Strong arms of Vinny in right place at right time
AGAINST THE ODDS:AS HE attempted to navigate a path through the milling throng, Vinny Fitzpatrick was glad he was pushing the twins, Oisín and Aoife, in a tandem buggy, rather than one of those double-wide ones.
Because on this splendid Sunday morning, the quays of Dublin were buzzing with folk from all corners of the globe, and there wasn’t room to swing a sand wedge, never mind a cat.
It was warm and sunny, a rarity for this miserable summer, and Vinny was pleased he’d worn his tent-sized Khaki shorts as he waddled down Sir John Rogerson’s Quay, admiring the towering Tall Ships.
The majestic fleet was decked out in all their finery, with bosomy sails billowing in a gentle easterly, as they prepared for an excursion to Dublin Bay, out to Dun Laoghaire and back via Howth.
Vinny and family would be part of the regal regatta after Angie won a competition on Seascapes on RTÉ Radio, texting correctly “tight lines and fair sailing” as the answer to the programme’s out cue.
It was a passage, including lunch, for a family on board the Guayas, which Vinny had found out was a three-masted barque named after a river in Ecuador, manned by the Ecuador Navy.
The boat was tethered beside the massive Amerigo Vespucci – the tallest of the Tall – and there was a fair-sized queue already, even though boarding wasn’t due for another half hour, at noon.
After nudging the buggy into place, Vinny left Angie in charge and toddled over to O’Brien’s ice cream van nearby where he noted, with dismay, the minimum price for a cone was a rip-off €2.
Waiting in turn, he reflected on the momentous events of the weekend, both involving Americans who shared the same surname, and who had left their mark on his world.
Vinny had been digesting the startling implications of Lance Armstrong’s fall from sporting grace the previous evening, when he heard the sad news that Neil Armstrong had passed away.
Both Armstrongs had touched Vinny’s life, the latter in the summer of 1969 in front of a grainy telly in Causeway Avenue surrounded by his Ma, Da and two sisters, Vinny had witnessed Armstrong become the first man to set foot on the moon.
It elevated Armstrong to the ranks of Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Desperate Dan for a snotty-nosed 11-year-old.
Later, Vinny had read up on Armstrong and, as a former boy scout with Dollymount Troop, he was touched by the astronaut’s message to the Boy Scouts he routed through Houston as Apollo 11 headed into space. He raised a “dib, dib, dib” in salute to the late Neil Alden Armstrong before ordering four 99s from the van.
If Armstrong the astronaut had lived a full, if unassuming, life following his lunar exploits, Armstrong, the biker, was always in the news from the moment he won the World Championships in 1993 to today when his Tweets commanded a following of more than 3.7million, including a portly bus driver from Clontarf.
As a member of Black Banks Wheelers, Vinny had always followed cycling. And after Sean Kelly, his hero, retired from the saddle, Vinny switched his support to the brash young Texan.
He marvelled at Armstrong’s recovery from an aggressive cancer, celebrated his magnificent seven successes in the Tour de France, and almost cried when the veteran returned to finish third in the great race when nearer 40 than 30.
Vinny knew Armstrong called his enemies trolls and he had a burning desire to know what was going on around him. KLI – Keep Lance Informed – was the byword in the Armstrong camp.
After berating anyone in Foley’s who dared cry foul of the American, Vinny was miffed to learn that all Armstrong’s triumphs may have been aided with the prick of a needle.
Even so, he made a mental note to send Lance a Tweet offering him a place in the Balscadden Grand Prix up and down Howth Head, if he felt up to it.
By now, Vinny was back in the queue, admiring the view – Angie’s auburn hair was down and her shapely backside still fitted snugly into a clinging pair of Levi’s. The kids were slurping happily, not bothered by the slow-moving queue which snaked along the Guayas port side.
At the foot of the gangway, Angie took over the steering and led the kids up a rather rickety rope-bridge to the ship. Vinny, dawdling slightly, had almost alighted when a piercing scream rang out behind him.
He turned to see a tall blonde woman clutching one side of the rope bridge, leaning precariously over the briny, her eyes closed.
Concerned, Vinny dashed back and recognised the woman as Cindy Braithwaite, a stalwart of Black Banks Wheelers. (Vinny had more than once noted muscular, tanned, legs as ‘The Bullet’ Braithwaite breezed past him on the descent from Howth Summit).
“Cindy, it’s me, Vinny, Vinny Fitzpatrick, Are you alright?” he asked. She was paralysed with fear. “Stay away Vinny,” she cried. “If you take one step nearer, you’ll unbalance everything and I’ll fall, I know I will.”
Vinny held out a pudgy paw. “Here, take my hand,” he said leaning across and wishing he had a reach like Katie Taylor. But Cindy Braithwaite was having none of it. “Keep clear, didn’t you hear me?” she wailed aloud.
Vinny paused. He was no more than two yards from the stricken ‘Bullet’. With one leap, he’d bridge the gap but if he got his timing wrong, the pair of them would topple over. He wasn’t bothered about a dip in the Liffey . . but knew Cindy was.
“Tell me what this is about Cindy,” he said softly, seeking eye contact with his club cycling comrade. When Cindy glanced up at Vinny he smiled and encouraged her to continue. “Go on. I’m a good listener and I’m going nowhere,” he said.
“I feel so stupid,” said Cindy. “I’ve had a fear for years about falling between a pier and a boat. I thought I would be alright today but just to test myself, I looked down, saw the sea, and just froze. What am I to do?”
Vinny thought of Lance Armstrong, the outspoken fighter, then thought of Neil Armstrong, the self-effacing astronaut.
“I want you to keep looking at me Cindy. Then I want you to stand upright. Go on, you can do it,” he said, in a caring tone.
Slowly, Cindy pushed herself up against the rope-bridge. If she lost her nerve now, Vinny knew she would fall headlong into Anna Livia, some 20 feet below.
“Now,” he said. “Step towards me. I won’t move, but you will, because you can. Keep looking straight at me, nowhere else.”
Cindy Braithwaite inched towards her unlikely shining knight; her blue 40-ish eyes fixed on the grey-green of the 54-year-old bus driver.
The gap lessened. Six feet, five, four, three and finally Cindy stepped across into the flabby arms of her unlikely rescuer. As she sobbed uncontrollably, Vinny quipped “Well done, Cindy, well done. One small step for man; a giant leap for mankind.”
Bets of the week
1pt each-way – Matteo Mannasero in European Masters (25/1, Ladbrokes)
2pt – Mayo to beat Dublin by 1-3 pts in the All-Ireland SFC (4/1, Paddy Power)
1pt Lay – Roger Federer to win US Open (5/2, Boylesports, liability 2.5pts)