Roisin Ingle on … the end of summer

 Croagh Patrick, a holiday memory

Croagh Patrick, a holiday memory


There is rain. For a start. On my dream holiday. Not all the time, not every day, but some mornings I wake up to an alarm clock with that unmistakable lashing rain tone, hammering down on the skylight of my holiday cottage.

The postcard-worthy skies of yesterday are like a dream. You look up and there’s a fluffy blanket of grey overhead. A duvet of dullness. The green fields look grimmer. The sheep are more sheepish. And yet even in this damp and dreary morning the orange and purple wild flowers in the hedgerows seem just as full of themselves.

You think back to yesterday. Complaining of being too roasting on Old Head beach. Fretting about the suncream factor. It’s scorchio and factor 30 smacks of parental neglect. The sandwiches are too warm when you liberate them from the tinfoil package. The chocolate fingers are wilting in the coolbag.

Today, you can’t believe this is the same place. You can hardly see the Thing on top of Croagh Patrick, because while yesterday it was a gleaming symbol of hope perched upon a rocky triangle of endurance, today it is shrouded in a squat meringue of white cloud.

We talk about that Thing a lot when we come to Co Mayo. I think we all know what it is really, but we like to pretend we don’t. We’ll only find out for sure one day, years from now, when we all climb it together. (This may never happen. But we talk about it as though it is a certainty.)

Until then the Thing could be anything. A giant computer. An ice-cream van. A Lego house. Nanny has just turned 75 and she spends the holiday pretending to be a grumpy old woman who hates Croagh Patrick, which we can see at every turn.

“Nanny, look, Croagh Patrick!”

“Oh, not that silly old mountain again.”

And then there are giggles and so it goes on.

People go on sun holidays for the consistency, I suppose. There will be sun, white sandy beaches and al fresco dining with prawns and sardines that are only minutes out of the sea. Sun holidays appeal to people who don’t want to wake up and wonder what to do today because the wind is whipping at the long grass outside. They don’t want to put on waterproof clothing from head to toe and head to the beach to collect shells and stones. Can’t say I blame them.

I’ve nothing against Portugal. Or Gran Canaria. Or the south of France. I’ve tried them all and they are grand in their way. But what I really like is a holiday where you walk a mile to a rocky, gravelly beach and you paddle in your wellies because it’s too freezing for bare feet and the fine sand from further up the shore is whizzing past your nose so you have to keep your mouth closed to avoid a bona fide sandwich.

When you never went abroad on holidays as a child and spent your holidays in caravans or tents in the rain/sun/hailstones, it can go two ways, I think. The first is that you grow up, you get a job, you have money for holidays. You choose to spend that money on a trip that in no way resembles the ones you had as a child. Your children grow up with direct experience of places where wellies are not essential on holiday. Where sea swimming does not involve an intricate in-out-in-out-again dance before the first plunge. You go for comfort on holiday. All the better to relax and feel as though work and mundane worries are far behind you. At least for a fortnight.

Or you go the other way. You decide your children will have the same experience you did, except with a little more luxury. You draw the line at tents but the general gist is the same. There will be days when you’ll be on a boat out to Clare Island, getting soaked through with sea spray. You’ll traverse the sand dunes like pirates, wet of hair, rosy of cheek.

Other days, when you run out of ideas, it’s the swimming pool and an anonymous indoor play centre where there is wifi and coffee. You might as well be at home. You feel at home. And that’s not the worst thing in the world.

The summer is over. I don’t say that with regret. Bring it on. Opaque tights and crunchy leaves and a nip in the air and squeak

y new school shoes. The white Thing on the top of Croagh Patrick fading into memory until the next time. The next summer. And so it goes on.

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