Prairie Dolphin Goes Mano-a-mano with Jellyfish and Other Tales of the Summer

Mid July there was at last some heat! Real, proper summer heat. It was a gorgeous sunny morning, two hours from low tide. I drove myself to Forty Foot as soon as I was free. I had been especially wired lately and needing thalassotherapy more than ever.

Getting there, the first thing I saw was one of the regular old-timers actually holding a real live jellyfish in his bare hands! Seconds later he lobbed it casually off into the wildflowerbed at the mezzanine level of the Forty Foot.

Meanwhile a woman and her daughter heading towards the cars post-swim told me there were loads of jellyfish but they were no problem. I must have looked nervous because the daughter who looked ten-ish reassured me again, “they’re fine!”

Lots of swimmers were coming out of the water faster than usual.

I got changed beside one of the regular women who told me in her thick Slavic accent that her heels were getting stung and that they were down below at heel level. I headed down the ladder and realized they weren’t down below anymore, they were floating very close to the surface.

There were no swimmers in the water now. Looking back to the changers I saw older, cuddlier women (my friend’s euphemism for chubbier), getting dried up, their tyres of loose wobbly flesh on display. Waves of flesh. Waves of water. It was good for morale and somehow comforting to see all this uncensored, matronly, dough-like flesh.

My desire to get in was almost equal to my fear of jellyfish. I could see dozens of them. Normally I would say there were thousands, but I’m trying to rein in my hyperbolic tendencies for wild exaggeration.

Let’s just say there were tons of them, what were they all doing here?

The Baba with stung heels must have realized she’d put me off because she came to over to tell me it was okay to get in the water. There were gaps of water in between the jellyfish after all.

Stuck on the ladder, I was seriously desperate to get in. It was hot. I was stressed. Relief was in front of me. Devouring Cheryl Strayed’s Wild that week I had been seriously inspired to up my can-do. Strayed had reminded me of the beauty of intense physical exertion. And not to be a wimp-ass. Hot and bothered and the perfect antidote was before me, how could I do not do it? I knew they were probably harmless, but I’ve never got in with so many so visible. Should I stay or should I go? Being in my swimsuit with my bathing cap and boots on was a big motivation. It would be too disappointing to not accomplish my mission and have to get all the gear off for nuffin, like Mancub says in his toddler-cockney.

Plus, having small children, I’m trying to get over my own squeamishness involving insects and other boogeymen, etc to set a mighty example. It’s good to feel the fear and do it anyway as the self-help gurus advise, not just once, in not just one way, but practicing doing scary things, within reason, to keep sharp for the wee ones.

And so I plunged in.

The water was gorgeous-delicious on my skin. Fresh, bouncy, not frozen, lovely and that’s why they like it too. Refreshing is the adjective that always comes to my mind but it is never enough of a word. The feeling is as if a profound corporal thirst is being quenched and more importantly so is a spiritual one.

Jellyfish are not out to get us specifically are they? I’m no biologist but I don’t think our blood is food for them, like it is for mosquitos.

In all my swimming life I’ve never seen so many in one area, it was a goddamn convention of them. Maybe because it’s a little cove, they all want to hang out together, like a cosy party. And I was crashing.

Bumping into them I couldn’t help scream, every single time. I’m a jumpy person anyways. I often scream at Seadog when he comes into the living room with his quiet, panther-like gait. I think I bumped about 10 of them, it felt somehow like lobbing a football with the back of my hand. But thank god I hadn’t left the boots and shoes at home. Thank God for my boot kicking jellyfish boots. And thank God for the wonderfully refreshing water.

Two stern looking women in floral bathing suits in their sixties showed up and made their way down the ladder steps. They seemed unusual candidates for morning swims with their skirted swim suits, and blond, Elnett-sprayed, hot-curler hairdos. Then one told me, while dipping her one foot in the water, that they were just coming for a quick dip to try anything to fix their hangovers. They weren’t smiling at all as they took turns dipping only their toes in the water for medicinal purposes.

Next, a busload of ten-year-old, inner-city, kayak students showed up in wetsuits giddy on a day out. Yelling holy shite and calling each other pussies. Their minders in thick Dub accents yelled: Stop coursing.  The kids couldn’t believe all the jellyfish and kept pointing. Their training involved jumping in to get acclimatized and used to the water but the jellyfish were throwing off the whole program. Some of the kids were brave enough to do it anyway and some refused and their chief yelled: “ARE YE GONNA WASTE YE MAMMY’S MONEY?!!. GET IN or go get dressed and go ome!!”

I swam in a little circle and bumped and bumped and bumped into one jellyfish after another. I screamed each single bump time and yelped at imagined ones. But not one of them had stung me so far.

A youngish guy with dark thick hair floppy hair a bit like Keanu Reeves joined me in the water just as a colony of even more jellyfish had arrived. I was relieved to have company and company that seemed unafraid. He swum further out than me but near enough to chat. He didn’t move around much and just treaded water in the midst of loads of them.

You’re kidding yourself said a women watching from the land above. There are HUNDREDS of them she told us.

Keanu said, “Arah, they’re harmless! I saw one of the old guys actually rubbing one against his arm up and down just to show the other swimmers they are harmless. They come for a few weeks and then the others come… It’s the red ones, the Lion’s Mane they’re called, they’re the deadly ones. Some of the old guys here try to catch them in buckets to get rid of them. But these ones are fine…”

Seems a bit unfair we brave some of the coldest water in Europe through the winter months and then when it finally, finally actually heats up a bit, these little fuckers show up. And these guys are the good guys. The ones that look like glass.

