My husband has a t-shirt. It is a Galway Bay Brewery t-shirt with a picture of the diving board on the front. He’s always talking about Galway, is my husband. He spent a year on placement there in 2003 and the bits he can remember, he enjoyed very much.
We are down in Galway to celebrate our friend Brenda’s 40thbirthday. On the agenda is pizza and wine and merriment aplenty. But first, we rendez-vous beside the diving boards, for the tantalising cocktail that is salt water plus adrenalin. Brenda’s family have set up camp. Picnics were not a thing in my family, and if they were it was a drab affair: wilted sandwiches and a Penguin and carton of warm Um-Bongo. Not with this crew though: if picnics were cars, then this picnic would be the Audi TT.
There is hot tea in flasks and overflowing cool bags with strawberries and cream (or yogurt should one prefer) and Shloer and chocolates and every type of bar a child could wish for. There are exciting cones full of sweets for each child too- my pair are wide-eyed with glee. You’d think they’d never seen a sweet. ‘Can we really have this?’ the Older One says. I say yes, obviously. This is a celebration! But before any fizz is popped we go for a dip. Our friend Stephen has already sailed off the boards and is encouraging us to do the same. Stevey braves the water for a swim before heading up. He starts engaging folk in chat, as he is wont to do. ‘Don’t you be procrastinating now!’ I say.
I stride up too, but then I hear my mum’s voice in my head. ‘You could give yourself a heart attack, jumping into cold water.’ I don’t want a heart attack. My 40 year old heart may not, I fear, take the strain of leaping off into the chilly depths, so I descend and wade in first to acclimatise. It is 20 degrees, therefore it’s not as though I have to break the ice before I get in, though being Ireland, it’s still a bit nippy.
I swear a bit, then swear some more. I find it helps. A flame haired woman in her fifties is treading water and smiling broadly. ‘It’s grand once you’re in,’ she says. I tell her I’m worried about my heart stopping.
‘Lookit,’ she says, ‘they’ve done studies, and I don’t think you have a heart attack, because of the cold.’
‘I don’t want to be the first,’ I say.
I look up at the boards and see LSB still standing on the edge, chatting. I swim a bit more and when I look back up he’s still there. A queue has formed and kids are taking running leaps off the top board instead. Brenda is taking a video. I think Brenda’s right arm may be starting to hurt. I go up to do some cajoling.
‘Come on!’ I say. ‘You’ve done it before!’
‘I’m going,’ he says, but his body says no, he isn’t. His toes curl round the edge of the board, even though his body is launched forward, like Eddie the Eagle Edwards.
‘Ach, come on,’ says a young fellow. I’ll count you down…’
‘Do I launch out so I’ll miss the rocks? says Stevey.
‘There are no rocks,’ says the young lad, ‘three, two, one…..’ At this Stevey lifts his feet and is momentarily airborne. Our friends cheer. Then he pulls himself back in. He is shaking his head. ‘My legs are jelly; I don’t know what’s wrong.’
‘Do you want this wetsuit I ask? Wetsuits afford both insulation, and protection.’
‘No,’ he says. ‘Right I’m going, I’m going….’ He launches forward, and his arms go back and ‘THIS MUST BE IT’ we think. We all hold our breath; then he pulls himself back in. We all sigh, sadly. I’m getting very cold.
Our children arrive.
‘Come on Daddy!’.
‘I’ll give you a push,’ I suggest helpfully.
‘DON’T PUSH MY DADDY!’ shouts the Small Child. Another little girl is offering advice.
‘Just look at the Big Wheel and jump,’ she says.
‘Go on ahead,’ says LSB. Off she sails. A group of teenage boys have now landed up. The pressure is immense. 20 minutes now, we have been there.
All of Brenda’s family are watching and waiting. Another 10 minutes pass. I fear we are going to have an emotional episode. Everyone else jumps off to give him some space, and then after 5 minutes they come back again. They are all, every last kid, kind and supportive.
‘GO! GO! GO! GO! GO!’ shouts Brenda’s family. And then we all stop. It’s not going to happen. Even the young fellas are looking upset on his behalf.
I think dark thoughts to myself. ‘Tonight’s going to be some craic,’ I ruminate. ‘With himself staring morosely into a pint, and it Brenda’s birthday too.’
He leans out again, and says ‘Right! This is it!’…. and he says put.
‘It’s not easy, now, I’m telling you,’ says a man, while a young boy takes a running jump off the top board, hollering in glee as he plunges into the water.
We start to chat among ourselves and then, he bends his knees for the umpteenth time, looks ahead, and leaps off. The relief is palpable.
There are ‘whoops and whoohoos!’ and applause from the boards, from the pier, from those in the water. Brenda’s father Jimmy surprises us all by being an enthusiastic ‘Yee-o-er’. Stevey, being from the West, loves a good ‘Yee-ooo!’
Later, everyone has a story about watching Stevey on the pier. He was up there for 35 minutes, so they had plenty of time to take in the atmosphere. As Brenda’s family cheered him on, an elderly couple reprimanded them. ‘Jaysus, would you leave the fella alone,’ said the gentleman, who was trying to drink his tea in peace. ‘That is our friend!’ said Brenda. ‘We’re supporting him!’
Everyone, it turns out, is supporting him. As he emerges from the water, shaking his head like a wet Schnauzer, he is welcomed back like a war hero. A queue has formed to shake his hand. The woman I met earlier in the water wants a photo with him for her blog. Strangers clap him on the back.
‘That was some entertainment, Stevey, if you don’t mind me saying,’ says Jimmy.
‘Will I do it again?’ he says to me. ‘Like fuck you will,’ I reply. ‘I want to get out this evening.’
Later, on our way back from Super Macs we meet all the teenage boys from the boards. ‘It’s your man!’ they say, and stop to high five him. Stevey punches the air and shouts ‘Yeooo!’
‘I can just see the headlines in the “The Galway Advertiser”‘ I mutter. ‘Belfast hero shocks locals by jumping off Salthill diving board.’
That evening, as he walks into the The Crust Bucket where we are having pizza, he gets a standing ovation. ‘It’s Michael Phelps himself!’ says Brenda’s brother.
Despite having run several marathons and winning various awards for sporting related endeavours, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look so delighted.