a vignette by Paul D Kennedy
© Paul D Kennedy, July 2007
A wide fast-moving stream branched off from the main river at Corbally. It ran swiftly around a low island before swinging back and rejoining the main course again. Next to the stream there was a large quiet pool. We called it the hole. It was in a small hollow, a few hundred yards from where a tarred road petered out at the top of a rise. The hole was surrounded by huge overhanging trees on all sides, except where it opened to the stream. The water in the hole was dark and still, and to one side there was a knoll from where the hard chaws would dive.
It was a long dripping ride from our side of the City and it wasn’t our territory, so we didn’t go there often. We weren’t supposed to go there at all, especially with our togs, because it was dangerous. But we knew there was no danger unless you swam in the stream. Some of the hard chaws did that, but they were always careful to start out upstream so that they were across to the island before they could be swept onto the main river. They did the same coming back. Nobody dared try the main river, not even the hard chaws.
My cousin Des was one of the hard chaws. He wasn’t a blood relative. But, as his father was the brother of the husband of a sister of my father, we were classed as cousins. I had him marked down as a rattler who took everything back to his mother. Though he was chubby, Des was like an eel in the water, and he loved to show off by swimming to the island or diving off the knoll. The divers always took off from about a third of the way up the little hillock.
There were no houses around the hole and it was secluded under the trees. Des and his pals lived in a nearby estate and they went everyday and knew it better by far than the rest of us. We would arrive in gangs of three or four and free-wheel down the steep sandy drop to find them there. It was their camp. As soon as we’d dumped our bikes, the wheels spinning, the boistering would begin – tough-man greetings like ‘Hi, Sham, how’s she cuttin’?’ and all that. Des always hung back from the threats and counter-threats, though the well-worn insults never resulted in much more than a bit of light body-shoving.
When the bantering and barging had waned, we would tog off. Most of us waded in but the hard chaws would go up and dive off the knoll. Some of the divers wore no togs and they would climb up the knoll and turn and stretch themselves with studied unconsciousness, letting the rest of us see they how advanced they were. They would land with blustering splashes designed to spray us as we gingerly lowered ourselves into the cold water.
The branches of the big trees towered over us, almost touching, blocking the sun out. That made it hard to see down into the cold water. But our feet squelched safely on the bottom in a mixture of mud and sand. It wasn’t very deep, no more than chin height in most places and once we were there in wasn’t much to do, so the boistering began again – splash fights, heads getting shoved under and all that, Des joining in with gusto. The water tasted dank and gloomy. I didn’t like going under, getting my face and hair wet; it gave me a weird losing-it feeling. But keeping out of it was pretty difficult unless you wanted to be labeled a cloithe ban or ‘white feather’.
One day, not-my-cousin Des surfaced next to me and dared me out loud to dive from the knoll. He was surrounded by his gang, who were all grinning at the challenge. I had no option. I waded out of the pool and walked, togs dripping heavily, up the knoll. Des followed me up. I looked down. It wasn’t very far but I hated getting my head under. I bent, preparing to dive.
‘No,’ said Des. ‘I meant from the very top.’
‘Nobody goes from there.’
The top was about twice the height again of the place we were at and was much nearer the stream that fed the pool. I looked down. The shaded water was black and opaque.
‘Yes, they have before. I’ll go after you.’
I shook my head. ‘No way.’
‘If I bet, you will.’
‘How much?’ I couldn’t help asking.
‘Two and four pence,’ he said grinning. ‘That’s all I’ve got in my pocket.’
Two shillings and four pence was a lot of moolah in those days. That was one of the things we all had about Des; he could feed himself every day from the tuck-shop. The rest of us had to make do with a shilling a week.
‘What’ve you got?’
He grinned. ‘Ok.’
He was giving me seven to one. I smelled a rat.
‘You’re crazy,’ I said. ‘You’re a right gobber.’
‘You’ll get the cloitha ban if you don’t,’ he said.
‘And you’ll get something else if you keep it up,’ I replied, bunching my fists.
He backed swiftly away and up the knoll slightly.
I turned and walked back down. It was hard to walk away in front of the grinners below, but I had made my decision. The two guys I had come with stared in silence. As I reached the edge of the pool there was an ‘aaah’ from the whole group. I looked back.
Des had gone almost to the top of the knoll and was preparing for a dive. He made a great show of it, stretching and twisting. He held his arms straight up and made a couple of test springs. When he was sure of his audience he crouched and sprung. He straightened his plump body to the horizontal and then did a smooth left twist in mid-air. He landed with a resounding splash just under the spot on the knoll where the others usually dived from. He got his gasps of admiration.
I was ignored for a while. I wandered through the pool feeling the muddy sand under my toes. I went towards the knoll. The water was deep where the hard chaws used to dive and I had to float to keep my head up. As I paddled further on I touched bottom again. Then I felt rocks under my feet. I walked over them and half my body was suddenly out of the water. Surprised, I looked up. The highest point of the knoll was just overhead. ‘You effen gobber,’ I swore, ‘I’m gonna get you.’
When we were dressing I told the two guys I had come with. They asked me what I was going to do about it. So I showed them. I went over and gave not-my-cousin Des a black eye and cut lip to take home to his mother.
© Paul D Kennedy, July 2007