I should stay away from the modern stuff. That’s daft, I know. Modern stuff. I actually love a bit of modernity. Central heating’s a great invention; I’ve always said it. And I’m so fond of our microwave, it has a name. Séamus. I was going to call it Kylie but I thought the daughter might accuse me of sexism. I could nearly hear her.
– Just ‘cos it’s in the kitchen, doesn’t mean it’s female, like.
And I told her that, although the microwave was called Séamus, it was actually gender fluid. She patted me on the arm.
– Well done, you, she said.
– Don’t patronise me, I said. – Just cos I’m an oul’ lad.
And that’s when the trouble started – again. Not really trouble – more, embarrassment. Humiliation.
– Don’t call yourself an oul’ lad, Dad, said the daughter. – Don’t live the stereotype, like.
– He is a howl lad! the little grandson insisted.
He pointed at my liver spots. He’d been counting them while I was chatting with his mother.
Anyway, the daughter defended me against my own reasonable assertion that I was an elderly male or, translated into Irish, an oul’ lad. She pointed out the cool things about me. There were four:
1. My Jamie Redknapp shirt, which she chose for me a couple of Christmases back.
2. My hairstyle – but that was an accident. I’d been making scrambled eggs before she came in and a fair bit of the yoke ended up in my hair. It looked a bit like your man, Peter Casey’s, as if I’d been messing with the grandkids’ gel and forgotten all about it.
3. My tartan slippers – a birthday present from the grandson. He insisted they were cool and she had to agree after he got down on his knees and started licking them.
4. Spotify. I have the Spotify on my phone and I’ve starting listening to music when I’m out walking a selection of the dogs or I’m on the long and lonely trek to the local. And this, apparently, makes me a foot-tapping daddy-o.
– The music you listen to, Dad, she says now. – It’s so cool, like.
She’s right. The house has always been full of music, mine and the wife’s. The wife was a punk back in the day, and I would have been one too if my mother had let me. One of the things we immediately shared was our musical discernment. We were ruthless. We loved about five bands and hated – really hated – everything else.
The first time I felt brave enough to kiss her, to take her in my arms and give her a proper smooch, was immediately after she delivered her verdict on U2.
– They’re s***e, she said, and the rest is history.
We loved the Sex Pistols, the Clash and three other bands so brilliant, I can’t remember their names. If we heard anyone saying something nice about, say, Tears for Fears or UB40, we’d look at each other and sneer. We knew – only we understood.
And her sneer – my God. Sneer and the world sneers with you – was it your man, Shakespeare, who said that? The wife’s sneer was magnificent. For years, I’d give her a nudge and say, “Go on – give us a sneer.” And she’d deliver. And still delivers. Anyway.
We fell hopelessly in love with each other’s musical snobbery and, although we mellowed with the years, we’ve always been strict. We filled the house with music but only the right music. Our kids have taste. They’ll welcome all sorts of ethnic and cultural diversity but they’ll burn anyone at the stake they catch listening to the Eagles.
And the daughter is the greatest musical fascist of the lot. She grabs my phone off the table.
– What tunes are you listening to these days, Dad? she asks.
She opens my Spotify and looks – and looks at me, and looks again at Spotify, and at me.
– ‘Dancing Queen’, she says, as if she’s going to be sick.
– It’s not a bad oul’ song, I say.
– Abba cwap! says the little grandson.
I nod, but it’s too late. I’ve been found out, exposed.
– ‘What’s Another Year’, says the daughter.
– Euwovision cwap! says the grandson.
She’s going to read out all the s***e I’ve been secretly listening to – Careless Whisper, Eye of the Tiger – each title like a lash across my back.
How can I explain to her that old people hear more than just the notes, that each song, not matter how corny, seems to carry a lifetime? I don’t know how to start – I’m not sure if I even believe it.
The wife saves me.
She comes into the kitchen singing Dancing Queen.
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