I was terrible at being a kid. I was always serious and felt removed. I was rubbish at sport and games. Nowhere was the disadvantage of being too serious and too clumsy more pointed than the playground.
Firstly, I hated swings. It was OK going a bit but then some yahoo, like my beautiful mother would say, “do you want me to give you a push”. “No I’m fine”. “Ah God, sure you are hardly moving”. “No seriously….” And then I would feel the push in the back and up in the air I would go. Terrified. Sick. And feeling like I was going to throw up. I would plonk my feel down and try to get off as quickly as possible, usually too early, stagger forward and land with a skid, on my knees. In those days there were no soft surfaces. Health and safety looked and felt like gravel and little stones filling the tears in your hands and knees and cheeks.
I fared no better on the slide. I would give it a go, but I would get half way up the steps, and could go no further. Too afraid to go higher, and too afraid of going backwards. Not that that would be possible as there would be a queue behind me of younger kids, barely able to walk, with green snot coming down their lips, shouting at me to “move” or “gerrou (get out) of the bleedin’ way”. I’m sure they were perfectly clean and polite but in those moments these childer three or four years younger than me seemed like monsters out to break me.
It would be many years later, after spending endless time looking for stairs and lifts in shops, instead of using escalators, and not being able to walk down stairs without holding a rail, that I would discover that my cowardice and funny feeling was a real and life diminishing fear of heights.
But I liked the weird horse yoke with a few seats on it. Everyone else thought it was boring, but that meant I could have it all to myself. I would go up the front and grab hold of the head and my dad would roar “Come on horse!” and push it like a divil, and I felt I was flying. My father always wore Chelsea boots from whenever I could remember and so he would be sliding on the gravel as he pushed it and his tweed jacket would be flapping up to his elbows. Ben Murphy understood. He didn’t give me a hard time about the swings,or the slides. He didn’t interfere when I preferred to be talking to the ducks that didn’t fight for the food and were left out. He knew his eldest and only daughter was painfully shy, blushed if looked at, preferred the unnoticed and loved the feeling of that horse as it galloped over the Sally’s Gap searching for Tír na nÓg, because that was what we agreed such a fine horse would do.
My family was broken, and Ben would die young without thethings said that should have been said between us spoken. But in that moment in St Stephen’s Green playground that odd horse seesaw yoke made it OK for me to be me in my odd ways. And Ben did too.