Posted by: smithdavid | May 6, 2012

John Conboy’s

My heart pounds, my chest tightens. I tell myself it’s the anticipation of an imminent surf. But deep within I know it’s not.

Something in me expands when I take the mini-mal from my apartment to the car. I feel less vulnerable. I look at the time, Emmet is waiting and it’s a long drive up to Donegal. There are two ways to get to Trim – one past her new apartment, the other unremarkable.

I should be stronger but it feels like I have no choice in the matter. Someone is walking towards it as I pass. It must be him. In my head I see it, the restaurant – the surprise on her face, my trembling, them distractedly holding hands.

The mini-mal is to my left, between me and them, a shield, a symbol of my strength. I don’t look back and drive on.

Emmet sets straight to work when I arrive: soft rack placed on car, boards strapped down, wetsuits loaded into the plastic tubs I bought earlier.

winter in Rossnowlagh

We shouldn’t even bother going,’ I tell him, winking. ‘We should drive into Dublin and ride around Temple Bar with our elbows out the windows and the music blaring…that way they’d know we’re real surfers…’ He laughs and then puts a just-burnt disc of Emmet Conboy originals into the CD player. It’s dance and it’s deep and it’s atmospheric. The headlights blaze into the darkness as we wind our way to Derry.

We debate what Emmet’s DJ nom-de-plume should be: it’s a toss-up between Cash-Back Charlie and Ronnie Jumpleads. Cash-Back wins out for its pointed lack of cool and superior ridiculousness.

Past Derry, the directions get difficult. Emmet is driving – in a barren village he takes the smallest side-street at a pub. There are no streetlights now, no houses. We’re getting to the heart of rural Donegal. At last we arrive at John Conboy’s (Emmet’s auld fella) secluded house. You can’t see much when you look out into the dark beyond but you can feel the sense of space and calm.

There is a pot of stew on the stove, wine to be opened and limitless merriment. John and Emmet take to calling me Otto von Bismarck because they reckon my stubble makes me look like a German submarine captain.

We stay up too late, we drink too much wine. The whiskey comes out just to be sure. We recall the last time I came up to Donegal. It was a black December, seven years ago. That Christmas had promised so much that had turned out not to be. Things are similar now. But at the same time they have progressed – the years have brought insight. And I knew nothing of surfing back then.

looking out to the surf…

It’s a late start in the morning. There is a large breakfast and limitless cups of tea. Outside I stand on some rocks and look over the gentle hills as they roll. In the distance is Lough Swilly. The sun is breaking through the clouds.

‘Thanks for having me, John.’

‘Hope the waves are good Otto…’

We drive on – despite all the times Emmet has said it, I cannot remember the name of the beach. After an hour we see the sign – Rossnowlagh. Against my will my head has been drifting back to that apartment in Dublin. But now my senses quicken and this time I know it’s the anticipation.


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