Confessions first: I haven’t started reading Ulysses yet and somehow this blog isn’t shorter as promised. Will try to do better.
The nail-chewing anticipation of getting into the water again after a month grounded, made me feel like a nervous-nelly-wild-swimming virgin. Particularly as the week before last I had just gotten out our family’s winter coats and gloves for the season. That Monday it was frosty and only 3 degrees Celsius on the school run; I had to explain to the monkeys why the grass was crunchy and white. How on earth was I going to do winter swimming? And why?
So on the Tuesday, I went on a reconnaissance mission at 9:20 in the morning. It was 11 degrees and grey, much warmer than the day before, but not tropical that’s for sure. I headed to the Forty Foot. I had heard that in the winter there were more swimmers there than at Seapoint. I think my favourite bit of Dublin so far is the stretch from Dún Laoghaire pier all along the seafront walk, the promenade, Teddy’s ice-cream parlour, towards the mini Stanley Park and right around the corner to Sandycove, Forty Foot and on. It reminds me of my childhood summers in Worthing, the big Albertan sky too, and a dash of dreamy Vancouver. Geography is funny that way. When I was little I thought Alberta was the only place with big mountains and that the beef had to be the best in the world because everyone said it was and the rivers the prettiest. The obvious only hit me in adulthood, amazing geographical features occur all over the planet, they even have mountains in other countries. No wonder I botched my geography class….
I did a nice little walk up the park, looked at the old red brick club building, saw Mr. Heron on a rock. Went up to look at a flora and fauna tourist sign. Was surprised to see a picture of a common harbour porpoise (the dolphin’s cousin?/my totem animal perhaps?) and me and Monkey admired the pictures of whelks and seabirds, cormorants and sterns.
I went to look at Forty Foot proper. It was ferocious. No one was there and I wasn’t even sure if I should go down the steps and leave my monkey in his buggy what with the waves and water splashing about. You hear a lot about rogue waves sweeping you away in this part of the world.
I parked Monkey for a quick minute and walked down the first set of stairs only as far as I could keep him in view. The water was raging! Crashing up the stairs. Was it flooding? Surely no one goes in from here when it’s like this, you’d get smashed up against the boulder and jagged rocks, forget Smashing Pumpkins, Smashing Sophie!? I walked back up the stairs and went left down the hill to look at the James Joyce museum. Another time on this road, funny-man Father Jack from Father Ted had to screech to a halt as our monkey on a scooter careened too close to the curb. And just the other day I saw sexy/grumpy-looking Neil Jordan riding his bicycle down the road. Dead or alive this seemed to be a rich zone for celebrity spotting if that’s your thing. Bono and Enya live further down this coastal road. And let’s not forget my childhood hero Bob Geldof hails not far from here.
Went back to the right where it was much less blustery and gusty. There were people milling about. Were any of them the women I’d heard about who swam after the school run, the so-called Mermaid Mums? A blond woman with a salty look, carrying a towel walked towards me.
I asked if she was going in, she said she was and that everybody swam on this side when it was rough like today. I asked if she went in yesterday when the grass was frosty and it was only 3 degrees. Yes she did. Said it was a strange atmosphere and she felt as if she’d just had her legs waxed. You know what I mean she said. I thought about it. Yes I knew what she meant. The scorched earth/burnt feeling after a wax. Was it a good thing or a bad thing in this context? She was smiling. Wouldn’t wear a wetsuit, that’s not swimming she told me. I wish I had had my legs done she said and chuckled. Said last year she’d swum all year. I said that was what I was hoping to do. Told me where to get in the water. And then she introduced herself as we said bye! Of all the people I have talked to on my swims, no one had volunteered their names. Hurrah, would she be my first swim buddy?
Once back in my car, I looked over and there were now five in the water and four changing on the wall. It was a party. Not a wetsuit in sight. And it wiped out all my accumulated misgivings about winter swimming. Of course 11 degrees is a lot warmer than 3. In my time away from swimming I was pretty convinced that I had to go and get a wetsuit, but back in the scene I was reassured I didn’t have to go spend that cash I didn’t actually have. Gloves and booties though could be a good thing and Christmas is coming… Most importantly I was now looking forward to getting back in the water!
On Wednesday morning it was rainy and 12 degrees. I needed my stressbusting hydrotherapy more than ever. Our house sale was in the process of collapsing. School highlights: a lice outbreak. And on the school run I had a scraped a BMW 4×4 with the car and then when we were walking Monkey number 2 had grabbed a Mercedes hood ornament and bent it 360 degrees. You’d swear every third car in Ireland was a Mercedes or BMW or Jaguar.
My mood improved instantly when I got to the seaside. I saw a guy in the distance in full black gear with a snorkel, looking like a secret operative in a James Bond film coming in from the open sea, back from a secret Welsh mission. Mr. Heron was there again, on the same rock, must be a local.
I’ve always loved the rain and find it kind of romantic which is a good thing living here in this rainy island. Growing up in the prairies there just wasn’t that much of it.
Today was a wet one. A gentle rain. Not lashing. But soggy making. I walked around the place, casing the joint. I took photos of Mr. Heron. Worried about the zoom lens on my camera getting wet, I put it snugly back in my pocket.
No one was in the water. There was a tubby man maybe in his fifties with gappy teeth and ruddy cheeks, heading away, having just been in.
Wild, he said.
No, around the corner. He gestured to the Forty Foot.
Was it cold?
Uh…well…he paused and then said: Yes! (He wasn’t gonna bullshit me.)
