I'm a man of my word - a few too many words if truth be told. Back in Chile I promised the kids that on our return to Cork I would invest in a game of table soccer (or taca-taca as the Chileans had it). Yesterday, already a bit ragged from my first week's work, I stopped off in Lidl supermarket to buy their special offer. That Lidl had table soccer as a special offer was in itself a sign. It was meant to be. This sport of kings, now our official family sport, was destined to work its way into our home.
Who would have thought that the buggers weighed so much, though. Even with a strapping Pole by the name Piotr helping me to carry it out of the shop, I nearly became the first fatality ever recorded in the annals of the sport of taca-taca, almost flattened by a flatpack. It would have been an honourable exit to be sure, but somewhat premature in my table-soccer career (ah yes I remember Lawlor, they would say, full of promise but never made it out of the carpark).
It seems that fragments of our journey are trying to make their way back to us. After I finished putting together the table, I headed out to buy some beer. What should wink at me from the shelf but a six-pack of James Boag - a fine and flavourful Tasmanian beer which kept us good company on many's the evening in Oz. Let me tell you now that there are very few things as satisfying as a good beer to wash down a resounding taca-taca victory over people half your size and a quarter your age.
This isn't just recreation, it's a recreation of our journey. The fastest, most chaotic way to play taca-taca is in four - the speed is a multiple of a two-person game. When the four of us are around the table we are suddenly back on the road, back in our Fiji sandals or our Chilean boots, screaming our heads off.
It's not that I'm suffering from nostalgia for the road - at least not yet. The only thing I really miss since we came back - and especially since I returned to the office - is my girls. They were the stars of this show. It wasn't perfect - there were many problems along the way. But it was real. By the time our journey was over we had a slightly different way of communicating - a better one. A number of people have asked us, since our return, how we coped with the logistics of travelling with children for so long. The truth is that logistics is what we do at home. During what little time that I can afford each day with Nina and Sara, I typically spend it managing them. Telling them what to do. Mealtimes, tidying up, bedtime - family life can be very regimented. Of course we had to do these things on the road as well, but there was always loads of time left over. Time to explore together places where none of us know what we would see. Time to talk through problems and disagreements rather than to just issue parental diktats on the way out the door. Time to just hang out and begin to actually enjoy each other's company, and learn a little more about each other as people.
These are things that cannot survive the return home in their entirety. There's too much competition. The girls want to spend time with their friends, and I'm missing 40 hours a week. But we've noticed some changes. Since we got back, Nina and Sara are willing to spend a little more time with us, forgoing time with their mates. And with the memory of the trip as a reference point, a living example, we can reach for other, better ways of communicating rather than the rushed staccato set-pieces of the past.
So when it is just the four of us, around the taca-taca table, screaming, twisting, punching the air in triumph or burying our faces in our hands - we could be anywhere. It doesn't really matter where we are. The spirit of the trip returns with a speed and strength that makes me think that it will never be far from the surface.