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Ben's Hilarious Life

‘Let’s Just Focus On This Now’

from Totally Fushed, Summer 2004

One day early in May, my glassy-still sleep was shattered when the phone rang at the unholy hour of 10.00am. I reached bleary-eyed to the end of my bed to pick up the receiver…‘Hello?’ I managed. 

‘Ben, the very man!’ It was my next-door neighbour. ‘Wouldn’t you like to make some money?’ 

I hesitated. Then: ‘Yes’, I said tentatively, inviting her to go on, but hoping I still retained a veto over whatever activities she had planned, should they sound like they included actual work. 

‘A friend of mine, very nice lady’, my neighbour continued, ‘is looking for someone to do exam revision with her daughter, Sinead, a lovely girl who’s in First Year. She asked me if I knew anyone who’d be suitable and who was familiar with the course…And naturally, I couldn’t think of anyone more intelligent or capable than you…’ Flattery – check. ‘Anyway, she’s willing to pay twenty euro an hour, and – ’ 

‘I’ll do it.’ 

So, my neighbour’s friend got in touch with me, and the following Monday afternoon she picked me up at Shankill DART station. 

We cruised passed Shankill shopping centre and drove on for another few minutes, ending up on a curvy little road. We stopped in front of ten-foot-high electronically operated black gates, with equally humungous stone walls on either side. At first I thought we were entering an exclusive housing estate, but then I realised that no, this was just the grounds to their house / mansion. I had to smile to myself as the gates creaked open. Now I understood how they could afford to give me twenty euro an hour. 

Once inside the house / mansion, Sinead, a round, giddy, bespectacled girl, led me into the dining room, her school bag slung over her shoulder. It was a very modern room, which belied the somewhat-less-modern look of the building’s exterior. It had one of those oval, imitation wood tables, and there were eclectic pieces of contemporary art dotted on the bright white walls. 

I sat down beside Sinead as she pulled her history book from her bag and plonked it down on the table. Still not quite sure what my remit was, I asked: ‘Erm…What do you want me to do?’ 

‘If you can just dictate notes that I can take down’, she answered. 

So, for the subsequent two hours we meandered through medieval history, with me offering her important points from the book, and testing her orally as we completed each chapter. 

The calm of this first session was not to last, however. Within a few days, Sinead obviously became used to my presence, and let her true self shine through. 

‘Isn’t this cool?’ she turned to me and said one afternoon. I looked up from the geography book to find her emptying an ink cartridge into her glass of drinking water. 

‘Wow, look!’ she urged, admiring the curls of cloudy blue ink as they melded with the clear liquid. 

I wasn’t sure whether I was hurt that she wasn’t rapt by my brilliant tutoring skills, or annoyed that she wasn’t paying attention to her studies. Either way, I felt very much like a disgruntled teacher. 

‘Yes, it is pretty cool’, I forced a smile, ‘but let’s just focus on this now.’ 

Sinead’s messing got worse from there. Sometimes she would get up and jog around the table, insisting: ‘You can still ask me questions, I do this all the time.’ Sometimes she would brush pasty glue onto the palm of her hand, wait for it to dry, then start peeling it off, saying: ‘I like to pretend I’m peeling off my skin’…Of course you do, dear. 

One particularly highly strung day, Sinead informed me at the outset of our session that she had consumed an entire litre bottle of Coke at lunch break. The ensuing hyperactive hi-jinx confirmed her sugar overdose, as she proceeded to crumple up sheets of blank paper, dip them in water, and throw them at me. Later, she took a paint brush from her pencil case and used it to ‘paint’ water from her drinking glass all over her trousers. She then wondered if she should put glue in her hair, and I said: 

‘Most people wouldn’t even have to ask themselves that question.’ 

And she burst out laughing, then began splashing water at me, revealing that she wouldn’t stop until I said ‘stop’. Now, see, if one of my sisters had been annoying me like this, she would probably be hanging from the ceiling by this stage. But given the circumstances, all I did was say ‘please stop’ through clenched teeth, and quietly fume while counting in my head all the expletives I knew. 

With all these goings on, you may be forgiven for thinking that we never got any work done. But you’d be wrong – we did lots! After all, I was there for two hours every weekday, and three hours each Saturday and Sunday for three weeks, and no more than fifty percent of that time was taken up with Sinead’s shenanigans! So, Sinead got through her exams all right despite my influence, and as I walked out the door on my last day, her mother said she might ask me back next year. That same evening, a man who had called to their house was heading in my direction, so I took a lift home with him. Along the way, we talked about what I would be doing come autumn. I told him I had a place in Trinity that I was probably going to take up. 

‘Well, enjoy college!’ he said as I climbed out of the car.

‘Oh, I’m sure I will’, I replied, and meant it. My recent experience of ‘working’ had given me a newfound appreciation for the safety of academia. Well, at least they don’t splash water at you in Trinity (I hope)…!


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