TO Drumglass Park off the Lisburn Road on Friday afternoon for a bit of a dander after a big lunch. It was very quiet, which seemed strange at the start of the final weekend before the schools went back.
Squinter was strolling en famille along the winding path when the Big Guy challenged him to a race across the wide-open green spaces. Not a good idea for a man of your age, said the stern sprite on Squinter’s right shoulder; what the hell?, said the mischievous imp on his right.
So off we shot across the grass with a 100-metre-distant picnic table as the finishing line and Squinter given a good five-metre start. In no time at all his opponent was on his shoulder, and while Squinter was flat out and blowing hard, the boy was jogging and singing ‘Cheerio, cheerio, cheerio.’
Which was an insult that no self-respecting father could ever put up with, and so even though there was little left in the tank, Squinter spurred himself on to even greater exertions. The pride, sadly, was writing cheques that the legs could never cash and suddenly Squinter felt his thighs turn to jelly beneath him. A fully-laden HGV might not be the fastest thing on the motorway, but it needs the most stopping room; similarly, a 14-stone, six-foot, middle-aged bloke at full pelt might not be a challenge to Usain Bolt, but he needs a fair bit of runway when he comes in to land. Sadly, the pins gave out and the body carried forward, Squinter going down gradually in excruciating instalments and in a blur of uselessly flailing limbs. Which shouldn’t have been too bad; after all, we had chosen the grass as a safety measure for just such an eventuality. Tragically, and hugely against the odds, Squinter went down on the only bit of tarmac on the race track – a six-foot wide path that dissected the green sward.
The right knee hit first, the hard surface disdaining the jeans and ripping a mobile phone-sized abrasion beside the kneecap. The ribs impacted next, bouncing him on to his right wrist which was raised to protect his napper: cheerio to a piece of arm skin the size of a 50p piece. Squinter’s not sure whether the cheekbone or the eye socket hit the tarmac first, but he does know that the flash was almost immediately followed by the dread smell of copper.
Squinter rose uncertainly to his feet, as you do when you’re desperately and unsuccessfully trying to salvage a vestige of pride. It’s the same instinct that makes a man pretend to have deliberately broken into a light jog when in actual fact he’s just tripped over a kerbstone. Squinter accepted the tissue proferred by a member of his open-mouthed family and did his best to stem the blood that was streaming from an inch-long vertical fish-gill cut above his right eye, but it wasn’t for stopping. While the cut was almost totally painless, the same cannot be said for the trauma to the cheek – the bone was throbbing horribly and the heat building by the second. Squinter prodded it gently with an index finger and then wished he hadn’t.
Lest you should be traumatised too, Squinter should point out at this juncture that he’s fine. The knee and the wrist burnt like the devil for a day; the cut should probably have had a stitch or two, but has closed up fairly nicely; the cheekbone’s still sore, but Squinter can prod it now and it definitely ain’t broke; the ribs hurt like hell when getting up in the morning; a two-day headache that stood at around six on a scale of one to ten suggested mild concussion. But all in all, things could have been a lot worse.
Apart from his nearest and dearest, there was only one witness to this sorry tableau: a Muslim woman in a burqa having her lunch on a park bench. Which was a mercy of sorts, for as one of Squinter’s pitiless pals remarked in the Roddy’s on hearing the tale on Saturday evening: “At least you couldn’t see her laughing.”