The excitement in the car is building. Are we there yet? You betcha. The seaside is near and the signs are unmistakeable. There is the salty taste in the breeze. Trees and hedges are few and far between, and, judging by the way the houses ‘integrate tastefully with the landscape’, so are the planning regulations.
The day is a scorcher so traffic on the way to the beach is heavy and bad tempered. Watching the crabby families, I’m briefly transported back to my earliest seaside memory. Transported in the back of a Fiat 121, to be precise. There were no rear seatbelts in those days but there were other safety features. By wedging at least four children into the back seat, it was possible to create an centipedal lump of ‘child’ which fitted snugly and securely into the space provided. In addition, the combination of short trousers and leatherette car-seat covers meant that an adhesive bond eventually formed between child and seat.
Soon we find a place to park. We’re near an architect-designed house where the windows are roundy in order to evoke ‘the portholes on a boat’. Architects are always keen do a bit of boat-evoking in their buildings, which leads you to wonder why they don’t just design boats.
On the way to the beach there is the ubiquitous farmer’s market but no one is interested in earth-covered carrots today. We don’t even pause to do our usual farmer’s market trick of feigning deep interest in various types of chutney while using the opportunity to catch up on lunch. “…And what flavour is this? Nomnomnomnom… And what about this one, I’ll just have a little taste… Nomnomnomnom. Do you have any more crackers?”
The homemade apple-juice and Grandma’s Secret Recipe Soda Bread are waved aside. Nothing’s going to dissuade us from our main objective – to get to the beach-in-heat.
Having picked our spot, we unpack. I look over at my wife’s superior preparedness. From her bag she produces a swimsuit, a sunhat, books, flip-flops, towels for hair, body and soul; pre, during and aftersun lotions. By contrast my own bag contains a can of Bulmer’s Pear wrapped in a pair of O’Neills shorts and a towel that turns out to be a facecloth.
Prior to getting changed and inflicting my Daz-White torso on the world, I glance nervously around. I needn’t have worried. Sufferers from body dysmorphia should be brought to an Irish beach. It would be Gok Wan’s fantasy. All over the strand is a confident display of everything that is gloriously odd-shaped and lumpy about humanity. Every so often a toned and tanned couple will stride by, but they’re probably Polish so there’s no need to feel bad.
We run to the sea. There’s no right way to do this. In Baywatch, Mitch Buchanan would gallop majestically through the waves and then at a crucial moment plunge into the surf like a seal. This doesn’t work for me. I plunge too early and land with my face full of sand. The sea is of course cold, but it’s bracing. There’s word today that there might be jellyfish on the prowl. I’m not too worried. Jellyfish are pale shapeless creatures so they tend to leave the Irish alone. No jellyfish would want to run the risk of stinging a relative.
For children, the beach affords the best opportunity to do some serious consequence-free mucking about. One family of three small sons appear to have built an entire sand housing-estate but perhaps in keeping with the times, they abandon it without including even the most rudimentary drainage. At least they have buckets and spades. Two little girls are digging a large hole with their hands, while their parents appear to be tucking into cans of cider. They look like my kind of people.
After the refreshing dip, it’s back on dry land for the one-step-forward-two-steps-back process of drying off and removing sand. I’m marvelling at how clean my fingernails and toenails are. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to a French manicure. Nearby two women are discussing the other cosmetic benefits of the seaside.
“Your skin would feel lovely after the sand wouldn’t it?”
“I know, it’s like a natural exfoliant.”
Here’s a tip for men though – this does not mean that you can surreptitiously fill a bucket with sand and then present it to your woman – wrapped in a bow – on Valentine’s Day.
After a little while in the sun we’re off to the chipper. It’s been good old-fashioned seaside fun and as we come away sated and sanded, I wonder why we don’t do this more often. Perhaps Met Eireann can provide us with a clue. Here’s an excerpt from today’s forecast. And I’m afraid it’s going to remain changeable and unsettled for Friday and the weekend, with occasional showers or longer spells of rain at times. The weekend weather is changeable? Some things never change.