As a child I used to dread going out anywhere with my mum, and I truly mean anywhere. I know that sounds mean but let me explain.
It wasn't that I didn't love spending time with her. I did then and still do today. She's a very vivacious soul, always smart and funny, never without an amusing tale to tell and permanently available as a listening ear to anyone in need of a shoulder to cry, or giggle on. All parts of her personality join together in some magical, magnetic way, attracting a multitude of strangers to her side, all of whom share their life stories within moments of meeting my mum. Some people are just like that, aren't they, catnip to those with whom they come into contact.
As a child, I used to dread her striking up a conversation as I knew I'd be stuck for hours by her side, bored as she uncovered every last detail of her new acquaintance's life, and as bad as it was with her in our hometown, it was ten times worse when we went to Belfast.
Every Thursday afternoon, she would collect us from school and whisk us up to the big smoke for some late night shopping. She and my granny loved nothing more than a browse through the fashions at the old department store, Anderson and McAuley at Donegall Place and then a skip across the road, into C&A, for a nosey through the more trendy, fashionable offerings. Not that I think half as much time was spent on clothes hunting compared to how much she and my granny (my mum didn't take it off the stone!) spent meeting new acquaintances and turning them into lifelong friends.
This habit of attracting people of all makes and models extended offshore as well and I can't remember a single family holiday in Spain or France where my mum wouldn't pick up at least a few new pals who would shadow our every move, turning up beside us at the pool, materialising at our side as we promenaded by the beach or booking a table beside ours for dinner.
My mum would invite them along, arranging to meet up at various times of the day, and always had a smile and a massive welcome for anyone who wanted to be in our company. My dad, not so much. He had a heart as big as a lion and he'd have given his last penny to anyone in need, but when it came to the question of who he wanted to spend time with, the answer would always have been us… just us.
He was full of fun and, when we were out and mum was doing her usual thing of rounding up new friends, he was always very hospitable. He'd pull up a chair and buy a drink for the latest addition to our party, but you could sense that he was just waiting for us all to be on our own again. He used to say that he'd happily bring my sister and I, our kids and our partners into his and mum's house, shut the door, lock the windows and never spend time with another living soul again.
He'd say it with a smile on his face, but I think he was only partly joking. He was a family man, through and through, and bar an obsession with rugby that took him out of the house maybe once a week to watch a game, he showed no interest in hanging out with anyone else. Family was his everything.
I have always felt like a complex mix of both my parents when it comes to the world outside my own four walls.
I have great friends, people I've met all around the globe and with whom I've maintained decades-old friendships.
I love to meet new people and can strike up a conversation with anyone, anywhere.
In fact, that's been one of the hardest aspects of lockdown for me, not getting the chance to have those casual chats that turn into so much more.
But when it comes to the evening and to spending quality time with people, the choice is very easy. It's always family for me.