“Just be yereselves, Mam,” says eldest daughter Deirdre on the phone. “But, don’t be really yereselves – this is Dubai,” she adds. “It was hard enough for me to acclimatise and I’m normal. So it’d be best if ye just nod and smile.”

I let that one slide. Since she was about 14, Deirdre has shown her love for me by telling me what I’m doing wrong.

I turn on the tablet and hope to God the broadband doesn’t make eejits of us.

Deirdre and the family are Out-n-Dubai for two years. Adam and Ailbhe are having a grandparents Zoom day in their school. We’re all dialling in from all over the world.

Dubai is the kind of place where no one’s grandparents are local. Except for the sheikhs. We’ve to have our cameras on, so I’ve made Denis change into his second best jumper. He won’t wear the good one. He finds it “too itchy around the neck”.


The classroom seems to be up in a skyscraper. There’s only sky out the window. The Sheikh Khaleed Bin Something School. It’s supposed to be a good one, but I’d say they won’t be doing much Modh Coinníollach.

“They’ll be turned into Muslims,” says my own Mam, sitting behind me.

“Still, it’s more religion than they’d be getting here. The place down the road might as well be wan a them Educate Altogethers.” I’m lucky we’re muted.

Ailbhe will ask us a question about the past and Adam is to do a party piece.

I’m paging through the screens nosying around the other grandparents. There’s a few rich Yanks. One pair seem to be sitting on a verandah with a feckin’ golf course out the back. Both of them have a Jack Nicklaus look off them. And then I see the other side. Johnny and Nora, Deirdre’s father and mother-in-law.

We’d be civil enough to each other but I know they’ve only one thing on their mind: to make sure their only grandson will go farming. They’ve already been out a few times and Johnny’d be zooming Adam from the tractor.

I give them a wave. Half the place waves back. You don’t know who you’re waving at on this yoke. I’ve to be careful. Deirdre tells me there’s the child of one of those Dublin gangsters in the class. I’m trying hard to see which one he might be. Would he have tattoos that young?

Now the children are going to ask their grandparents a question about their lives to show how life was long ago. Says the teacher, Siobhan. She’s Irish but you wouldn’t know from the accent.

Yerra, I didn’t go to school but I met the scholars coming home

“Keep it simple, now, Denis, if it comes to you,” I warn him.

It comes to Ailbhe’s turn.

“Grandad Denis, how did you get to school?” she asks in the sweetest voice.

“Yerra, I didn’t go to school but I met the scholars coming home,” says Denis. WHAT is he on about?

Ailbhe is all confused. She doesn’t know what to say. It moves on to the next child.

Deirdre sends me a WhatsApp with just a question mark in it. She’s right. We’ve let the side down.

Party pieces

Then the party pieces start. A little angel of a girl gets up and sings something. Dua Lippy or something, she says.

That’s the gangster’s child, texts Deirdre. At last, it’s Adam’s turn.

“I’m doing a poem my Grandad Johnny taught me,” he says. Nora looks as PROUD. Johnny looks worried. Adam starts:

“Granddad Johnny is a farmer,

With cows and pigs and ducks,

As long as it’s dry for silage,

He couldn’t give two f…..”

“T’wasn’t from our side he got that, anyway,” says Denis afterwards.

Nora’s face will keep me going through two more lockdowns.

“Ye’re not the worst of them,” texts Deirdre.