‘Now I know my ABC, next time won’t you sing with me…’

Darraugh/Darren and Edward were already downing pints of cooking lager when I arrived at the Coal Hole on the Strand on Monday night. It was twelve years since I’d seen Darraugh/Darren, and he still slips instantly between broad Dublinese and London glo’al, depending on whether he’s channelling his parents or his South London upbringing. It’s hard to keep up.

His da is from a long line of Moore Street fruitsellers. His ma is from Tinahely, Co. Wicklow. The da had left school at fourteen or so, and used to sneak off to meet his ma outside her posh convent school in the afternoons.
    ‘And then she fell pregnant wi’ me. At sixteen! So they moved to London.’

His ma was toughened by the experience, apparently. Years later, she asked his younger brother’s girlfriend:
    ‘Well, is me son good in bed?’
The girl, charmed by this twinkly confidante, admitted that indeed, yes he was good in bed.
    ‘So yer sleepin’ with him! Get outta me house, ya sluh!’

She managed to get to college even with the baby, but the da still asks Darraugh/Darren to count the number of Tube stops to his destination before he leaves the house. It’s a joke of sorts among the brothers: the auld fella still won’t admit he can’t read. I was shocked by this on Monday night, but today, my first day in Bangkok, I understand how he felt. Now I’m cut off from the printed word too. Colonel Sanders looked like a kindly uncle smiling down amid Thai squiggles (though I resisted his invitation). As usual, I try to walk everywhere, but the street signs won’t yield up meaning, and the tuk-tuks bear down when I try to cross the street. There aren’t many farangs where I’m staying, and I clutch my Rough Guide as I order food from pictures.

But there are baby pet rabbits to play with in my guesthouse, and everybody smiles, even in big, bad Bangkok. I’ll cope, but I miss my mammy and my mother tongue.