Meanwhile a well intentioned but grumpy old guy was pouring bleach out of a bucket on the steps to kill the seaweed and moss so the swimmers wouldn’t slip on their way out. I make a note to try to remember to bring some coins for the upkeep collection bucket. I always forget.

My friend C has now determined that winter is much better because there are no crowds of fair-weather swimmers, you can always get parking and it’s more peaceful.  It’s true it’s annoying to see all the debris at our beloved changing area, empty Lucozade bottles and cigarette butts.  I think October last year was pretty great. No jellyfish and not Arctic yet. But C’s hands still get cold in the summer. Look at this!

Next up on the summer swim menu: we had our week holiday back on the Irish Riviera. It was amazing to be back in the neighbourhood with Caliso Bay, Whiting Bay, Ferry Point, and Goat Island beaches on our doorstep.  Despite the foggy days, Little Chief, Mancub and Seadog and I charged the oceans and frolicked for hours in the soulful surf, having the beaches to ourselves in this strangely underused part of the Irish coast. Unbelievably, despite hours of packing for the trip, I hadn’t packed my swimsuit and had to make do with my husbands extra large Simpsons t-shirt that got super heavy when wet. I was jealous of the monkeys in their aerodynamic birthdays suits.

Back in the city again I had many beautiful early Sunday morning swims with C at Forty Foot and evening swims at Seapoint and Sandycove. Getting home shivering from staying in the water a tad too long I was warmed by hot little toddler hugs and Seadog’s hot lips (hot anyway but hot especially in contrast to my frozen ones). Team Kelly-Watson triumphed in the post-swim-heat-up-Prairie-Dolphin Olympics.

This summer I started taking a lot of cold showers and not because I was too turned on! Or actually, yes I was turned on by the thought of the sea in a funny kind of a way. But when I couldn’t get to the sea, I was left craving it like an addict. Hot and bothered I would put on my floral shower bonnet and shower on the coldest dial. It’s always a shock, but it does help to take the edge off. Seadog tells me fast flowing water releases negatively charged ions which makes you feel super positive! It certainly gives me a spiritual cooldown and a pep in my step to continue the day more than a hot one which just makes me sleepier than I normally am.

I noticed the different demographics of swimmers at the different times of the day on my summer program. Mornings and daytime are for seniors and evenings for partyers. Hot weather brings everyone out. The teenagers with their Redbull cans, string bikinis and “that’s amazeballs” talk, the gooners celebrating Katie Taylor’s gracious boxing win, the families with the parents having a break from being harassed by kids out of school, the blissed-out shivering young kids noodling on their kayaks, others chanting an I hate seaweed mantra but staying in the water regardless, Spanish and French exchange students looking gorgeous and ready for romance and some fat men sun-worshipping in their underpants. Seapoint becomes a real city party beach on a warm summer evening. There are so many people in the water that every now and then I imagine I see a whale in the distance, but really it’s just wetsuit-clad arms doing the crawl and spraying water like a whale’s blowhole. I can’t wait til my monkeys are old enough and good swimmers to hang out on summer evenings at the seaside.

One early evening swim was so busy with people I was actually smelling an adjacent swimmer, this portly man’s very strong cologne that seemed to be waterproof? Just then a punky peroxide blonde woman did a huge cannonball jump from the rocks above down into the water. She surfaced after a few seconds in a huge swell of water, gasping. As she hollered with cold shock the light just captured the gleaming silver stud of her tongue piercing. Meanwhile, a fregan man I’d seen earlier with wild God hair and a bunch of random food tied onto his bicycle rack showed up with a black and white dog and first got his dog swimming and then later, stripped himself down and for all to see did a full spread-eagle nude dive off the rocks in all his glory.

I often find myself rushing through tasks as if all jobs need doing fast with the unconscious objective always of getting home safe and sound. It’s maybe a hangover from years of waitressing, a job where speed and getting things done expediently just about keeps the stress of swearing chefs and disgruntled customers at bay. Everyday I have to keep telling myself: Stop rushing. Stop rushing. And what’s worse I often catch myself rushing and holding my breath. So when I’m in the water I focus of letting myself feel my fingers gleefully plowing through the water, grabbing time and holding on to it to slow it all down, to just be able to feel the water on my skin. It’s the perfect special time after or before or during a day’s stresses. And afterwards, like shagging flashbacks, I revisit my swims throughout the day in small pleasurable hits.

My favourite summer swim was the one at 830 p.m with the tide coming in high. Sunset over Dun Laoghaire, pink clouds.  In the big wavy water it felt as if we were all in one giant bouncy castle together. And it struck me how this little swimming hole, the 40 Foot, every single day of the year someone is visiting it, every single day. That night C was rapturous to discover Irish rugby legend and hottie Johnny Sexton was the guest celebrity for the evening. All of us heads bobbing around together like Lilliputians in this giant drink.

Afterwards a woman we didn’t know keen to talk about her experience told us it was her first time.

She looked like she’d seen God.

I’ll be back definitely she said.

To finish off my August swims we had another dazzling blue water and blue sky day for another 40th birthday at the 40 Foot. Boas and cupcakes, tea and coffee for the girls again, our new birthday ritual. We stayed in so long I lost the feeling in my fingers and S had to do up my bra for me. During our swimming girl chatter I learned among other things that apparently the most hardcore, everyday, swimmers have hideous toenails, it’s called 40 Foot Feet!  I tried to get photographs for you but have yet to see these gruesome toenails of legend in the wild…

This is C’s song pic: Rock Lobster

PS Here is an article about sea safety following last week’s drowning tragedy in Cornwall.

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