(Thanks J for taking the photo and sorry S for being the only one with the bathing hat still on!)
I don’t actually remember my twentieth birthday, does anyone? For my thirtieth I went over the top and organized a huge sleigh ride. On a dark and snowy prairie winter night I dragged out several freezing friends to sit on bails of hay on a sleigh as horses trotted us around Fort Edmonton under a bit of moonlight. I remember the quiet magic of snowflakes, seeing our breath and the horses’ breath and lots of talk of cold cold butts. We warmed up afterwards with frozen margaritas in a Mexican restaurant and cocktails at the E-town Savoy. Ten years later, on a blustery island far from E-town, what could be better than cupcakes, hot chocolate out of a thermos, feather boas around our necks for glamour and jumping in freezing water to shock and delight me and my new buddies back to youth.
There’s some debate about when Irish Spring actually is. It’s surprisingly early according to some people: February 1. It’s true that back on dry land trees were budding and many cherry blossoms and crab apple-type varieties were already starting to bloom despite water temperature holding cold at only around 8 degrees.
I was relieved of monkey-minding duties for my leisurely afternoon birthday celebration February 28th. C and J picked me up for our outing. Under her civvies C confessed she was wearing a damp bathing suit. It hadn’t dried properly since her swim the day before. That’s dedication I thought, really glad mine was dry. We arrived and met S there. Before our swim and party we did our photo shoot for posterity with boas. They gave me a bright yellow bathing cap, the kind my grandma used to wear and a lovely card. Thank you, girls!
We swam in the icy and perfect water and discussed the fountain of youth that is the Irish Sea. C’s other friends have been asking her what she’s been doing differently, she looks so much younger and fresher. And she says, well let me tell you… Always looking for new swim recruits she is.
I learned more interesting and endearing things about my new swim pals. C is a rabid Wilco fan, she and her buddies follow them around Europe. This is great news for me, being a fellow music freak. S was a competitive swimmer for years. Talking about getting stuck in currents she gave me the helpful tip that backstroke is best if you are ever in trouble in the water. We fantasize about saunas and hot tubs. Swimming in formation on the way out my friends looked like the flag of France with their blue, white and red hats.
That day there were a few old-timers in for good long swims even though the water was crashing up the wall, feisty and flexing its muscle. I was worried about leaving one elderly looking, very white man in by himself when we got out after 8 minutes, but another older regular told me, oh that’s Maurice, he usually stays in for 30 minutes.
All clothed and dry, clutching our hot water bottles still, we had hot chocolate and coffee and several tiny cupcakes with fists full of pastel-coloured icing on top that S had sourced locally. I was very happy to see those cupcakes, note the cheer. After I blew out the candles, made a wish and wolfed down a few of the perfect après-swim treats we noticed Frank Kelly from Father Ted was there. The girls whisperingly admired his fine physique. He graciously declined our offer of cupcakes.
March 7 we started a new Wednesday thing: run then swim. When I was doing my pre-run stretches I spotted a gigantic seal; he must be King Seal from Bullock harbour. We had a good long stare at each other. I love the sleekness and comedy of seals. And I foolishly long to hug one, but I know I should never ever try to do that. I was glad to be on land admiring this bad boy safely from the shore where there was no chance of me hugging him or of him taking a chomp out of me.
It was a cold and windy day and a herculean struggle to run all the way to Dun Laoghaire Pier. But we did it, thanks to a Drill Sergeant app on S’s phone, and then we had a super refreshing cool down in the water. Applauding us, an old Slavic bathing regular said in her thick accent: “Thumbs up, you, you stay in long time.” We were treading water for a long time in Sandycove, talking for Ireland, almost oblivious to the cold. We were chilling, literally! The peace of the winter swim, the quiet at the water’s edge, tunes out all stress and acts like a womb flotation tank (with a lot of quality chat). Love it. I also love discovering later in the day that my eyebrows are salty.
One day we arrive and there’s half a dozen American female university students getting dry after their swim, a circus of long soggy pony tails and people in various stages of undress. They chatter giddily about their experience. Holy crap, that was cold. Ya but you kind of get used to it. My foot is bleeding, I don’t know even know why. I’d definitely do that again. Me too. I can’t feel my toes. One of them held a towel like bullfighter, trying to shield three of them struggling with their swimsuits and modesty. A young guy came around the corner. High-pitched squeals: Go away, boys, GO AWAY! giggle giggle giggle
Summer hit this last week of March. We often seem to get a big beautiful blast of summer super early in Ireland. We’re talking up to 20 degrees Celsius. The regulars are cursing and hmphhing about the place being mobbed by fair-weather swimmers. It’s getting hard to get parking.
My friend said they were practically licking the windows at work, so desperate to get outside and J poignantly told me her son said he didn’t know why but he was in a fantastic mood. Sustained sunshine in Ireland is a freaky and joyous thing.
These boots are made for swimming and that’s just what they’ll do, one of these days these boot are gonna swim all over you… Are you ready, boots? Start swimming!
Here’s a lovely and relevant video/song that an old friend sent me. I love the lyric about toes hardening and numbing. Enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SzjERZU3wbY (Frightened Rabbit — Swim Until You Can’t see Land)
Next up (maybe): Midnight swim at full moon and high tide.