Once upon a time in Westport House

Westport House
Westport House

Once upon a time I went to Westport House. I know this not from any particular memory but because there is a photograph from that day and it was a holiday that was later much spoken about. My mother wore a scarf on her head and a long skirt. I was one of three little girls, content in a world that did not extend very far beyond our family unit at that happy time.

The real event of the holiday was the death of Elvis Presley.

The sad news sparked an impromptu sing song in the hotel where we were staying. I remember the children being left to their own devices that night as the adults all descended on the bar to sing song after emotional song.

The other drama of the holiday was an afternoon at the beach when we became stranded by the incoming tide. We had had a picnic on some sort of grassy hillock and to get back to the car my father had to carry the two eldest children on his shoulders through the surging sea. My mother saved the baby and the picnic basket.

That little rescue scene is one of my happiest childhood memories. It comes from a time when our parents could protect us from anything and we liked nothing more than just being together.

By chance, or perhaps by some subconscious design, this week I found myself in Westport House again, thirty six years since the last visit. Our three little girls are now very close in age to the three little girls of 1977. And yes, we took a photograph on the steps of the house.

The stately home of the Marquess and Marchioness of Sligo now has a Pirate’s Park in the grounds, amusement rides and a mini train. But the house is as beautiful as ever and the sun obliged by coming out just before we left for this picture.

The Hedgehog News

Everyone knows if you find a dead hedgehog it’s yours. So why is Manny taking over? Because he’s a robber, that’s why. Actually the hedgehog didn’t look that badly hurt the day I found him; only the left back bit was squashed so from one side he looked perfect. I just couldn’t leave him there on the side of the road. Vultures might get him. Now the whole street is coming to look at him under the hedge. Manny is explaining stuff about the maggots and poking with a stick. It’s the last secret I’m ever telling him. I think it’s all because no one else is just my age. Other ages don’t understand the same things. My Mum is sorry about this. It’s just a fluke, she says – twelve houses, twenty-one kids but not a single other seven year old. We weren’t to know, she says. I’m kind of not trusting Mum at the moment since I found some of my Christmas craftwork in the bin. They’re supposed to love that stuff.

When Dad said he was going to a place called Dubai, I laughed. It didn’t sound like a real place – Doob I, Do Bye – I was sure he was joking. But he just looked away for a couple of seconds like he was thinking hard what to say next and then he told me to get the atlas. Maybe he thought I was annoyed he was leaving but at first I was more annoyed about not knowing Dubai was a real place. I know loads of capitals, even really strange ones like Venezuela and Moldova. He taught me them when I was small and we had fun surprising people with that.

Now I’ve learnt a new word which is temporary. But if something is really temporary you should know when the end is. They said he would visit all the time. One week every three months is not all the time. I have a calendar in my bedroom. It’s got pictures of street children in Brazil. One of them definitely looks seven. It’s a pity he doesn’t live here. I’m starting not to like families with Dads living at home but I don’t tell people that.

Everyone keeps telling me isn’t it great we have skype. I don’t know. It might be great if you didn’t have a three-year-old sister. Hannah ruins every call. She climbs over me and taps on the keyboard and talks really loud. Dad doesn’t even understand what she’s saying. Also I don’t like the looking thing. You can’t look at each other properly. I don’t think Dad knows what to ask me.

It’s all because of the mortgage, according to Mum. Mortgage is another word for house. We’d lose the house if Dad didn’t take this job. I mean the house is OK but maybe we could move to a street with more seven-year-old boys. Would that be so bad? Mum didn’t like this question. She is not interested in things like hedgehogs but if Dad was here he would come and see him with me. Then he could tell me Manny is wrong and this doesn’t happen to people too.

Finally I did get skype time alone with Dad. Mum had this idea he could read a chapter a night so we’ve started a great old fashioned story called Kidnapped. The good thing about this is that Hannah is in bed. And the looking thing doesn’t matter; I just watch his face while he looks at the book. I asked Dad last night did he know what happens to hedgehogs after they die. He went quiet for a while and then started talking about animal heaven and it got a bit complicated and I didn’t want him to feel silly. I guess I won’t tell him about the hedgehog after all.