s camp Strictly Come Dancing’s catchphrase ‘Disaaaster Daaarling', my father had taken the word used to describe the Hindenburg and Hurricane Katrina and applied it to a teabag.
We laughed long and loud at the time and because my father was a humble man with a great sense of humour, he finally saw the funny side and giggled at the absurdity of it too.
This story came to mind because the other day I heard myself complaining so much like him. A guest had requested a cup of camomile tea, but upon looking in the cupboard I realised to my small-minded horror that we were out of Twinings.
A box of a lesser-known Irish brand sat there looking back at me.
The Snapper found me staring gormlessly into the kitchen cupboard.
“What’s the problem babe?”
“Out of Twinings. Only got this sort here, but really, how bad can it be?”
As soon as those words wobbled into the air I tried to snatch them back, appalled at how arrogant and incredibly English I’d sounded.
How bad can it be? Just because it’s Irish and not Twinings?
Is that what I’d meant?
How vile and ignorant of me.
Feeling fairly appalled with myself, I brewed the tea and then, as I lifted the bag from the cup I dared to squeeze the last of the liquid from it, so as not to make a mess dripping on the floor.
The bag exploded, ejaculating a boiling hot disgusting greeny-grey sludge - sort of seagull pooh meets volcanic lava - which flowed all over my hand, into the teacup and splattered on the floor.
How bad can it be?
Being my father’s son, the words ’magnificently awful’ sprang into my mind, but then I wondered how Dad might have described the incident.
When you love someone as much as I did (and do) my dad, you know well how they complain.
Had such a minor domestic hiccup happened to my father, we would have been treated to the following verbal explosion:
“What a complete and utter catastrophe!”