Portrush, Harbour Diving Boards

It is 1978. Everyone is talking about Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It has taken longer to get to Ireland. All films do. “Everyone says its brilliant,” my brothers say. “We’re going,” they say. I am interested, but not interested enough to beg to go along with them.

I tell you this because, were a drone camera to fly over my head right now, the me of 1978, and were I to catch sight of the drone, I would think aliens were invading, as aliens are on my mind. But the drone is there, except the drone is the older me of now, eyes closed, watching, listening, following me, my sister, and our two friends, perched by the end of the harbour diving board where we are having our photograph taken.

The harbour mouth is wide, plenty of space for fishing boats to navigate in and out, leaving ample the space around the pontoon and diving boards for half a dozen local children to swim safely. Coloured beach towels are draped over the railings, others lie on crumpled heaps on rocks.

A speedboat is heading out and a woman with a deep tan (she didn’t get that here) is barefoot on boat’s deck pulling in the fenders. Hitting the open sea, it cranks up the engine, noise rising, horsepower churning up the sea in even, white rolls. The boat’s wake folds back into the harbour and rocks the pontoon so that the children standing on it wobble and laugh. They begin to push each other in. Someone has dropped a half-eaten bag of crisps and three herring gulls squabble over the spoils, noisier even that the shriek of the skinny girl with the plaits who has just been pushed in.

Today, because it is hot, there are more children than usual, a dozen maybe. A kamikaze boy launches himself off the springboard. He wants to take a long run but there is not enough space, so he curves his way in. He is as stylish as a high board diver, timing his pace perfectly with a vigorous bounce that belies his size. Once he is in the air, he curls himself into a tight ball and slams into the water like a bouncing bomb designed to do some damage. After five seconds up he comes with one arm held high, Manannán Mac Lir rising from the otherworld. I’ve heard someone call him Trevor.

Trevor’s a bit loud for our liking. I say our, because that’s what my friend says.

“That wee fella has a big mouth. All the Belfast ones do, they think they’re it.”

I say nothing, but I quite like how he chats, as if he knows everyone, and I’m secretly fixated by how the skin all around his lips has gone blue, and that he’s shaking harder than Nana does after she has a coughing fit. Even having turned blue, he keeps jumping in.

“Are you not foundered?” I ask him when he’s climbing out by the steps and making to jump in again.

His freckles are so big that some are clumped together, which reminds me of blowing bubbles and some of the bubbles join in the air and make one huge bubble. His teeth are chattering and he’s biting his bottom lip in excitement.

“We’re down on the train for the day. Only come once a year, so I’m staying in until ten minutes before the train is due.”

I look in the direction of the station. He should be able to make it in ten minutes.

I’m watching Trevor jump in again, this time with a roll and a twist. He hits the water a clatter with the side of his body. I’m wondering if he has hurt himself when a man with a camera bag shouts that he’s from the paper and, “Do any of you want your picture taken?”

Well, of course we do, who wouldn’t want to be in the paper? I look at my big sister, she says we can. Our two friends agree and we run forward before the Belfast ones can. “We’re from here,” we tell him, and this seems to matter. My two friends are wearing leotards because this year, for after school activities, they had the choice of doing gymnastics or swimming, not both. They opted for gymnastics. That’s when their mum told them they’d made a good choice for the leotard could double as a swimsuit. I am mortified for them. The photographer says nothing. Now I think it was pretty cool to double up on the sportswear, and if I had a child, I would do the same to them.

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