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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Family Guy: Skydiving? Pfft! Try an Irish summer on for size, my son

Sometimes I'd do anything to travel back in time like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future
Sometimes I'd do anything to travel back in time like Michael J Fox in Back to the Future

THE sun streams through the tiny window into our small, side-street office on one of those Irish days in May that has you almost thinking anything is possible; like you could, perhaps, even walk 200 yards in a short-sleeved shirt without finding yourself hunched over, shivering.

"You're not fooling me," I mutter, squinting out at the brightness and rubbing my arms. I'm not venturing anywhere, I decide, except maybe across the road for a takeaway coffee.

I strain my neck to judge the distance. I could probably manage it. Just. But then the wind picks up and rattles the window like a warden telling me to back off from the bars of my cage.

I'm not always this unadventurous. It could be lashing out and I might decide to brave it to the end of the road, check out a different café, perhaps try a Chai latté for a change. Or something.

I'm startled out of these mid-morning doldrums by the door opening and the sight of our eldest son's girlfriend standing in front of me, smiling pleasantly, and I am instantly reminded that, in a little over four weeks, he will be home from his year away studying in a university in California.

"Hello," I say.

"Hello," she says, still smiling.

"Looks like our boy's been enjoying his last few weeks in America," I say after a moment.

She nods, frowning as though really considering this. Another one of my newsflashes, I realise, from the department of blindingly obvious.

"Oh, I think he is," she concludes, smiling again.

In fact, our son has already been camping in Yosemite, whale watching off Monterey, hostelling in Los Angeles, cycling over the Golden Gate Bridge, and gone with friends in a camper van all the way to Seattle and back. Difficult to think of how he could possibly wring much more by way of life experiences from his stay.

"You heard about him skydiving then," she offers suddenly.

I blink at her. Skydiving? What? "Of course," I say, chuckling dryly, but what I'm actually thinking is, does his mother know about this yet? She's already on knife-edge after I made her watch a movie about the west coast of America upending and sliding into the sea like a wet sandcastle (only with lots of screaming people). Her precious first-born son hurling himself out of a plane at 13,000 feet might just finish her off.

"So," I grin, throat clicking. "How did it go?" All I can see is a day, years ago, while on holiday somewhere, when I took him, maybe aged eight, up a high platform to a zip-wire and he promptly burst into tears.

I remember thinking: "Well, now you've done it, you've properly messed him up for life, just like a bad dad does and like you said you'd never do".

It's one of my many Back to the Future moments - times I'd do anything to travel back to, like Marty McFly in the hit movie, and change something.

"I'm sure you'll hear all about it," says his girlfriend, adding after a moment: "Is it something you'd do yourself?"

I glance fleetingly out the window to where a single empty coffee cup is dancing down the street between me and the shop, and I shiver.

"Sure," I lie. "Who wouldn't?" Me, for one. Because. . . Hello! Death?

She smiles even wider and nods approvingly, if perhaps a little too enthusiastically, making me wonder how good a liar I actually am.

I suddenly find myself trying to think of brave, adventurous things I actually HAVE done, like finding myself in Russia during the Soviet coup in 1991; travelling through guerilla-infested Colombia during the height of the FARC wars; or trundling around post-conflict Sierra Leone and Liberia.

leaping

Alas, I arrived to and departed each of these situations comfortably buckled into the seat of a warm and well-catered aircraft, never once crawling to the open door and leaping out, from a height, and it suddenly dawns on me that the eldest has entirely outdone his old man.

I may as well fetch my comfy slippers.

"Well," says his girlfriend after a moment of my staring into space. "I should push on."

"Yes," I say, examining my outstretched fingers. "Back to the grindstone, I suppose." We exchange goodbyes and the door closes over.

I stand up with a groan and check my pockets for change as I look out the window once again. Funny. I always identified so much with Michael J Fox's character in Back to the Future, but more and more I'm wondering if I'm his wimpy dad in the film.

"Bugger that," I mutter, grabbing my keys and heading out into the blustery day. After about 200 yards, I stop, hunched over and shivering.

A passer-by, all bundled up, motions to my naked arms with his chin.

"Brave man," he says.

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