This is the radio essay which was broadcast on Sunday Miscellany (RTE Radio 1) on Sunday 7th March last.
Long, long ago, in a galaxy far away from my present life, when I was much younger, I helped my mother run a small computer training business from our family home. My main role was to provide a typing service; C.V’s and thesis’ mainly but I would undertake any typing for a modest fee.
One day the phone rang and a vaguely familiar voice enquired very formally if we were willing to type an article, which was needed in a hurry. “Sure” said I, “no problem”. My new client was a reasonably well known journalist who lived locally.
Celebrity journalist became an occasional customer and was a joy to work for, once I got over the fact that he liked to dictate the words to me in person. He always arrived by bike, (long before it was fashionable) which he lovingly lent against the garden wall, hidden from the road by a lilac bush. One particular evening he had an engagement in town and asked if we would mind keeping his bike overnight. He would return to collect it the following day. I was honoured to be entrusted with his precious wheels, which resembled something between an antique and a work of art. However I was not sure that it should be left in the front garden. So very carefully I pushed the celebrity bike around to the back garden and lent it against the kitchen wall where I felt sure it would be well out of harms way.
The next day was Saturday and being young and carefree I spent most of the morning in bed. I surfaced at about noon and as I settled down to my coffee and toast in the kitchen I became aware of a lot of hammering and banging coming from outside. Irritated by the interruption, I went to investigate the cause of the commotion. The blood froze in my veins. There, strewn all over the patio were bits of the celebrity bike. My father was clutching a screwdriver and was clearly having a great time. “Dad” I roared, “what the hell are you doing?”. He looked up at me and announced that the celebrity bike was full of rattles and squeaks and he was just fixing it! “But it’s not broken” I cried, “Maybe he likes the rattles.”
Now my father was a retired civil servant and a very able one at that. But his competence in the bicycle maintenance department was largely unproven and with DIY tasks in general he came from the brute force and ignorance school of learning.
The rest of that Saturday I spent in misery. Dad had managed to put the bike back together again. But I felt sure that it would probably fall apart once the adjusted wheels had spun a couple of revolutions.
Celebrity journalist arrived late in the afternoon and lavished thanks on me for minding his bike. I was mortified. I decided to say nothing about its illegal overhaul and kept conversation to a minimum. As I waved him goodbye from the front door, he was mounting his trusty steed. I shut the door firmly before I could witness his crashing to the ground when the bike fell apart.
Half an hour later the phone rang. My life flashed before me. I vowed that I would kill my father for his meddling.
“Hello,” I said nervously.
“Barbara” he exclaimed – “my bike..,…”
“Oh God, I am so sorry,” I interrupted.
“Sorry for what?”
“For your bike – I am really sorry”
“But my bike is great. That’s why I am ringing. It’s going like a rocket. Fantastic. Thanks so much.”
“No problem,” I said sheepishly – “all part of the service”
“Well” asked my father.
“He’s delighted” I said.
“Told you so”
However he learned his lesson shortly after this episode when another client, who was a Reverend Mother arrived for a lesson, driving the filthiest car imaginable. Midway though the class, I caught sight of dear old Dad working up a good lather as he scrubbed the Micra back to all its glory. He duly presented himself at the front door for the nun’s departure, no doubt full sure of her blessing and grateful thanks.
Bye bye was all she said, as she swept past him like the caped crusader in her black glory!
He was disgusted. He gave up the transport maintenance after that!
James Tate Prize
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