Back in Derry, my son finds his form as a country man. With the baby strapped to my chest, we go out hunting for nature in the green, hilly surroundings around my dad’s house. My family home is really in the sticks, set in miles of open farmland, quite a distance from the city. The nearest village is over the border in Donegal, the nearest pub about a 45-minute walk. Not much happens here. There was that bombing at the top of our road in the 80s, but since then the only noteworthy events on this stretch of countryside have been the installation of broadband (still pending) and that time last year when my sister encountered Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, Scarlett Moffatt and one of the dragons from Dragon’s Den taking part in a BBC documentary.
Absent the opportunity to spy a bombing or some oddly situated light entertainment figures, we limit ourselves to the bucolic joys of genteel nature walks. He picks flowers and proffers them to me. This he does in an officious, off-handed way that feels less like a token of affection and more like a country gent handing weeds to his gardener. We point at bees and say, ‘Look, bees!’ and inspect trees while he tells me what they are, one by one. He doesn’t know any names for trees, so this is simply a process of him saying, ‘Tree, tree, tree,’ while I make a mental note to get better at identifying them myself so I can correct him some day. We also keep a vigilant eye out for cows, rabbits and birds, while walking a very grateful dog.
I hold the reins since she’s a bit too big for him to try. She’s a black labrador that’s roughly the size of a small tube station, but he still calls her Annie the Puppy because we first met her when she was a lot smaller. I’d judge him for this, but my little brother is still routinely called Baby Conall because he’s the youngest in our family, even though he’s now 33, 6ft tall and has those muscles behind his neck I don’t know the name of and refuse to look up.
He returns indoors to give my dad a breathless rundown of our findings. Flowers and leaves are presented, and a stirring account is given regarding some cows that came and greeted us at a fence. My dad takes all this in with studied fascination, as if the notion of flowers, leaves and cows are as miraculous to him as a sighting of a dragon (the mythical creature) or a Dragon (the dubiously generous venture capitalist from a BBC reality show).
My son is a city boy, born and raised in east London, so the delight he takes in my country upbringing is always charming, and makes me feel ashamed for not having quite the same enthusiasm myself as a boy. He turns with pride to the bundle of flowers he’s left me with, and instructs me to pin it to the fridge. It takes four magnets, but I feel like it really ties the room together. I’m no Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, but I’ll have to do till he returns.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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