I decided not to change around the corner with the proper changing stalls and to just leave my stuff on the wall like the man did. I struggled out of my clothes, mooned Sandycove neighbourhood behind me and got into my swimsuit. I stuffed my socks deep into my cozy Blundstone boots and cleverly placed my lime green raincoat over top of my bag to keep my towel and clothes from getting too wet in the drizzle. As usual I had my camera and phone and car key in the pockets. I worried a little bit about my clothes being stolen as I always did. And then I climbed down the steps, holding onto the rusted ladder railing. Not so inviting with no one in sight. Where were the other swimmers? My buddy from yesterday: nowhere to be seen.
I took my time on the rocky steps. It was cold but not terrible. Alone in the drizzle and wind with just my suit on, I felt foolish, eccentric even, self-conscious of my self. What to do, but get in? I plunged in and swam around the corner. A little nervous being solo. The water was deep and full and I tried to remember what riptides were and what to do in one, perhaps being melodramatic imagining currents that weren’t there. I was amazed at how it wasn’t that shockingly cold really. I think maybe my body had stored up a good quota of cold shock and it was so vivid in my memory as to be familiar and therefore somehow okay.
Around the side I saw two people approaching in matching, floor-length, bulky, bright white coats and a black dog. Doctors was my first thought. Serious doctors in serious, floor length puffy white lab coats.
They walked over to the wall where I’d left my stuff and then surprisingly they disrobed (took off their bathrobes!) to their togs and jumped in with no fuss, one after another with their dog. A black lassie-ish type with a tennis ball in his mouth swam around the bend to the sandy shore. The man did the crawl right away, zooming past me and the woman noodled and swam near me.
We chatted. Said I was nervous. She said this was totally a fine spot for swimming in this little bay and around the bend in the sandy cove itself. Around the corner the other way, though, you could have issues…. But Nothing ever happened here she emphasized.
What part of America are you from?
Canada I said.
Most people say something like: “Oh my God, I’m so so so sorry!” at this point, assuming major offense. Luckily she didn’t. I don’t mind being thought of as American anyway (though being Canadian can obviously be groovier.) I’m so used to being culturally displaced with my immigrant parents and being an immigrant myself now I don’t know what nationality to cling to anymore. And truthfully I find it a bit tired how Canadians are so anxious to distinguish themselves from Americans, sure vive la différence and all but let’s not go nationalistic nutso. Though Irish people don’t like to be confused with English people either, but maybe they have more reason. Belgians with French etc. I’m sure to an African person, the differences between Canadians and Americans are barely noticeable. Just like Depeche Mode sang: People Are People
All the way from Canada to swim here? Why?
I love it I say.
They do too and swim everyday with the dog, before it gets busy with people (they’ve had complainers apparently). Doesn’t use a wetsuit. She reckons the temperature is not that bad, except in January, but she still goes in then. Just in and then out. This happy trio didn’t stay in much longer this time either. Got out, put on their bathrobes again and walked away. Must live in the neighbourhood.
I think maybe there’s a superstitious element at work for some. I love how it seems to be a bit of an eccentric’s game. Maybe a little trainspotting-y… All this talk of temperatures and water quality. And the magic effect of it on the soul’s well-being.
I didn’t want to get out yet. It was my stress therapy and I was now feeling great. The woman had put me at ease and I could just enjoy frolicking in the beautifully refreshing water. Had wanted to cry before getting in, over stressful house-sale disaster, but now I was doing vigorous somersaults in the salty sea, profoundly exhilarated. What could be better?
Smiling and swimming along I thought I spotted some rubbish, a green sack floating by the wall?
I swam closer. Was it a bag, or a tarp?
Aw F************k! it’s….MY COAT!
My coat, with my CAR KEYS, CAMERA, and PHONE and my kleenex in it. And my cheerful stainless steel water bottle bobbing along beside it, keeping it company.
I managed to retrieve it without banging too much on the boulders. It was way heavier sopping wet. I brought it back up to the bench, and once I made sure the pockets were zipped up and my car key was still there, I thought what the hell I still want to swim so I did, I got back in.
Two more oddballs were getting in when I eventually got out. I got dressed in a hurry, not bothering with underwear or my bra. It was still drizzling. I needed to blow my nose and so I used my towel; going all feral felt good and liberating. What else you gonna do when you’ve just blown 300 plus bucks in electronics on your swimming hobby? That is why there are no photos yet of Mr. Heron here.
I got in the car and cranked the heat. As I drove home I had the strangest feeling of my core, my chest, and abs and tummy, burning with cold even though I hadn’t felt that cold getting out of the water. Instead of warming up, I seemed to be cooling down. Would this lead to death? Worried about that for a while, while still revelling in the wonderful refreshingness of the swim until it started to sink in that my mobile and camera were pretty debauched looking and that holding them up against the heat vent was probably not so wise.
I relished my hot shower, 2 blueberry muffins and a cup of chamomile tea before the stress of more house angst resumed and the realization that rice was not going to save my electronics. (Sometimes submerging waterlogged electronics in rice can save the day; saltwater though I learned was the real killer). Goofily for the next day and a half I kept thinking my water bottle tasted peculiar until Seadog, my husband, pointed out it had been in the ocean. Had forgot to wash it! But it all could have been so much worse if I had managed to lose the car keys in the big wide open sea.
I have decided after all that 12 degrees is not too hardcore. Speaking of hardcore and reckless…
Breaking up and all, glorious R.E.M. have been on in my mind. Here’s a song they sing about the recklessness of water: Nightswimming
PS: Seadog has pointed out that many readers may ignore my blue song links (which is obviously fair enough). I told him though that it is endlessly pleasing for me to dj whenever possible, and that surely some readers may enjoy the tunes if so inclined.