Bank Holidays and a New Skerries Family.

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It is generally accepted that W.E. Gladstone was a decent man who tried in different ways, to improve the quality of peoples’ lives. God knows he had his work cut out in the middle of the Victorian age, when ‘Dickensian’ was a by-word for poverty and misery.One of his lasting and welcome innovations was the extension of the Bank Holiday to all citizens to provide some relief from the daily grind. The advance of the railways resulted in a lemming-like migration on bank holidays, to the seaside and other places of recreation. Think of the modern bank holiday traffic jams. A car full of impatient ..’are we there yet?’….children.  Sandy sandwiches, a chilly breeze  coming off the sea, sudden squalls of rain and huddling behind a windbreak on the South Strand, in wet bathing togs. It must be worth it in the end. The funny thing is that these are the memorable days, the days the family cherishes and laughs about in the years to come.

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Paul Darcy at work.

We can be a bit smug in Skerries because we can pick and choose. We have the amenities at our doorstep, winter and summer. There is a special poignancy in walking about a seaside resort in mid-winter. The beaches are strewn with the debris of the most recent storm, all the plunder of the Deep laid out to amaze us. You won’t need your togs today. Not for us the long and creeping traffic jam on migration to the sea. We are spared the sweaty, rattling bus journey with the kids, bags of beach gear and fold-up go cars…are we there yet?…are we there yet?…We don’t have to queue for the bus at the end of the day, with cranky children, or fathers with a few pints too many, or mothers invariably keeping the show on the road. Memorable days indeed.

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Do you remember The Film Fun or The Radio Fun, two comics that extracted the maximum spin-off value from the popular stars of the day: Jimmy Jewell and Ben Warris, Jimmy Edwards, with his handlebar moustache and his sidekick Dick Bentley, Ollie and Stan? They always travelled in pairs, (possibly to avoid the ‘single-room supplement’). They marked the great occasions of the years in appropriate fashion, usually with a ‘slap-up feed’ or a trip to Brighton/Skegness/Morecambe, for the Whit Bank Holiday. They wore striped full length bathing togs on the beach and knotted handkerchiefs on their heads.There were minor disasters usually mitigated by a nearby millionaire who laughed so much at their misfortune that he would invariably say: “I haven’t laughed so much in twenty years. Here’s fifty pounds.” The day was saved. You can always tell a millionaire because he wears a top hat and striped trousers. He has a glittering diamond on his tie-pin and another on the band of his cigar. I keep a sharp eye out for them. It wasn’t really very funny but perhaps it was reassuring for people to think that they shared something with such luminaries. Why though, did Ollie and Stan travel all the way from Hollywood to spend a bank holiday weekend in Blackpool/Bognor/Bournemouth? George Formby did in fact, come to Skerries, with ‘is little ukelele  in ‘is ‘and.

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The seal sculptures are the new landmark of Skerries. The artist has liberated the spirit of ‘family’ from nineteen tons of Portuguese limestone. This family makes people smile. ‘Mammy, Mammy, can I have an icecream?’  ‘When Daddy has finished his lunch.’  ‘Can I go for a swim?…Even the fish has a slight smile on his face. Michelangelo had a vast block of Carrara marble, discarded by the builders, as waste. He rose every morning to catch the first light of dawn, when the marble was at its most translucent. He saw David inside the stone. All that remained was to chip away the superfluous marble and release the young king. It’s all very simple, if you don’t count the incalculable hours of toil and the particular skill of the artist who sees the possibilities locked in a piece of rock.

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Out of his own gifts, Paul has bestowed a gift on all of us. Children arriving on the bus or by car, will know that they are there when they see the seals. ‘Mammy, Mammy, can I go and sit up on a seal?’  ‘Of course you may. That’s what they were designed for.’ The coming bank holiday will introduce this new Skerries family to our visitors. Keep an eye out for Abbott and Costello and a laughing millionaire. It could be your lucky day. Thank William Ewart Gladstone if it is.

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Well done, Paul. The further good news is that there is plenty more white limestone in Portugal. You will have to get up early in the morning to carve it all.

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