This is our June Bank Holiday weekend, and at eight o’clock this morning, looking at this:
you realise that, if only we had the weather, we’d be the best country on earth.
When I vowed to post on every one of the last nine days of May, I was not expecting one of them to be astonishingly sunny.
The temperature is still only sixteen degrees, but that’s irrelevant. Global warming has given Ireland a succession of disappointing summers, so when we get a cloudless day like today we go absolutely mental. People rush down stony beaches to hurl themselves into a still freezing sea, like someone getting into a shower five seconds after they have turned the hot water on.
Men show off horrendous legs in horrendous shorts. Women forego tights to wear open-toed shoes with red-painted toenails peeping from them. Everyone eats their own weight in ice-cream.
And people have barbecues, the chance to swap meat cooked thoroughly and safely in your kitchen for the same meat burnt in spots over an open fire.
While I have done none of the above, I have unashamedly slept Sunday afternoon away in a sun-lounger in the back garden. I am now slightly pink (rather like barbecued chicken normally is), but I don’t care.
After all, the Pink Panther is probably the coolest person on the planet.
One Saturday at the weekly Writers Centre workshop a friend of mine declined to read out what she’d written because her foot was asleep.
This excuse may seem daft. As daft, perhaps, as my own offering, which is that I have done less blogging over the past few months because the weather has been cold.
As our winter stretches now into April, and as temperatures still remain obstinately in single figures, I am sticking with my story.
I do a lot of my writing on the bus on the way to and from work (buses are notoriously bumpy methods of transport, which may explain the shakiness of some of my plotlines). There seems to be an agreement among all Dublin Bus drivers that they will not turn on the heating, no matter how cold the day. Perhaps they are afraid that if we passengers were made comfortable (in other words, treated as customers instead of as nuisances) we would stay on the bus for the day, like kids trying to sneak a second go on the dodgems, travelling on an endless loop into and out of the city, forsaking our jobs and therefore further weakening our economy.
The lack of heat makes fingers cold and unbending, so hands have to be dug deep into pockets. Coats remain on, instead of being placed against the wall as a buffer for one’s elbows while typing. Brains have to go into hibernation.
No-one could write in conditions like this. Ok, Scott of the Antarctic did, but no-one else apart from him.
The journey home is the same, and then you face into a biting east wind and walk up to your house. You sit down on the sofa in front of the TV, just for a few minutes, to warm up. You do not move until bedtime. Posts are unposted, indeed unwritten, other bloggers are unvisited, and your blog sits forsaken, an internet version of Puff the Magic Dragon after Little Jackie Paper grew up.
But Summer is on the way. We know this because, as is customary every Spring, “traditional” weather forecasters, those who forsake science and instead look at stuff in fields, have been invited onto the radio. People like Dave from Donegal, who predicts the weather by watching which side of rocks the lichen has grown on this year, and John-Pat, from Clonakilty, who does the same by examining the thickness of the plumage of the lesser-spotted tree warbler, come on to predict a warm if wet June followed by a scorching July and an August with temperatures normally achieved only on the surface of Mercury.
The radio presenter is thrilled with this, informing us that Dave and John-Pat have been using these methods of weather prediction for over one hundred years now, and have never once been wrong. The fact that just last Autumn Dave predicted a Winter featuring a plague of stoats, and that John-Pat predicted fifteen inches of snot (he couldn’t read his own writing, the word should have been “fifty”) is forgotten. These people are soothsayers, their word is to be taken as gospel, and we all rush out and buy speedos, barbecue coals and Factor 90 sunscreen.
And on the rare occasion, about once every fifteen years, in which we do get a glorious summer? Well, you couldn’t possible write in that weather, it’s far too hot.
Last weekend, as I think I mentioned, it rained here.
There is no rain forecast for this week, but the highest daily temperatures are expected to be 3 or 4 degrees, which is 36 to 38 in warmer-sounding numbers. Oh, and as I write this it’s snowing lightly, that kind of snow that doesn’t actually fall, but hovers upwards and sideways, like Icarus showing off.
