Tide scuppers Vinny’s designs on sandcastle supremacy
Bereft busman’s beach bailiwick battered and broken
Vinny Fitzpatrick’s efforts at building the biggest sandcastle ever seen on Kilmore Quay beach in Wexford were looking good until the tide turned.
The bulky figure in Dublin GAA top and baggy shorts drew no more attention than the other beach builders scrabbling furiously into the shingle. None of the others gave their rival a second glance. All were on a mission.
Moments earlier, the whistle had peeped to start of the annual sand castle challenge on Kilmore Quay and Vinny Fitzpatrick was instantly digging quicker than a JCB running on Red Bull.
On the final afternoon of the summer holidays, the burly bus driver wasn’t in a sunny mood on his arrival.
Burdened down by fold-up chairs, wind-breaker and two tennis rackets, he was like a camel crossing the Sahara as he traipsed dutifully across the strand, behind his family.
With an eagerness which Vinny envied, Angie had cobbled together a feast of sarnies, buns, biscuits and drinks, both hot and cold.
She also oversaw the loading of the boot with beach furniture, hampers, swimming gear, towels and sporting accessories.
“Ange, are we going out for the day or a week?” whinged Vinny.
Aware any extended protest might curb his pass to the pub for the World Cup final later, Vinny didn’t press on with his gripe.
In truth, Vinny wasn’t cut out to be a sand boy: shallow beaches left him high and dry.
Sand was fine if you had a wedge in your hand and were playing the famed Liverpool links of Hoylake where the Open was about to take place – Vinny felt a Yank win was nailed on and would be punting on Rickie Fowler.
But away from the golf course, there was little love lost between Vinny and the shiny tiny particles.
Minor sandstormInvariably, he managed to spoil his cup of tea, or ham sambo with an injudicious gesture which sparked up a minor sandstorm. Today, he had already caked a punnet of strawberries with brown sprinkles after casually flicking out a towel without noting the wind direction.
Vinny’s mood deteriorated further when he was press-ganged into the beach activities for “all the Mammies and Daddies”, by the games organiser, a Neptune-like thespian with flowing hair and a plastic trident.
With Oisín and Aoife urging their aul fella on, Vinny performed like Eddie The Eagle. He fell in the sack race after stubbing his toe on a half-hidden rock; then he’d dropped his potato into the briny in the egg and spoon race.
But the greatest ignominy of all had come in the three-legged race where he’d finishing in rear even behind the twins, despite having the advantage of two fleshy trotters free as he was the spare runner in the field.
The sandcastle challenge represented Vinny’s last opportunity to salvage something from the wreckage. Mr Neptune called everyone to order, allocating a small rectangle of beach to each team, which in Vinny’s case consisted of himself, Angie’s 20-year-old daughter Emma, and the twins.
“There will be prizes for the tallest castle, for the one which goes deepest, and also for those castles which display most imagination,” bellowed Mr Neptune. “You have twenty minutes and may not use anything that you cannot find naturally on the beach. On my whistle, ready, steady, go.”
Vinny had already decided on the point of attack: upwards. Using a stiff-handled trowel which he bought for €3, he worked at pace, lifting and slapping sand into place like a master plasterer.
He barked orders to the twins to load up their buckets with sand and urged Emma to get stuck in. “Think of yourself as Sherpa Tenzing, Emma, with me as Hilary,” he panted. “Together, we can reach the stars.”
In reality, all they needed was to erect a cone of sand no more than three feet tall but getting there wasn’t as easy as it sounded. With foundations required for stability, Vinny was relieved when Oisín and Aoife arrived up from the shoreline with two sloppy buckets of sand.
“Grand job, guys. Now get two more, as quick as you can,” he barked.
At the two-minute warning from Mr Neptune, Vinny lifted up his head and looked around. There were two other contenders for tag of Empire State sandcastle. With his keen eye, Vinny reckoned they were a nose ahead of one and neck and neck with the other.
Sweat flowing freelyWith sweat flowing freely, and his knees groaning in discomfort, Vinny kept on truckin’. Scoop, lift, pat. Scoop, lift, pat. Bit by bit, their sandy citadel rose up from the Wexford shoreline. Defiant, resolute, and impregnable, qualities not associated with their puffing architect.
When the whistle blew a second time to signal the end of the exercise, Vinny rolled over on one side, white belly exposed – he might have passed for a beached whale.
He heart had just begun to slow down when the judging began. Mr Neptune bestowed his blessing on various castles, one which looked like a snowman, another like a mermaid.
He also noted the castle with the deepest moat before coming to his final deliberation. “There are three candidates for the highest castle of Kilmore Quay, for which we award the grand prize of a bucket and spade,” he intoned.
Using his trident as an indicator, Mr Neptune eliminated one of the contenders, leaving Vinny and his team fighting it out for glory with a fortress built by a team of teenage boys.
“Hmm,” observed the theatrical arbiter. “This is a close call.” For effect, Mr Neptune stalked the two castles, inviting the goggle-eyed gathering to comment on which one they thought was the highest.
Just then, Vinny felt water lapping at his heels. He glanced behind; the tide had turned and was coming in at fast lick. Alarmingly, his precious handiwork was in the first line of fire.
As Mr Neptune cleared his throat and announced, “We have a winner,” Vinny looked on in horror as a portion of his castle collapsed into the briny, leaving a tilted ruin. His dream was shattered.
Broken, he repaired into Angie’s arms, fighting back fury and comforting the twins, who were distraught. As his rivals raised their shiny new spades to the skies, like triumphant Viking warriors, it struck Vinny that time, and tide, wait for no man.