Irish men are renowned for many things. We’re witty, we’re good writers, and we’re not too bad at sports like boxing, rugby and athletics.
However, one of our many virtues is not being able to change out of our swimming togs. The most graceless act an Irish man can perform is to attempt to change out of damp togs on a beach, towel wrapped around waist, and manoeuvre back into his undies and shorts. There is nothing that makes us feel more exposed, vulnerable and awkward than this undignified effort.
We took a holiday in Rosslare this August. We luckily spent several long days on the beach, enjoying some untypical blue skies and sunshine. Naturally I had to prove my masculine credentials by swimming in the sea at least once an hour, making sure everyone could see me.
However, there were aspects of my swim to which I didn’t want anyone bearing witness. I’m talking about the moment when you emerge from the surf, imagining yourself in an aftershave ad, and change out of your trunks and back into your clothes. It’s at that specific moment when you realise you more resemble an actor from one of those bathroom cleaner ads: puny, self-conscious and embarrassing.
You grab the nearest towel, wrap it firmly round your waist, and stand there for a few minutes basking in your sea-swimming glory. Then reality sets in and you’re faced with having to remove the togs. You pat yourself down a bit and try to drag the swimming trunks down your legs. Much to your annoyance, they’re not coming without a fight. You’re pulling away like a lunatic and they’re chafing mercilessly. Stifling howls of pain, you eventually prize them from the upper leg area and they fall to the sand. All the while you’re paranoid that the towel will be whipped away by a gust of wind and the elderly lady ten feet away will call the Gardai while going into cardiac arrest.
You sway dangerously as you use your feet to flick away the damp sandy trunks. The towel is misbehaving and you’re worried about the sudden onshore breezes that seem centred on your lower body. You fumble for the undies and shorts or – if you’re having a very typically cool Irish summer’s day at the beach – undies and jeans. Immediately the dilemma hits you: put on the jocks first and then the trousers? Or a stealth ‘jocks-and-jeans’ shimmy, going for the two-for-one principal? The former is time-consuming and dangerous, the latter is high-risk.
You decide to go for all-or-nothing. You’ve the boxer shorts neatly aligned within the jeans and you’re clutching them both at your feet, poised and ready to go. It’s simple, you reassure yourself, just stick the right foot in, then slowly but firmly push it down while pulling up the right trouser leg, with a shake to ease entry, and then just repeat for the left leg.
But it doesn’t go like that. You’re halfway through the push when it becomes obvious that you haven’t dried your leg properly. It sticks and stutters and refuses to go in. Now you’re hopping on one foot, silently cursing the right leg while the left leg reluctantly tries to keep your dignity intact. A gust of wind threatens to remove the towel and immediately you’ve to secure it, thus losing control over the right leg entry process. You crash into the wind-breaker and trod on the sandcastle you just spent an hour making with your youngest son. He’s crying now.
You judge that a very unorthodox but potentially successful ‘double-entry’ may save your blushes at this point, and so you force your left leg into action while the right leg is floundering like a beached whale. This brings you to the ground, on your rear, with both legs half way down the jeans, but simultaneously up in the air for all to see. The towel is now several yards away, caught around the head of an attractive blonde girl in a bikini, who is also crying.
You lie on your back, shouting: ‘this is what I meant to do!’, as your wife and children move all the beach gear as far away from you as possible. You’re wriggling and struggling, scattering sand in every direction, pulling the trousers (and by now maligned jocks) up over your knees and to your waist. Your face is red, you’re sweating profusely, and your cursing is no longer inaudible.
Eventually you complete the task. You get up off the sand to discover the beach has been cleared and you’re fenced by ‘crime scene investigation’ tape with a Garda staring at you suspiciously.
Swimming pools, you say to yourself, at least they have changing rooms. Next year we’re only doing our swimming in swimming pools. Now where are my socks?