Swim 11 - Jan 1st 2016   2016


Fran (whom Orla calls 'Rabbit') texted Andy after breakfast

I have half meant to go all daylight hours since we got back from Christmas in the the Midlands, but on Dec 27th I felt so tired and it was raining continually, which conditions repeated themselves on 28th, 29th, 30th  (though Andy had a studio day so I couldn’t have gone anyway) also with terrible gales. On 31st I was welding with Hebe so - when that message came I knew it was time for me to get into the sea. The first day of the year.

I couldn’t find my swimming bag anywhere. After I had looked for 15 minutes I spotted it under Andy’s stuff piled on the windowsill. It was windy. Raining. Cold. Much colder now at 8 degrees after a long time of about 14 degrees. So I had on my long running tights and my sweat top hoodie and my fluorescent coat, plus fleece gloves. I felt incredibly warm and dry even in the drizzle - and oddly around my middle where the strap for the bag goes. Warm. Soft. That is until I got properly onto the cliff.  As I ran down to the lower path that cuts across to Carne Gloose the hail started and very heavy rain, out of a deep grey sky low over the cliffs and no light anywhere. I was very glad of my hoodie to protect my neck and ears. It was easy running, though deep puddles were everywhere and a river running down both sides of the road to Mel’s house. 

As I ran this time I remembered a run I did when I was feeling low. I ran through the allotments and across to Botallack a bit, where I hardly ever run.I remembered how I had met 3 women (as you do in a fairy tale) who’d all smiled broadly at me; warmly and fully - and how I’d felt almost physically warmed by their smiles. I don’t remember fully but one woman was digging, one had a dog with her and the other was simply standing below Kenidjack castle. Through their faces, each woman had opened up generously to me. There was almost a conspiratorial look between us - solitary women doing the thing they want to do on a grey wintry afternoon.

As I run I think also of cutting steel with Hebe yesterday. The grinder shoots bright sparks of metal off the wheel, and these metal shards seem as though they’d have substance and burn where they fall, but as soon as they meet another material the heat must instantly go out of these minute specks, and they become invisible. I was wary of my down jacket with it’s thin nylon outer shell, thinking they’d make pinhole burns, but they don’t have the strength even for that. I notice that these shooting eager sparks are like human lives, which rush and shoot and fizzle and glow as they take their arcs, but hit the material substance of death and instantly become nothing.

It’s too wet and slanting for me to notice anything much except the way that heavy rain blows in clusters. It’s never evenly distributed through the air, but slants by in differing densities across the valley. I notice hardly anything visual. I often remark the yellow gorse flowers as they are so bright and hopeful, but either the flowers are over or I am dulled to them by the heavy weather. 

I arrive on the slipway with my clothes all heavy with water. It was only half way that I remembered I would not have to swim off the slip in the heavy seas - it would have been impossible - and that I could swim in the flat water of the Millennium Pool. Of course! 

The concrete slipway was slimy, even though it didn’t look green and I almost fell twice before I moved off it and over the rocks. There were a couple of women and children poking about on the beach in the sheets of rain, and a woman in a red jacket said ‘Happy New Year’ to me. A man in a waxed jacket was on the rocks, so I didn’t take my pants off but just pulled on my costume over them. They were soaked anyway - and so it made no difference. The water was oddly milky and of course quite still - except for the way the wind ruffles it, but with huge white breakers piling up beyond it. It was so easy to get into the water, because it was more comfortable than having my wet skin lashed by the cold wind. So I swam for a long time, waiting for Andy and the children to appear on the top of the hill from the car. Fran arrived first. I got out and waited for her to get her brown bikini on. She kept her black hat on and wore wetsuit boots. It’s so much better to run! You really don’t need things. 

As I walked back along the concrete edge to get back in the woman in the red jacket came to feel the water. When Fran was ready we swam again, and again from the deep end. Then Andy arrived too and swam. Otis said he’d fallen in after he climbed over the diving rock to the beach, but if he fell in it was only as far as his ankles. Skinny pale Otis in his short blue trunks and long legs.

On this New Years Day swim, waiting for other swimmers, and finding the water easier than the air, I was exposed far longer than I usually allow. When we left the beach I just pulled my wet jacket and leggings over my costume. Everything was sodden so there seemed no point even in socks. I had to wait while Andy dressed and we half-ran uphill to the waiting car. Otis slipped over twice on the muddy path up the hill, and when we started for home I started to shiver violently - my hands bright red except for where I had been gripping my knees - there my fingers were yellow. 

I ran into the house and up the stairs with Otis and stood in the hot shower with Otis and Andy and then I put too many of my clothes on and stuck a hot water bottle down the seat of my pyjamas and blow-dried my hair - and all while I kept moving - made mugs of tea, cooked lunch, lit the fire. By the time I could roast bits of myself at of the fire holding my mug of tea I was OK. 

It’s not good to get out of water into wet clothes. That feels as though it’d kill you off easily. I’ll try to go swimming again on Sunday afternoon. It’s not meant to be raining then - though the rain is almost constant. The tides mean I can’t go till 3 o’clock and even then I might have to swim in the round pool. Why go again in the face of all these adversities? Well, because it was glorious to be in the water in the lashing rain looking at the raging sea.