Buying a Communion outfit is not a skill that I possess. Over the years, I have come to learn that the actual purchase of the dress is but a small part of this wearisome and time-consuming ritual. Veil and/or tiara, gloves, handbag, shoes, watch, prayer book, parasol – the seemingly endless list is an industry in itself, like Valentines Day or international football matches, and it is seemingly quite impossible for the females of our species to purchase the complete ensemble at one visit to the shops.
My niece, Kate, is making her First Communion in May. Her dress successfully purchased in town, a week or two ago, it was proposed that an expedition to the Blanchardstown Shopping Centre should be mounted, in order to buy the necessary accoutrements not obtained on the first visit. Furthermore, it was decided that the members of the foraging party would include Kate [naturally], her mother, [ultimate arbitrator], my wife, [special advisor to the ultimate arbitrator], Emmet, Kate’s five year old brother [believing it would be fun] and myself [to mind Emmet.]
The only time that proved suitable for all the five protagonists happened to be Saturday afternoon, a prospect that did not exactly have me leaping around in excitement. If I were ever given the option of root canal work or traipsing around the Centre on a Saturday afternoon, you would find me skipping gaily off to the dentist. In this case, however, options were noticeable by their absence.
Now, Emmet is an extremely bright five year old, and it did not take him very long to discover that he had made a woeful error of judgement in believing that the adventure would be enjoyable. Surprisingly, he appeared remarkably uninterested in the differing merits of handbag clasps, preferring to concentrate on the far more important subject of ice-cream consumption. With supreme self-sacrifice, I volunteered to forego the fascinating Communion shopping experience for a while, to satiate my nephew’s demands.
We descended the escalator very quickly, Emmet informing me that he knew exactly where the ice-cream shop was and why wasn’t I running? I suggested somewhat maliciously that I didn’t think there was an ice-cream shop in the Centre at all, but my famished companion was having none of it, taking me by the hand and tugging me triumphantly over to the kiosk where the silver containers were amply bedecked with a myriad of ice-cream flavours. I made one rather half-hearted attempt to convince him that the brightly coloured scoops were in fact “medicine” and “tasted yucky”, but he just stared at me incredulously, before patiently putting his obviously stupid uncle to rights.
Ice-cream duly purchased, we brought it over to the fountain area where it could be ravaged in comparative comfort. As Emmet decorated his face, I idly took out a two-euro coin and with a skilful flick of the finger, sent it spinning elegantly on the black marble surround of the fountain. Emmet watched it revolving with awe-struck eyes, and only when it had finally spattered to rest did he utter “Wow!”
Emboldened by this appreciativeness in my rapt audience, I proceeded to repeat the stunning feat. In a few years, he would cease to find such a simple trick entertaining, but five is a great age – old enough to be enthralled, but too young for world-weariness to have set in.
In terms of audience delight, my second coin flicking stunt eclipsed the first for, not judging the angle finely enough, the two euro shot across the marble and dived into the water. Emmet nearly choked on his cone with delight, as I made a frantic, futile attempt to catch it. Mournfully, I watched it sink to the bottom.
It is time, I think, to introduce another member of my family, my late father [he isn’t dead – just late all the time.] Among the pearls of wisdom that he imparted to me as a child, two have stood the test of time and have survived into my middle age. “Find a penny, pick it up, the rest of the day you’ll have a penny,” was one. The other was “Look after the pennies, and you’ll have a lot of pennies.” Suffice to say, I remain one of the dwindling band of mercenaries who will stoop down and pick a one cent coin off the pavement. I hate throwing money away, whether metaphorically, or, as in this case, literally.
Gazing down into the clear water, Emmet on his hunkers beside me, I could see the coin glaring up at me reproachfully. It wasn’t easy to miss, nestling there, surrounded by self-pitying copper coins that mammies had cleared out of their bulging purses and handed to tiny kids who promptly flung them in the fountain, wishing for a Playstation or a Quad bike.
