Friends for Life
This is my best friend, Valerie (O’Connor) Kenny in Butlins around 1975. My Mum brought the two of us one year, and we roller-skated: (the guy in ‘green trousers’ [which is what we called him] was a primary object of our pre-pubescent desires on the rink), and mooched around the disco (not cool enough for us so we didn’t linger), and I ‘fell in love’ with a Belfast boy called Seamie McLoughlin. In fact, his friend Liam from Greenhills was the much nicer of the two and I’m sorry I didn’t get infatuated with him instead (he was very cute…)
We’d go swimming (at which neither of us were proficient; our experience to date being battling the elements at Seapoint, Blackrock or Dun Laoghaire baths, floundering amongst the waves) and try to find something to do in-between.
Our summers in Dun Laoghaire were wonderful – the People’s Park was an idyllic place to spend the day and we’d faff around enjoying the sun. We’d have no money to speak of so had to entertain ourselves.
Valerie was the coolest of us all – always quiet and softly-spoken, she emanated a casual and laid-back persona which belied the complex sensitive person I now know her to be. There was a bunch of us: me, Val O’Connor, Anne Healy, Siobhan Piggot and Valerie Flynn. We’d go to Siobhan’s house to practice our jiving – which became quite intricate – because they had a conservatory which we could use as our dancefloor, and her dad Ernie was always kind and sweet, and would set up the music system. Then we’d go to Pres (Presentation College) in Glasthule and jive our Levi-clad asses off.
Siobhan is a tall girl and, when she’d ‘push’ you during a dance, you knew you’d been pushed. I landed in a guy’s lap once in ‘Pres’ – which, while fun for me, may have been a painful experience for him – thanks to Siobhan’s enthusiastic style.
Val was the quiet one, and yet she could cut a person down to size with a look: she’d lower her head, look through her fringe, widen those huge green/blue eyes – with impossibly long lashes – and you’d be quelled. Anne and I were the ‘smart-asses’; Valerie Flynn the effervescent and impervious one, and Siobhan a bit of a statuesque ice-maiden.
Anne had an insouciant charm: witty and blasé beyond her years, she was humorous, rather unpredictable and likely to kick over the traces given half a chance. Valerie Flynn, with her beautiful freckles and pert features, was innocent and trusting. Siobhan… well, got the feeling she wasn’t happy to live on a council estate – a bit beneath her… and yet we all got on very well, and had many good times.
One night in Pres, a chap asked me to dance (‘Angie’ by The Rolling Stones – always got me onto the floor), and eventually admitted he’d followed me home earlier that summer (I’d gotten a new bikini…) and I ended up dating him for several months. He was Church of Ireland and quite posh. Even then, I had no tolerance for jumped-up attitudes (I was about 12-years-old); perversely enjoyed his father’s discomfiture at our friendship, and ‘put-on’ a more working-class attitude just to piss him off. Contrary even then…
Our biggest transgression was getting home late from Pres: missing the last bus was a pain in the ass because not only did we have a long walk but we’d a bunch of explaining to do once we got home. One night, trailing tiredly down Pottery Road, Anne Healy’s boot-sole came loose, and all we could hear was the thing flapping and slapping against the path. Anne had borrowed the boots from one of her sisters, and was horrified. The rest of us were incoherent with laughter – do not expect pity…
As time went on, we all went our separate ways to some degree: different secondary schools distanced us from each-other: Siobhan’s family moved from Pottery Road, Val went to Paris, I lived in Wicklow, etc., and our lives diverged, but every now and again we’d meet up. One such link-up happened when I came home from San Diego and all of us (except Siobhan) met up to go out for the night. Suffice to say, I ended up sitting in the front of a taxi on Marine Road trying to distract the driver from glasses clinking in the back seat… he wasn’t fooled but was tolerant (I was put in charge of ‘placating’ him… why do I always get that job?)
However, Val is still a source of inspiration and strength. I’ve never known a woman who can rationalise a situation so intuitively, or bring solace to a hurt heart. She’s my best friend and I love her dearly.