Back to the Future was possibly the best publicity John Delorean ever got for his car, unfortunately for him, a little too late. I’m sure there were days when he wished that he could have driven through a worm-hole in time and altered his history for the better. It was a gull-wing car, a bit like a Stuka, but awkward to get out of in the average suburban garage. He needed a bit of magic to slip backwards and forwards in time. In fact he needed a miracle in the end, to get out of the tight spot he found himself in. No joy, as Big Ned Halpin used to say. No joy at all, at all. Big Ned, an enthusiastic swimmer, manufactured Halcyon mattresses…“For the Rest of Your Life.”
I thought of Back to the Future when this old press cutting slipped out of the past, to puzzle us. That’s our youngest son leaning on the railings. He was an avid fisherman, spending day after day, all summer long, fishing off the end of the harbour. He came home with mackerel, prawns off the boats and stories, not so much about the ones that got away, as about the ones snatched by the seals, off the end of his line. It was a battle of wits against the seals. Sometimes he came home as darkness was falling: “What time do you call this?” Every parent says things like that. I recognised the boat, Wanda, a grandstand for spectators during the swimming races alongside the pier. I recognised the bigger ‘fifty-footers’ that began to tie up in Skerries in the mid to late fifties, Ros Seán, Ros Eo, Ros Pádraig, Ros Cathail. The harbour became too congested for swimming races. The water tasted of diesel and fish guts, an acquired taste. The races moved elsewhere. But there was something else fishy about this photograph. It is dated 1961, twenty years before our youngest lad was born. The harbour is much shorter. I see myself as a young man in the middle distance. I would have recognised our youngest child if he had come back from the future to interfere with the Space-Time Continuum. I say that as if I knew what it means. I might have given him a clip in the ear, (It’s ok to do that again, with a dispensation from the Pope) if I had spotted him interfering with stuff like time and space. Maybe he was just loitering in the hope of introducing me to the girl who was to become his mother. Isn’t that the plot of the story? Einstein was just an old romantic at heart. I would have cut a dash in a Delorean all the same, in 1961. All I had was a fifth hand Francis Barnett two-stroke that spewed burnt oil on rider and passenger alike. Nevertheless, she fell for the glamour of my Francis Barnett and the rest, as they say, is history.
In the late sixties we could hear the indefatigable pile-driver sinking the footings for the harbour extension. When the wind blew from the east we heard tank tank tank, all day and all night long, just down at the end of the street. When it blew from the west or south, we heard, from far away, tink tink tink, with the regularity of a good timepiece. We got a longer harbour with a new lighthouse, a great many more fishing boats and a great many more gulls dipping at the scraps. Fishing rods bristled at the pier head and opportunist seals came to pilfer mackerel from the unwary. There was a new ice-house, a solid and unlovely, utilitarian structure.
‘Time and the hour run through the longest day.’ We joined The Common Market with its common fisheries policy and its common agricultural policy. The halcyon days were over for the fishing industry, if indeed they ever had halcyon days. The European Union has facilitated the de-commissioning and break-up of all those rugged little trawlers. For a time the harbour was a graveyard of decaying and rusting vessels. Now they are almost all gone, to be replaced by the small and even more rugged, razor fishing boats. The harbour has begun to look as it was a century ago. We buy sea bass from Greece and Turkey and have them delivered by air. Explain the economics of that to me, if you can. I suppose we must move with the times. A halcyon, by the way, is a Greek kingfisher.
Our little fisherman from the end of the harbour, will be thirty four this month. So…..eh… how did he…..? Maybe he has a Francis Barnett….with a Villiers engine and more oil than the trawlers spilled into the harbour over sixty years… to reach warp speed, shoot down a worm-hole in the Space-Time whatsit and sort out his parents-in-waiting.
It’s all Greek to me.