“Shall I get it?” asked Emmet, laying the remnants of his ice-cream down on the seat and starting to remove his shoes.
“No, its okay, son,” I replied, rolling up my shirt sleeve. The water wasn’t too deep and it seemed a simple operation. Just as I was about to plunge my arm in though, I noticed a very formidable looking lady on the far side of the fountain, eyeing me suspiciously.
Visions of newspaper headlines swam before my eyes. “Is this the meanest man in Ireland?” said one. “Uncle teaches boy  to steal from charities” said another. I hurriedly altered my actions, letting the cool water ripple through my fingers in a very contrived uncontrived fashion.
“Aren’t you going to get the money?” asked Emmet. I told him that I’d get it in a minute, and didn’t he think he ought to put his socks on? Disappointed, he returned to his ice-cream, now bathing in a pink puddle of its own.
After about five minutes of glancing sideways at the lady glancing sideways at me, she picked up her bags and disappeared in the direction of the red entrance. This was my chance. Nobody else was looking. A quick glance around. Was it my imagination or was that security guard squinting in my direction? Hard to see behind the sunglasses. [Why do they wear sunglasses in a shopping centre?]
I decided to hold off until he passed. There is something about a navy blazer and grey flannel trousers that makes me nervous, and not merely because its such an affront to fashion. Dress them in camouflage gear and arm them to the teeth, and I probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Yet another of my unexplainable idiosyncrasies.
Eventually I noticed that Emmet was trying to catch fish in his sock. A brief explanation of the natural habitats of aqueous animals ensued, while the security guard took up a position outside the flower shop, obviously having received a tip-off that an attempt was going to be made on the baby carnations. I glanced around. The fountainside was packed, but nobody seemed to be looking my way. I took a deep breath and then quickly plunged my arm into the water.
Another of my father’s sayings concerns the importance of keeping one’s fingernails short, though the reasoning is lost in the mists of time. That particular pearl of wisdom, however, proved to be my undoing. With the water up to my shoulder, I scrabbled frantically to prise the recalcitrant coin off the bottom of the pool, but my blunt, rounded fingers failed to get sufficient grip. Conscious that I would shortly be noticed, I leaned forward to get a better grip but, as I did so, around five euro worth of coin slipped gleefully out of my shirt pocket and into the water. With my free hand, I clutched vainly after the disappearing coins, just as Emmet jumped on my shoulder to get a better view of the charade.
It is many years now since I studied physics at school, but, as my head dipped smoothly below the water level, I remembered that a force applied to one side of a fulcrum will change the equilibrium of the object. Or, put more simply, if you don’t anchor yourself, you’re going to fall in.
Certain fountains across the world, like the Trevi and Trafalgar Square, encourage spontaneous immersions. The fountain at the Blanchardstown Centre isn’t one of them.
“You’re soaking!” laughed Emmet, as my dripping head re-emerged. Shaking myself like a spaniel, I was supremely conscious that I had become the object of everybody’s attention.
Naturally, I had neglected to bring along that most obvious shopping expedition accessory – a towel, so I was reduced to drying myself with my hands, which is not particularly effective, and was probably the cause of the considerable mirth of my new-found audience.
“Why don’t you dry yourself in the toilets?” asked Emmet innocently.
I looked at him, and then bent down and kissed him on the forehead, which he immediately rubbed off in disgust. Together, we hurried off to the toilets where the hot air dryer eventually restored me to something approaching normality.
“Now don’t tell the girls,” I warned him, as we returned to the fountain. “They won’t find it a bit amusing.”
To be fair to him, he managed to hold it in, at least until the others were in earshot. As the triumvirate emerged from Roches’, successfully clutching a white handbag as though it was the FA Cup, Emmet dashed over to them and joyously spilled the beans on my watery mishap.
“Serves you right,” opined my wife, when she got the whole story out of me in “twenty questions” fashion. “That’ll teach you to begrudge a charity a few bob.”
“We’re going to look for a parasol,” said Kate. “Now, Emmet, you will mind your Uncle Peter, this time, right?”