| 7.4°C Dublin

David Robbins: How our summer plans fell like sand through my fingers

I had high hopes of this summer. I had plans and ideas for family days out, for excursions and adventures, picnics and days by the sea. And now, suddenly, it's all over and we didn't get to do half of them. Back in June, there seemed to be an almost unimaginable amount of empty time stretching ahead of us. Now, I'm doing school lunchboxes.

The other parents I meet agree. "How was your summer?" we ask each other, checking for signs of a tan (or even, as sometimes happens, a whole change of image).

"Very short," comes the answer. Then there's a pause. "And wet."

When I was a kid, the summer seemed to last about five years. Time seemed to drag. A heat haze shimmered over Avondale Lawn in Blackrock, bleaching out the colours and sucking all the energy from the place.

There was nothing to do. Summer camps were a distant dream and the cartoon channel was years away. "Take the dog for a walk," my mother used to say.

Things were so bad that the annual Corpus Christi procession was a summer highlight.

Gangs of us kids roamed around, climbing over the wall into the nearby convent or just mooching around on our bikes hoping something would happen.

Even the freezing waters of Blackrock Baths seemed attractive back then, with a quarter pound of Pineapple Chunks on the way home.

Our boyhood domain stretched for about two miles from our road, encompassing parts of Stillorgan, Booterstown and Seapoint. Kids today don't stray much from their front gardens.

Modern research says it's good for kids to get bored, as it forces them to be inventive in their play. The researchers obviously never spent a summer in Blackrock in the 1970s.

One of our neighbours used to decamp to a caravan park in Wexford for the whole summer. Her husband would drive down at the weekends.

Their end-of-summer stories of days spent at the beach or roaming around the dunes and flatlands of Wexford gave me a kind of picture of the perfect family summer that I've been trying to recreate ever since.

In my mind, it's always sunny. Logistics (picnic baskets, swimming gear, the dog) seem to sort themselves out painlessly. There's only that feeling of endless possibility.

The possibility, for instance, of following one of those brown signs off the main road that direct you to a holy well or a ruined castle or a standing stone, or the possibility of getting a train somewhere, anywhere, and not having to be back for any particular time.

This year, I thought, was the perfect time to have the kind of summer I've always dreamed of. My wife was now working fulltime and I was in sole charge of daughter, home and dog.

Yes, I had to put up with remarks such as "we don't seem to have any milk", or "where's my briefcase?", but the upside was that I could take on less work myself and could try to provide one of those summers that children remember for the rest of their lives.

Of course, it didn't happen like that. The weather didn't oblige for starters. And it turns out that picnic baskets, swimming togs and dogs don't organise themselves by magic. Often, by the time we'd got ourselves geared for an excursion, it was too late to go.

It dawned on me, too, that my cherished sense of endless possibility disappears once you decide to actually do something. The idea that you can do anything you like is often more attractive than the idea of doing something in particular.

And so our summer filled up with trips: France, Florida, Connemara. Planning and packing for these sent me into a tailspin and I fretted about all our lovely empty time getting filled up.

Then I realised that, while I wasn't really looking, my daughter was having a fantastic summer. She danced in the waves with the dog on Gurteen beach near Roundstone, she flew on Peter Pan's Flight in Disneyworld, she swam to the deep end in the pool in France.

It was only in the last two weeks, with all the trips over and the grown-ups already thinking of work and autumn routines, that our time really freed up. My daughter didn't like it.

"What can I do now?" she would ask. "I'm bored, dad."

"Take the dog for a walk," I would say.

drobbins@independent.ie

Indo Review