Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Published: Evening Herald, November 2009


Transformer robots… High School Musical dolls… Selection Boxes and bottles of Jameson… When it comes to Christmas shopping, my great aunt Geraldine likes to get the job done early. Her annual trip to Dublin is the stuff of legend. And, let’s just say, her shopping prowess is only half the story.

It’s lunchtime. The shopping bags have been discarded. And the Westport train doesn’t leave until six. Auntie Geraldine, though, is putting the G&Ts away like they were on special offer. There something I’m anxious to talk to her about. A friend of mine is joining us later. And I’d like to lay the groundwork in advance. But she just won’t let me get a word in edgeways. “You’re working anyway,” she says, between sips. “Keeping busy?” “I am,” I tell her. “I am.”

Within our family, opinions differ as to how old Auntie Geraldine actually is. Some say she must be ninety. Others mention a story about her once taking on a detachment of Black and Tans in hand-to-hand combat. So its hard to know. One thing is for certain – whatever her age, you wouldn’t want to antagonize her unnecessarily.

“Your work,” she inquires. “Legal, isn’t it?” “Am… mostly,” I reply. “Why do you ask?” She eyes me quizzically. “You’re the solicitor, aren’t you?” “No, I’m the journalist.” She squints over her glasses and snorts. “Arrah, for the love of God…”

From the stories I’ve heard, she should probably keep legal representation on permanent retainer. Just last week, she borrowed a Child of Prague statue from her sister-in-law’s kitchen. (God knows what she needed it for – probably an exorcism…) This would have been fine and all, except that she also left behind a note:

“Dear Patricia,” it read. “Have taken COP. See you later.”

Geraldine’s handwriting was never the best, so it wouldn’t have been too obvious that the C, the O and the P were in upper case. Also that COP abbreviation wasn’t something that Auntie Pat was too familiar withh. (What sane person is?) But she did have a younger son in the guards. And that morning, he was not contactable on his mobile phone. Being an excitable woman, Pat immediately assumed that a person or group was holding her son for ransom.

If Auntie Geraldine hadn’t arrived back when she did, the Emergency Response Unit would probably have been on the case.

“Now listen,” I try to tell her, because Auntie Geraldine is not a tactful person and I want to get this smoothed over in advance. “My my friend Denise is going to be here shortly…” But Auntie Geraldine is having none of it. “What do you think of these Jedward lads?” she asks. “I think they’re gas altogether… Don’t you think they’ve gas?” “Auntie Geraldine, listen…” I beg her.

But it’s too late. Denise has arrive. I stand up to greet her, all the while bracing myself for disaster. “Lovely to meet you, a gra,” says Geraldine, embracing her warmly. Then just when I think I’m out of the woods, she turns to me and says…

“Jaysus Eoineen, I see you’re going out with a…”

I should explain something quickly here… Self-restraint has never been one of Auntie Geraldine’s strong points. She’s certainly seen the Cork Dry Gin people through some lean times, that’s for sure. So she’s almost certainly going to make some reference to the colour of Denise’s skin at this point. That much is obvious. But at the very last moment, and quite inexplicably, she suddenly gets it in her head that this would not be a good idea. So instead she finishes the sentence…

“Jaysus Eoineen, I see you’re going out with a… woman… now?”

Only 371 shopping days till Christmas 2010. And I know they’ll just fly by…

There’s more Auntie Geraldine here and here.