17. Visiting Ireland

I have a wonderful old video of this first trip to Ireland. There we are, jammed into the old Cunningham family car and tootling about the streets of Dublin, everyone talking at once, with much shouted advice to Subarata the driver, much hilarity and noise and excitement. The camera zooms crazily about, the lovely unedited footage of real life: O’Connell Bridge, Dubliners filling the busy streets, and there’s the famous Liffey River, meandering mud-brown out to the Irish Sea.

Subarata placed an appealing ad in a local paper for accommodation and found a perfect home for the next few weeks, at least for the three Auckland girls. Our three boys ended up in a freezing one-bedroom apartment on the south side of the Liffey: sleep on the floor; fifty pence in the meter, please, every time you shower. Snow lay on the Dublin hills, plumes of cold mist followed each exhalation – the coin-operated showers rankled.

But we met up each day to flier for classes and a proposed Peace Concert – and again in the evening in the warm and spacious house occupied by the girls. Each night we took turns to cook and a competition was proposed, girls versus boys, to see who could produce the best meal. The rules? No pre-packaged foodstuffs, nothing in a tin or bottle, and also a little frugality, please, in view of our limited finances.

Night one and the girls turn out a moderately pleasing dinner, cautiously voted a 6.9 out of ten. Night two and the boys swing into action – a bean dish has everyone searching for compliments and Abhijatri makes a sensational trifle dessert. Immaculately dressed as waiters, the boys hover and serve, positively fawning in their zeal to win. A nine out of ten!

Then pandemonium breaks out – Shvastanee discovers a package of pre-made custard, one of the trifle’s essentials, cunningly hidden in the waste bin and our dinner gets downgraded to a three out of ten! Debate over the harshly punitive scoring runs deep into the night and from now on each evening dinner is laced with suspicion, inspections of the rubbish bins, snooping and allegations of secret packaged ingredients. On that first visit together, dinner time becomes a gender battlefield!

I also recall that when checking in at Heathrow for our flight to Dublin we were informed our luggage was hugely over the weight limit, and some monstrously inflated surcharge was deemed payable. We filled our carry-on bags with forty of Guru’s meditation books and other class essentials till our backpacks threatened to split, then placed them on our shoulders. Figuring the stewardesses would only see us entering the plane from the front, we then wore our raincoats over the top to conceal the distended bulk on our backs. Subarata, knees buckling, looked like the hunchback of Notre Dame. I wrapped another illicit box in gift paper, draped a coat nonchalantly over it and we lurched undetected onto the plane.

It amazes me how everything always works out – we kept on being shown that whatever you imagine can be accomplished if you’re brave enough, desperate enough or if you pray enough.