The Irish Times - Saturday, May 26, 2012
When the sun comes out in Ireland, it’s vital to get out and soak up every ray, even if it means jacking in your day job, writes COLM TOBIN
SOMEONE ONCE SAID, “I love summer in Ireland. It’s my favourite day of the year.” It sums up our relationship with sunshine. It takes light about eight minutes to reach Earth from the sun – a journey of 150 million kilometres to not reach Ireland except through cloud most of the time. So when it arrives it’s vital to get out and soak up every ray, even if it means jacking in your day job.
One warm summer’s day can lift the mood of the nation, putting a spring in our step, a glint in our eye and a Wibbly Wobbly Wonder in our hand. But after a while we begin to worry about rain and to have flashbacks to November gales and January sleet. The fear sets in. Some people even start willing it to bucket down, announcing, “We could do with some rain,” as if they have some sort of meteorological Stockholm syndrome. But, before it does, there is a brief window of joy that allows us to live like the rest of the Piigs, for a while at least.
Here are a few tips to help you navigate the sunny weather.
Arrive early to find a good spot. Irish people have a weird relationship with land and property, so it’s best to get on the ladder early. Put your towel on the sand to mark your territory before preparing the scaffolding for your elaborate arrangement of windbreakers.
Run right into the water. It is the only way to enter the sea around Ireland. Few sights are more tragic than that of porcelain-white Paddies nervously dipping their toes in the freezing waters before running back to the safety of land. This flirtation with the ocean can go on for hours, like some extended Beckettian farce. Just do it already.
Don’t stay in too long. The wrinkled-prune look is so last summer.
When returning from your dip, almost walk on the faces of every sunbather lying in your path. They will appreciate the cooling effect of second-hand seawater dripping on to them from your shivering body.
When gawping at a passerby of the opposite sex, remember that your sunglasses do not make you invisible – and that your slowly rotating head and open, drooling mouth are more obvious than you might think.
Always shake the sand out of your towel upwind of the nearest sunbather.
A family pack of Penguin bars is essential currency at the beach. Ensure you pack one too many, so that later on you can discover the joy of Penguin bar caked on to smartphone.
Irish people can become disoriented in the early days of summer. There are so many false dawns and broken promises, and, let’s face it, we’ve all been hurt in the past. Glorious mornings can turn dramatically inclement. A brave and bold move to wear shorts to the office can suddenly look very foolish. The sight of a rain-soaked Irish person in shorts sloshing around town can highlight man’s folly more poignantly than any image of the capsized Costa Concordia. So hedge your bets. Pack sunglasses, wellingtons, sun cream, umbrella, shorts and skis. Even if, in your head, you are cartwheeling through St Stephen’s Green with an almond Magnum in your gob, there’s always a danger that the next minute you’ll be cowering in a duffel coat in some rainy back alley faster than you can say Angela’s Ashes.
What to wear
Irishwomen generally have the summer thing down. There were enough summer dresses on display this week in Dublin to populate a Bruce Springsteen song. In general, it’s pretty tasteful. But Irishmen are different. Sunshine seems to make us think we’ve been granted a licence to be whacky. No Bermuda shorts are too naff, no T-shirt too loud. Most think it’s okay to swan around like a cross between John Candy and Patrick the starfish from SpongeBob SquarePants, a hideous cocktail of flowery shirts and bad sandals. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Where to go
Apart from the beach, there are a number of other options on a sunny day. One of the most popular is drinking outdoors, whether it be in a sun-filled beer garden or, say, the cricket lawns of the Pav at Trinity College Dublin. Be very careful, however. Many make their move too early in the day. An innocent, “Sure, we’ll have one or two,” at lunchtime can turn nasty by early evening. By then, you can see revellers sprawled across parks, like pigs full of cider, cooking in their own juices. Pace yourself.
As we all know, it’s vital to protect yourself against those UV rays. The wide range of suncreams of varying factors should work for most people. Remember to protect the top of the nose. The farmer’s tan is one thing, but you don’t want to be walking around the place like Alex Ferguson twinned with Rudolph.
Then there are the poor Irish souls who just haven’t been designed for any sort of exposure to the sun. For them, a spray-on tan might work best. These vary from the subtle to the nuclear orange. The more extreme shades are the reason Dublin city centre looks like an Oompa Loompa colony late on a Saturday night. So don’t overdo it.