An Irishman’s Diary on a game of drones
Who will rid us of this buzzing nuisance?
“The main meal was over, some of the children were playing football on the all-weather pitch, and it was still warm enough to stretch out on the grass and take in the blue and green of the idyllic countryside, when a loud noise drowned out the sound of laughter and birdsong. It was a drone.”
This year, after a number of years of having resisted the pressure, I succumbed to a campaign from my sons to go along on the annual Dads Camping Weekend organised by some of the (mostly younger) fathers of children in their class in school.
Not having slept in a tent for three decades or more, it was with a feeling of trepidation that I loaded up the boot with borrowed sleeping bags and a reportedly capacious tent which, I hoped, some of the more experienced fathers would help me set up once I got there.
The campsite was on the Wexford coast, outside Kilmuckridge, and the sky when we set out from Dublin was an uninterrupted blue. Leaving the main road outside Gorey to head towards the coast was a revelation. I had not been to this part of Wexford in the summer before, save through the pages of John Banville’s novels, and was more than impressed by its beauty.
We were in a land of country lanes lined with hedges and trees, and villages at crossroads where you could stop and eat dodgy warm battered chicken breasts and packets of crisps while listening, stunned, to the silence.
All around there was the feeling of the nearby sea.
The campsite was another revelation – clean, well-ordered, full of sports and other facilities, yet somehow not overdone so that when you pitched your tent on the grass beside your parked car, on the edge of the camp created by the other dads, you still felt you were roughing it, and encountering the wild. A sandy path through a tumble of bush rose over the dunes and gave onto the beach, which stretched north and south and was, in the main, empty.
The boys, their classmates, and various siblings older and younger, wandered here and there chatting and organising games and tumbling down sand dunes, while the dads, dressed in unbecoming shorts, T-shirts that their bellies pushed out, and toe-revealing footwear, indulged in desultory chit-chat, the joys of tending to barbecues, and the consumption of burnt meat washed down with beer. There was football, tennis, dips in the cold sea, and after-dark sitting around a brazier while the children used sticks sourced from the bramble to toast their marshmallows, and the dads’ low-octane chat under the starlit sky failed to blot out the sound of waves tumbling onto the nearby shore.
The one dud note made its presence felt an hour or so before dusk. The main meal was over, some of the children were playing football on the all-weather pitch, and it was still warm enough to stretch out on the grass and take in the blue and green of the idyllic countryside, when a loud noise drowned out the sound of laughter and birdsong. It was a drone. The thing had a red light on one side and a green one on the other, just like an airplane, but it was surprisingly small and flitted around the air above us like a hovering bee. They are not called drones for nothing and the noise was impossible to ignore. The controller, wherever he was (it was surely a he), left his toy mark time over the children’s game of football, before disappearing off towards the beach, and then later reappearing to hang around again, before finally heading off inland. May it fall in a marshy field and get stood on by a cow, I thought, and wished it good riddance.
But the next day the blighter was at it again. The children were tumbling down a high dune and some of the dads, post-swim, were shivering in their togs and their threadbare towels, when back it came, like some crazed escaped extra from the set of ET. As I understand it, these things come with cameras that can livestream whatever they are viewing onto the owner’s laptop, which is a bit weird. Somebody somewhere was sending their drone whizzing along the Wexford coast, stopping every now and then to zoom in on whoever it was they felt an urge to focus on and possibly record. There’s something a bit creepy about that. But even leaving aside the possibility of creepy motives, drones are intrusive and annoying by their very nature. (This was my first experience of seeing one in action.)
I’m not sure whether they record sound or not. The loud sound of their engines would be an obvious obstacle in this regard. But they make inviting targets. There was of course a football on the beach and I shouted to the boys to get it and see if they could hit the drone. Some of them started towards the ball, but as soon as they did so, the Irritating Flying Object banked to one side, and disappeared quickly behind the dunes, not to be seen again.
Next time we’ll be waiting.