There’s this woman I know from bridge, Mona Hopkins, a lovely woman she is, even if I must admit I’m not that keen on her myself, and she said a great thing the other day. I was expecting her to say, ‘Two no trumps,’ but instead she comes out with a saying about her children. She says, ‘Boys wreck your house and girls wreck your head.’ Isn’t that a marvellous bit of wisdom? ‘Boys wreck your house and girls wreck your head!’ And God knows it’s the truest thing I’ve heard in a long time. I should know. I have five girls. Five daughters. And let me tell you, my head is wrecked from them.
Although, now that I think of it, so is my house …
There’s Claire, my eldest. She was born to myself and Mr Walsh in 1966, the Swinging Sixties, although we had no truck with ‘swinging’ in Ireland and nobody minded one little bit. Why would we ‘swing’ when we had praying? Also we were after getting our very own Irish television station, RTÉ, so there was plenty to keep us occupied. Not that we knew what ‘swinging’ actually entailed – wearing short dresses and false eyelashes, we suspected. We were delighted with Claire, of course, although I suspect Mr Walsh would have preferred a boy. She was a high-spirited child, a cheeky imp, if you want the God’s honest, and I found her hard to handle, always with the backchat and the opinions. But if I’d known what I’d be getting further down the road with Helen, I’d have been on my knees every day, thanking God for my good little girl.
For a while it looked like Claire was going to do things my way – she went to university and got a degree, then she married an accountant. But then it all went ‘tits-up’. (Is it okay for me to say that? I never know which slang is acceptable for a woman of my age and station to use and which isn’t.) Yes, everything went ‘tits-up’ for Claire, because her husband left her the day she gave birth to their first child, but she’s a born survivor and she’ll tell you all about it herself in Watermelon.
In 1969 Margaret came along, and I know a mother can’t have a favourite child, but if I was to have one, it would be Margaret. A good, good, good girl. Obedient, truthful, all of that. A small bit dull, if we’re to be completely frank, but no one is perfect. And I wouldn’t be mad on her ‘look’ – like, would it kill her to put on a lipstick, I sometimes think. The funny thing is that her ‘style icon’ is Kate Middleton, who is so highly groomed and ‘pulled-together’. I too am a great admirer of Kate Middleton – her hair is ‘stunning’ and I saw nothing wrong with those wedge espadrilles.
Margaret never caused me a moment’s worry. I thought I had that daughter parcelled away nicely, until, out of the blue, she left her lovely reliable husband, Garv, and ran away to Los Angeles – where her friend Emily lived – and got up to all kinds of high jinks, the half of which I do not know and do not want to know. (That’s a lie. I’d love to know it all. I hate when they don’t tell me things, but Helen says the shock would kill me. Anyway, the full story is in Angels, if you’re interested in finding out yourself.)
Rachel, my middle child, was born in 1970, shortly after Mr Walsh’s job took us from Limerick to Dublin. Rachel, I’ll come clean, was a funny child, by turns defiant, then sensitive, then defiant again. It didn’t help that Claire and Margaret had formed a rock-solid ‘alliance’ and wouldn’t let Rachel play with them.
Then something happened in 1974, a few months after Anna was born, which might have ‘affected’ Rachel. My father died and even though there’s no such thing as depression, I will admit I went a bit ‘odd’. Claire and Margaret had each other and my sister Kitty came to mind baby Anna because Mr Walsh had to go to Manchester for a while for his job, and I suppose that between the jigs and the reels, Rachel didn’t get all the attention she needed.
But she made up for it later in life. In spades, as they say! (Or do they? Are we allowed to say ‘spades’ any more? Sacred Mother of Divine, all this ‘PC’ stuff is a minefield. There I’d be, saying a word I’d been saying all my life and suddenly everyone would be looking at me like I’d just murdered someone. Did you know you can’t say ‘Oriental’ any more? All of a sudden, that’s banned! It’s ‘Asian’ now. But Asia is huge. How can you know what part of Asia the person is from just by them saying ‘I’m Asian’?)
Rachel spent a while living in Prague then she moved to New York, and somewhere along the line, didn’t she get addicted to drugs! There was some sort of a botched suicide attempt and she ended up having to go to rehab. (She’ll tell you about it herself in Rachel’s Holiday.) Those were the days when no one went to rehab. Nowadays, of course, the dogs in the street ‘check in’ every five minutes. In fact, you’re more likely to be shunned if you haven’t gone to rehab, but at the time it was an awful shock and I was very ashamed of her.
So, like I said, in 1974 Anna – another girl! – came along and I just ran out of energy. I stopped trying to mould my children to be like me. Feck her, I thought, she can do what she likes. So she lived in her own little world. A sweet little thing, I’m not saying she wasn’t, but very vague. Away with the fairies is the best way of putting it. Feet planted firmly in mid-air. Obsessed with tarot cards and fortune tellers and mysticism and all that codology. And the clothes on her – long, streely, floaty, hippie things. One night she nearly burned the house down, tie-dyeing a coat in a big saucepan on the hob. Another night, her father’s beloved golf trophies were nearly stolen because she’d come home, out of her ‘box’, and left her key in the front door, for any passing burglar to open and pop in, which one duly did. If it wasn’t for the fact that Mr Walsh got up early that morning, his trophies would have been pawned, along with the telly and the microwave.
But! And I’m holding up my index finger here, like the wise old woman I am! I had Anna pegged all wrong. Anna did the biggest recovery curve of them all. For years, she was bloody useless, never earned a penny, couldn’t hold down a job to save her life. Then she moved to New York and, in a series of moves (she’ll tell you herself in Anybody Out There), got The Best Job In the World™, working as a publicist for a world famous cosmetics house. Never give up on a person, is what Anna’s story tells me.
In 1978, in a last-ditch attempt to get a boy for Mr Walsh to play with, along comes Helen. And where do I start? When they made Helen they broke the mould – and at least we can be grateful for that. There’s only one of her in the world to handle. All I can say in her favour is that she has a good job – she’s a private investigator. And sometimes, when she needs a hand, I help her out. My favourite is when she has to search a person’s house – I love to have a good gawk around another person’s house and paw through their stuff when they’re not there. I would give every penny I own to be let loose in the Kilfeathers’ house. (They’re our next-door neighbours. Lovely people. We are terrific pals, of course. And yet, I find that I very much hate Mrs Kilfeather. I can’t explain it any better.)