It’s bloody cold. As I walked to the bus this morning I reflected that I’m still wearing the same number of layers of clothing as I was in December, and a scarf, and gloves.
But not a hat. All around me are people wearing those sock-hats that make the top of your head look like a Dalek’s, but not me.
(Spellcheck, by the way, has never heard of either Icarus or the Daleks. No wonder it thinks that drawing red squiggly lines under words is an exciting occupation).
In the 60s the only person you ever saw in one of those hats was a character called Benny in a TV series called Crossroads, and Benny was, well, a bit simple. In our house they were called Benny-from-Crossroads hats, and my brother and I, good children who obediently would eat our greens (cabbage, broccoli did not exist in those days), do our homework, and even wear those mittens that were secured to each other via a string of wool that went up your sleeves and across your back, simply refused to wear them.
My mother even tried us with the bobble-hat, which is basically a Benny-from-Crossroads hat with a dandelion-ball of wool on the top, because in some way that was supposed to make it look better.
We had a remarkable gift for losing them, including one that we hit over a wall with a tennis racket, having wrapped it around a tennis ball in an attempt to make our own shuttlecock. In the end she gave up.
I got to my house this evening (well actually to the pub, I felt that I needed it) after two hours and forty minutes on the bus. I work nineteen miles away. It’s like being back in the days when a man carrying a red flag had to walk in front of your vehicle, except we wouldn’t have been able to keep up with any man walking in front of ours.
This is because the N11 motorway is flooded.
Now let me assure you people (you lucky, lucky people) who do not live in the County Wicklow area of Ireland that the word “motorway” means exactly the same thing here as it does where you are – a big, many-laned, flat stretch of roadway with grass verges and trees at the sides – nothing in any direction, in fact, against which water could build up. Flooding a motorway in just one spot is a substantial achievement, like parting the Red Sea but in reverse.
I should have got the train home instead, but the line is flooded between two particular stops. This happens regularly ever since they replaced the traditional loose stones along that stretch with concrete in some sort of noise-deadening exercise, which I suppose I have to admit is a success since there are far fewer trains making noise on the line than there were before.
That particular part of the line between Dalkey and Dun Laoghaire was known as the Atmospheric railway and was built in 1843. In 1843 trains ran along it. In 2013 you can’t guarantee that they will on any wet day. That’s progress, Irish Rail style.
In fairness to them, it’s raining. In Ireland. In March. Who’da thought.
If today’s traffic chaos was because of bush fires, or tectonic plate activity, or the eruption of a volcano that we didn’t know we had, then you’d feel sympathy for the haplessness of the people who control our roads and our railways. With rain, not so much.
In fairness to them again, though (I have to be fair, otherwise this might sound like a rant), it has been raining heavily. Not for days, or even weeks, but, well, since yesterday.
This will all be over by tomorrow. The waters will subside, everything will go back to normal, and absolutely nothing will be done to stop it happening again. That’s the way we do things here.
So here I am, home (in the pub) hours later than I should have been. Am I angry? Yes. Am I cold, wet and miserable?
Because I left the house this morning wearing a coat and carrying an umbrella.
See, I live in Ireland. I thought it might rain.
Back in the glorious summers of our childhood, when the sun shone all day (and for all I know all night) we didn’t just swim every day. We also played football.
Nowadays near the end of each Premier League Football season some team will end up having to play, say, four games in thirteen days, and their manager (and a big hello to Arsene Wenger from Arsenal, if he’s reading this) will complain about the madness of the fixture pile-up, moan about the unfairness of it all because their opposition have not faced the same schedule (usually because they are inferior teams and have been knocked out of most competitions by that time) and, if his team loses, blame the defeat upon the tiredness of his players.
Our fixture schedule consisted of three games a day. We would all meet in the mornings, play until the first mother appeared to call her child for lunch, meet again to play until teatime and finish with a game that went on until we all got called home for bed.
And we were playing in summer – sunny, wonderful summers, if you’ve been paying attention, and we were Irish, so half of each team were red-headed or freckly, yet we never seemed to suffer the kind of exhaustion or de-hydration problems that National Teams from these islands succumb to simply because the World Cup is always played in June.
