I remember summers.
I’m saying this at 7 a.m. on a cold bus with windows that have rain streaked almost horizontally across them (it‘s the bus that has the windows, not me). They are steamed up from the breath and the dampness of the clothing of the passengers, so that staring out of them tells me nothing. We might be as far as Bray, we might have reached the Motorway, we may have got lost and be in Venice.
The streets are certainly wet enough, though I think Venice would be warmer.
But I remember summers when the sun shone all day, every day. Summers when we would swim in Sandycove Harbour or at the Forty-Foot just beside it. The Forty-Foot, by the way, was a gentleman’s bathing place, meaning that women were barred so that men could swim naked if they wished. I’m not sure why they felt the need to do that, unless they felt the need to show off the small blue walnut now sprouting from their groin.
This was because the water was cold. You were not allowed to say that, of course. You had to inch your way in, gasping to catch your breath, shuddering when the first wave hit your swimming trunks and, when it hit your chest, feeling for a second as if your heart had stopped. You then plunged forward swam for about four strokes, then lifted your head, picked a slimy strip of seaweed from across your face and announced “It’s lovely”.
But if the water was cold, the sun was hot. When we had finished swimming we would run around, shirtless and wearing Factor er, Nothing, stubbing our toes against stones and occasional pieces of broken glass. Our backs would turn the colour, and texture, of a ham, and would sting at the slightest touch. You knew that because your friends, upon spotting any redness, would slap you cheerily on the back. That’s what friends are for, at that age.
As the sun sank we would slip t-shirts onto skin covered in sea-salt, rawness and the beginnings of peeling, and head home to sleep, on our sides, so that we could rise early to do the same thing again the following day.
You may say that I am looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses, though there were no such thing as sunglasses in those days (if the sun was too bright you squinted, what else is the ability to squint for?). You may also say (and please do) that I am too young to be indulging in nostalgia.
All I know is that I haven’t been sunburnt for years. And I know that it wouldn’t be pleasant if I were.
But it would be nice to at least have the option.