Monday, June 8, 2009

Adventure At Sea Inspired By Enid Blyton!

(Left image taken by me in 1968 shows the white structure in the centre which was earlier the concrete foundation slabs that our boat rowed over).

Summer in Ringsend, Dublin during the late 1950's and early 60's was pure magic. For me it was something to do with the sounds of summer. Living so close to the sea, my most cherished memory of summer was listening to the dredger cleaning the bottom of the river on a warm sunny day, that sound always signified summer holidays! The other sound was of course the cry of the gulls. These magic moments I've written about in a previous post called A Touch Of Nostalgia. It was during those childhood years that my imagination was probably at its wildest.

(Left image taken by me in 2001 shows Ringsend Library).

I was about twelve years old when I joined the local library. Books like the Richmal Crompton "Just William" series and other suchlike stories where the central character could always be trusted to get into some sort of mischief by the end of the day were my favourites. Later I began reading the good old spy stories set in the then Cold War era not to mention the wonderful crime novels in which the Chief Inspector nearly always had marriage problems which he dealt with by consuming vast amounts of bourbon and smoking cheap cigars while at the same time managing to solve the many varied mysteries his daily work presented him with. Heavy stuff for a young teenager but it all went over my head.

It wasn't until I began reading Enid Blyton's "The Famous Five" series that my imagination really took flight. For those not familiar with the stories each book, twenty one in all, told of the adventures of four children and their dog. The children were two brothers, Julian and Dick, their sister, Anne and Georgina, their cousin, or George as she preferred to be called along with George's dog, Timothy. To make a long story short every adventure the children had involved them at some point heading off in George's rowing boat to either Kirrin Island (George's island!) or some castle in search of horrid gansters who they (the children) would round up with the help of Timothy and hand over to the local police for locking up. Each story always had its happy ending.

(Image, Enid Blyton sourced at Wiki).

A few years later with my imagination still fuelled by these fantastic escapades I decided one summer evening to have my own exciting experience. As my friends consisted of two sisters, their brother and their dog we seemed the perfect combination for our own Famous Five team.

Less than a five minute walk from my house and literally just across the road from my friends' house was the slip-way where small boats including rowing boats would rest against the sea wall until their next venture out onto the ocean waves. On this particular evening a young neighbour of my friends whose family was very much involved with the sea happened to be in the vicinity and the fact that one of the rowing boats was conveniently lying by plus he was an excellent rower was enough to make me persuade him to take us out for an evening cruise. Bearing in mind that this young chap was only about fourteen or fifteen at the time and I was the eldest at sixteen made this venture an extremely dangerous one. In the end only one of the sisters and her brother, plus a couple of very young children, the boy who owned the boat and myself set sail. The dog had more sense and remained on the slip-way.

The boat owner and myself took the oars and with a little coaching from him I managed to row without spinning the boat around or horror of horrors, dropping the oar into the water. After a while we were really on our way out to sea and I was beginning to pretend that we were heading into our own Famous Five adventure. By now the clouds had begun to darken and brave as I had been earlier I was now quite scared as were the younger kiddies. We decided to turn back. While on our return journey we noticed waves bubbling around the boat and wondered where they could have come from. Just then I looked up and saw in the distance a giant passenger ship heading straight for us! Definitely one of those times when your life flashes before your eyes.

(Right image taken by me in May 1969 shows to the left, after the bus-stop, the slip-way. You can just about see one of the rowing boats).

With shouts from the boat owner of "Row, row", I worked the oar with all the strength my little arms could muster. In our state of terror we'd completely forgotton about the enormous concrete foundation slabs barely visible beneath the water (these were the beginnings of what would later become the massive re-development of our Docklands) so the scraping sound of the boat's bottom (sorry I don't know the terminology) against those stone monsters sent us into hysterics.

As we approached land we could see that the tide was going out and that we would have to walk the short distance across to the slip-way. We didn't really care as we were so relieved we'd made it in one piece. I was able to walk across carrying the smallest child on my back with the boat owner having to make several return trips for each of the other passengers! If we thought that was bad worse was still to come as our parents stood anxiously waiting for our return. I got into the most trouble simply because I was the eldest and was repeatedly told I should have had more sense. The fact that only two of the people in the boat could swim didn't seem to deter us in the least.

I should at this stage point out that I do not ever recommend anyone, children or adults alike, to go out into the water without proper safety measures in place.

Oh! well, looking back it was one of the greatest adventures I ever undertook but also one of the most dangerous, well maybe not. There was the time I convinced my friends to accompany me on an underground journey through sewer tunnels that possibly led out under the sea. Lighted candles were used! Maybe for the next post!