Imagine my surprise on opening the September issue of Skerries News, to find a photograph (not the one above,) taken on my camera, probably sixty years ago. It shows a group of laid-back young lads sitting on a rock at The Captains bathing place in Skerries. I can almost recall the day. I can certainly recall the Kodak box camera, with sticky-plaster on the corners to keep out the light. (Free professional tip, there.) The shutter made a satisfying ker..pling to let you know that the scene had been successfully immortalised. I could almost name them all, fellows I spent a lot of time with in those far-off days, when the sun always shone and we ‘made one long bathing of a summer’s day.’ There were some with sun-tans and some with limbs as white and skinny as sticks of celery. There were one or two showing off their muscles. They were all smiling. How did Skerries News get hold of a picture that exists only in my memory? My picture was in sepia. Very strange.
For a brief time, my brothers and I were avid photographers. We learned how to develop photographs in a tray of ‘developer’ and fix them in a similar tray of ‘fixer.’ We had a red bulb under the stairs and an ordinary bulb in the hall for exposing the negative in a frame with the light-sensitive paper. It was all very scientific, provided you remembered which tray was which. The chemicals were kept in bottles on which we drew skulls and cross-bones and wrote in large letters DEADLY POSION or PSION or POISSON. The last one looked more likely. The others we crossed out.
It was intensely exciting to see the picture emerging in the developer. Writing with light, the literal translation of ‘photography.’ Sometimes it was so exciting that we ran out to show the result to the rest of the family, only to see the image fade in the harsh light of day or the harsher light of an ordinary bulb. Blast it! Forgot the fixer. We might as well have been photographing the Cheshire Cat.
We sort of gave up photography when the Guards began to enquire about the increasing numbers of dead Frenchmen being found in the area. They knew they were French because they wore berets and striped jerseys and carried bunches of onions around their necks. Some were still clutching bottles of a deadly poison which, the Guards surmised, they had mistaken for some kind of Irish chowder. One or two were able to mumble something about a red light district before expiring in agony. The Guards shook their heads sadly. Ah, these French! (That last paragraph is a complete lie, Your Honour.)
The notice at the Captains advises ‘competent swimmers only.’ It used to say:’ Beware of rocks and bootlace weed.’ It also stated the hours set aside for Ladies’ Bathing. It was during the grey and dismal Fifties, after all. We were all depressed, although we didn’t know it. Times change and practices change also, but some things remain. Youngsters still spend their summer days at the Captains. They have had a great season. Good sense keeps them out of the water on days such as the one depicted, no matter how competent they may be.
Wait a minute. Have another look at that picture in Skerries News. That’s not me. That young fellow on the left is my grandson, Leo. You can see that he inherited the family good looks. How did he get into a sixty-year-old photograph? I get it. Terns still roost on Rockabill. Cormorants and gulls still inhabit the islands and young lads still perch on the rocks of the Captains, all summer long. The article refers to exchanging swimming togs for school uniforms. Life isn’t all fun and games, Leo. Lounging around, shooting the breeze and laughing all year round, is a job best left to grandparents.