Some people (hi, Arsene) might say that this was because there were about twenty-eight of us on the pitch, so we didn’t have to run as much as modern professionals do. I would counter that by pointing out that we were about ten years old, yet always insisted on playing on Dalkey United’s full pitch. I would also point out that we actually ran more than a Beckham or a Ronaldo, for two reasons. The first was that there were no nets in the massive goals, nor crowds around the pitch, so that every time the ball went out of play one of us would have to run to get it back.
The second, of course, was that none of us kept to our positions. If the ball was kicked out to the left wing then all twenty-six who weren’t in goal would run after it. Someone would get there first, kick it in the other direction, and we would all set off after it again. We must have looked like a pack of hounds chasing a small round fox.
I have mentioned that we played on the full pitch. That was because real players played on a full-sized pitch, and we emulated them in every way. At corner-kicks we all gathered in the centre of the goalmouth waiting to head the ball in, although we knew that whoever was taking the kick could only move the ball about ten yards, and all along the ground at that. We had the same attitude when the goalkeeper was taking a kick-out, we all moved into the other half of the field and optimistically yelled for the ball.
It never reached us. If the keeper was kicking the ball out of his hands it would usually travel about two feet straight up into the air.
When Johan Cruyff did his famous turn by rolling the ball around and behind his standing leg we all tried that. When Rivelino scored by bending the ball using the outside of his foot we all tried that. When Pele tried to score from inside his own half we all tried that, though we knew in our hearts we’d never be able to kick it that far.
When Ernie Hunt (playing for Coventry against Everton in 1970, there are some facts you just don’t have to look up) scored his donkey-kick goal (if you watch the link, wait for the action replay to see why it’s so special) all of our free-kicks for the next three months were taken in that way. Generally the player trying the first part of the move would simply hit himself in the back of the head with the ball.
None of us ever dived. Any of us who got injured would hop or limp about for a few minutes until we recovered. All of us could kick the ball with either foot.
Schoolboy Leagues began in Ireland in those days at Under-14 level. When Tinson1 played first it was for the Under-8s. The kids learn to pass and move, and to stay in their positions. One team around here has their kids warm-up before games, and warm-down after them.
I watch them sometimes for a few minutes if I’m passing by. I hope they’re having as much fun as we had.
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.
On Thursday night it rained.
Oh, how it rained. You could hear it on the roof, you could hear it playing music with objects in the back garden, you could hear it flattening supposedly summer flowers.
There was a reason for this. It wasn’t caused by global warming, low pressure, anti-cyclones, the Gulf Stream or Al Gore. Just four words were all the explanation that anybody would have needed.
Tinson2 was going camping.
He has been camping about four times before, on a Par 3 golf course owned by parents of a friend of his, and the weather has been the same. He has never known the delights of drinking tepid tea full of twigs from a chipped tin mug, of listening to night-time rustlings that could be anything from rats to mammoths, of falling into a clump of nettles whilst peeing in the dark.
All he knows about camping is that it involves sitting in wet clothes in a wet tent, being dripped on from above and osmosissed from below. All he knows about camping is that it is miserable.
In other words, he is learning a valuable lesson.
The rules for this week’s challenge are simple. WordPress tell us that we can post any picture we like, so long as it is taken today.
Think of the possibilities. A butterfly on a leaf. A bee hovering over a flower. A vapour trail in the sky. A dog-turd on the street. There’s a whole world out there, just waiting to be captured forever on film.
It can keep waiting, though, because the weather is like this:
That picture was taken when the rain wasn’t blowing onto the window. This one was taken when it was:
You know you live in a wet country when (a) you keep a lifeboat in your back garden and (b) it’s full of water.
So I’ve had to look indoors, and have opted for this:
It’s what we use to wax our turtles, before we turn them upside down and play Curling with them, sweeping frantically in front of them as they slide across our wooden floor towards the jack, a reluctant Tinkid.
And why, out of all of the items (and there are millions of them, believe me) in our house have I chosen this one?
I just reckon it’s my only chance. I can’t see them ever having a “Weekly Photo Challenge: Kitchen Supplies”.