When drafting “1000 Memories” I wrote two pieces about the high jump. The first, about how my father made a pair of high jump stands one summer, when I was nine years old, made it into the Kindle edition. The second, about my Uncle Paddy’s visit that same summer, didn’t make it. Both pieces are reprinted below.
The high jump stands
Dad built two stands so that I could practise the high jump. He started with a flat piece of wood. He sawed two squares off it, each about one foot square. Then he got some long pieces of timber, two by two he called it, and cut them down to about 6 feet each. He nailed a piece of two by two into each of the flat pieces of wood, with a couple of long nails. He could hammer a nail into a piece of wood with three or four blows, and the nail never got bent on the way in. If I tried to hammer a nail into a piece of wood it always took me about 20 goes, and usually the nail bent at some point and I’d have to start again.
He used a tape measure and marked each of the pieces of two by two with a pencil, one of those thick square pencils that you saw on building sites but never used at school. He put pencil marks at one inch intervals all the way up each piece of wood and hammered a nail into each pencil mark.
And that was it. That was how he made two high jump stands, in no time at all. We didn’t have a proper bar so we used a long piece of bamboo. That was better. It meant that if you bumped into it it wouldn’t hurt. Dad showed me how to do the scissors kick and the straddle. The scissors was best because you landed on your feet on the other side but you couldn’t jump very high. You could jump higher with the straddle but you landed on your side or on your front or on your back on the other side. He talked about the Western Roll but I never tried that, and he said don’t ever try to do the Fosbury Flop. I’d never even heard of that. You needed a mattress on the other side to land on, because you landed on your back, nearly on your head. It had only just come out, the Fosbury Flop, at the last Olympics, in Mexico City.
The high jump
My Dad’s brother, Uncle Paddy, was over from Ireland, staying with us. He came with his wife and two youngest children. Uncle Paddy had been All Ireland champion in sprints and jumps just like Dad, had won even more medals and cups.
I practised the high jump every night until it got too dark and the grass was too wet. My brother did it sometimes, Marc from next door too, my sister even had a few goes, but I practised every night. We still played football most nights but I always made sure I did a few high jumps even if I couldn’t break my record, 3 foot 7 or 3 foot 8.
Some evenings Dad would come out to the garden when he came home from work, tell me to set the bar really high, 4 foot 6 or something, and he’d jump over it easily, usually with the scissors kick.
I practised on my own but it was always more fun if someone else wanted to do the high jump with me.
Paddy had been with us for a few days and said that he’d show me how to do a high jump, a proper high jump. Whenever I was going out to practise, before dinner or after dinner, I’d ask him if he was going to have a go too. He never did.
One evening just as it was getting dark I came back in. I’d finished for the evening but I’d broken my own record so I was really pleased. I went into the living-room where everyone was watching TV with the lights off. Paddy got out of his chair, said something about me going on about that bloody high jump all the time and went out into the garden. He ran to take a jump and slipped, and fell on his backside.
“Ah, Jesus, me knee!” he shouted. We all thought he was joking.
“Ah, Jesus, me knee, it’s killing me!” He wasn’t joking. He was stuck there, couldn’t move. Mum called an ambulance. They came really quickly and put something inflatable round Paddy’s leg. They filled it with air and that meant that his leg would be protected, cushioned, while they moved him. They got him into the ambulance and drove away.
Mum had given up smoking for a while but she started again that night.