We're delighted to present an extract from OK, Let's Do Your Stupid Idea, the new essay collection from Irish Times columnist Patrick Freyne, published by Penguin - read our review here.
Patrick Freyne has tried a lot of stupid ideas in his life. Now, in his scintillating debut, he is here to tell you about them...
It's the Military Life for Me
'Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier.’
– Samuel Johnson
When I was twelve years old, my army man father brought me on what I took to be a bonding father/son camping trip in a stretch of the Wicklow mountains. My mother drove us to the edge of civilization, where we got out of the car and walked up a dirt track. Along the way, my father cut and carved two walking sticks out of blackthorn branches and, after a few hours of walking, we camped in the shade of a wood by what I can only describe as a babbling brook, because it was a brook and it babbled.
It was idyllic, really. We ate army rations of sausages and beans from little foil tins heated over a campfire and, from time to time, I spoke coordinates that my father called out to me into a little walkie-talkie. Around twenty years later, the family was waxing nostalgic about this over after-dinner drinks.
‘Why did we have a walkie-talkie?’ I asked. It was a strange part of the memory that never quite made sense.
‘Well,’ said my father. ‘We needed it to keep in touch with the rest of the men.’
‘The rest of the men?’ I said. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘You see, there were rumours of an IRA training camp in the mountains and the Rangers had been asked to investi- gate,’ said my father. The Rangers, by the way, were a crack commando squad and my dad was, at this time, their com- manding officer.
‘Right,’ I said.
‘I figured the terrorists would have their eyes peeled for guards and soldiers.’
‘But if they saw a man and a child, they’d think it was just a father and son on a camping trip.’
‘I thought we were a father and son on a camping trip.’ ‘Oh no,’ said my father. ‘That was just a cover.’
‘Well, you were really my son,’ admitted my father. ‘I’m glad to hear it,’ I said.
‘But we weren’t purely on a father-and-son camping trip,’ he said.
‘No,’ I said, a little bitterly, ‘apparently we were tracking terrorists.’
My father nodded happily.
‘Was it not a bit dangerous?’ asked my wife. ‘What if you’d actually run into trouble?’
‘Oh, we were fine,’ said my father. ‘I was armed.’ ‘You had a gun?!’ I said.
Again, my father nodded happily. ‘In a shoulder holster.’
‘What type of gun?’ asked my wife, whose hippy parents wouldn’t let her play with toy guns and who will certainly, as a consequence, end up killing someone with a gun.
I didn’t wait for an answer. ‘I could have been killed!’ I cried.
‘But nothing happened,’ said my wife, and, looking at my father, ‘Right?’
‘Nothing happened,’ said my father, but he had a mysteri- ous look on his face that led me to picture him drowning an IRA man in the brook as twelve-year-old me slept soundly nearby. I wouldn’t put it past him.
‘I’d like to say,’ said my mother, ‘that I had no idea this was going on.’
For a while there my siblings and I called my mother Carmella, after Carmella Soprano. She often, in retrospect, turns out conveniently not to have had any idea what was going on when we were younger. In reality, I suspect that, like Carmella Soprano, she could quite capably run my father’s enterprises if left to her own devices.
In this instance – child-inclusive counter-terrorism – she was probably pleased to have a quiet house for the weekend and thought the off-chance her son might be involved in a paramilitary gunfight was a risk worth taking. Childcare standards were different in the 1980s, as people repeatedly remind me. There was no helicopter parenting back then, unless my father was planning to call in a helicopter gunship for back-up. But no, apparently, the Ranger wing didn’t have access to a helicopter gunship at this time. I asked.
OK, Let's Do Your Stupid Idea by Patrick Freyne (published by Penguin) is out now.