A VERY SCARY TIME OF YEAR

It’s that time of year. Between the showers, we’ve got sunny days and bright evenings. 

There’s a worry on the horizon for some, though.

It’s the Irish summer. And so, unlike our neighbours across the Irish sea, our schoolchildren are still enjoying their unfeasibly long summer holidays.

Now the results of the Leaving are out.

I wasn’t looking forward to that moment one bit. Even now, 48 years on, I can remember the feeling.

The Crown and Two Chairman in Soho, London

You see, the truth is that I wasn’t what you might call an ideal student.

I started well and even won a few prizes in second class. But, looking back, I think I peaked that year. It was downhill from there.

My mother got a hint of that one day when I was still in primary school.

We were walking down the road near our house when we bumped into a neighbour we know to be a bit on the snooty side.

The two ladies began chatting and then the snooty neighbour nodded in my direction.

“How is Patrick getting on in school?” she asked my mother.

“Oh fine,” my mother replied, “he’s quite intelligent but I’m afraid he’s a little bit lazy.”

The snooty neighbour sniffed once, raised her chin and told my mother sternly that “if Patrick was intelligent he wouldn’t be lazy.” And she walked off, nose in the air.

The sad thing is, my mother and I both realised she was probably right.

I enjoyed sport but probably didn’t train quite as often as I should have or, if the truth be told, as often as I was supposed to.

Like the academic side, the sport, rugby, peaked the year I played for the Under 12s.

And so my father brought me to a now long defunct sports shop on Leeson Street and bought me a tennis racquet. It may very well still be lying in the attic of our home where it was placed not long after it was bought. I didn’t take to tennis at all.

Indeed, so worried were my parents about my failure to follow in the shrinking footsteps of my brothers, that I spent one entire year in an Irish college – and managed not to get expelled and to retain to this day, my love of Irish.

But even in her 90th year, my mother reminded all those who would listen that “Patrick was the only one we had to go down to the school about.” And they had to make that trip several times.

Later in life, my mother ruined my prospects in London where, after working in a nice bar in Soho called the Crown and Two Chairman (pictured), a club next door called the Sunset Strip and another bar called DeHems, I had managed to carve out a career as a busboy in a trendy hamburger joint called the Great American Disaster on the Fulham Road.

I had failed miserably in my first year in UCD. Well, Commerce wasn’t my thing,

And when the results arrived my brother called me in London to tell me I had failed and that my mother was disappointed, I responded by telling him that my mother knew I was going to fail. She did, he replied. Adding “It’s not so much that you failed, it’s the way you failed.”

My mother persuaded me to return and study journalism which I did and that got me a job in Independent Newspapers where I remained, more or less, for 46 years.

Lucky? No. My mother after all, knew me. She knew I loved reading, she knew I loved writing.

And she wasn’t going to let me head off into the world without some sort of qualification to my name to ensure I could have a fruitful life.

Each to his or her own, I suppose.

Maybe, if I had studied for the leaving cert it might have been different.

I tried. I crammed, in the final weeks to give myself some chance having done not a stroke for two years.

The day the results came out, my father and I went to the school to pick them up not sure what to expect.

We got the envelope and opened it. Two honours, Irish and history.

My face lit up.

His dropped.

Different expectations.

I did ok on the journalism course in Rathmines which I was only on because my mother pulled a few strings to get me on it, apron strings I presume.

So when summer came, I was offered a job in Independent Newspapers as a junior on the Herald.

I didn’t want to take it. It meant cutting short the summer holidays.

I had plans mostly involving Brittas Bay, chatting up girls and drinking pints

But my father made me take it.

I didn’t know it then, but I do know.

Until the day I started in the Indo in July 1975, they babysat me.

And thank God they did.

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