Keeping Myself (mentally) Afloat

Keeping Myself (mentally) Afloat

I have never lived so close to a big body of water and oh boy, what a body Lyme Bay is.

I can hotfoot it from my street door to the chilly English Channel in about 90 seconds and in an ideal world where I didn’t have rent, bills and mouths to feed I’d be in there every day. Unfortunately, the reality of work and kids dictates otherwise, but I do try to go down there three or four times a week.

Yesterday, as the late afternoon sun cast alien-like shadows on the sand, I sat on a cushion at the end of the groyne on Lyme’s Sandy Beach and contemplated my navel as I shared some hot, non-fish nosh from the chippy with my husband Simon. The tide was on its way in at a bit of a pace and for a while I sat mesmerised by the rhythmic continuum of saline water lapping up onto the concrete. It felt as though the salt on my seaside snack had been laced with mind altering drugs, because somehow, all the worries of my week were being sucked into the ocean by some benevolent force of nature – it was welcome bliss.

Mind emptied and belly full, I contemplated the stimulating joy of doing a great big swim across the bay. There are a bunch of keen local swimmers who go in for regular dips come rain or shine and there are two seriously hard-assed girls who indulge in a daily dip in their swimming costumes from about February while we mere mortals are still clad in vests, socks and cardigans – and that’s in bed! They go in the water looking sort of pinkish and come out red raw from the neck down, their blood desperately sloshing around just under the surface of their skin, flashing like a beacon telling them not to do it again.

I absolutely love being near the water, but much prefer being in it and thankfully, I have a relatively high threshold for chilly H2O. The old adage of, ‘You’ll be fine once you’re in’, is true, but the needle pin pain that envelopes your body as you give yourself over to the water makes you wonder whether you are being assaulted by a smack of jellyfish (and yes, that is the right noun)…

I can cope with being in far colder water than Simon and think this might, in part, be due to having lived in several bloody cold houses that had no form of central heating – even the mice wore jumpers. This is surely aided by having a super protective layer of woman lard, particularly around the midriff, bottom and top of leg area. It’s handy to be honest, not only does it slow down the signals of the real temperature reaching the brain up my frozen synapses, but like the disgusterous stuff I used to find in the washing up bowl after cooking sausages, fat floats and so does anyone that has a bit!

If anyone wants to really enjoy the sea off season, wetsuit swimming is the easiest way but that comes with it’s own set of complications and unique solutions. Did you know, for example, the best way to warm up once you’ve got into the chilly Channel is to have a big wee? Not the most attractive thought to be honest and in moments of idle ponder, I’ve often wondered if there are any sea creatures who might be attracted to the warm, comforting waves emitting from the edges of your neoprene.

Getting in a wetsuit when you are a girl of shape can be a challenge. That said, since shifting to a vegan diet, I have been noticing my clothes are getting a little bit looser. It’s not a motivator for staying vegan – don’t get me wrong, I really am very happy in my own skin, all of it, and I’m not going to make any definitive statement about whether I’m going to need to buy some new charity shop shorts, as it’s early days. Mind you, if I am, it might make the task of shoehorning my backside into a wetsuit a bit less like trying to contain a consignment of frogs in a rubber bag.

So, cut to a wet and windy Monday afternoon and imagine my delight when I hop onto the Book of Faces and learn three things (a) 86% of the nation still gets excited by kittens (b) Trump is still a twat and (c) that a local lady is in the middle of organising a mile and a half swim across our beautiful bay! Yippee! We’re having coffee tomorrow and I’ll find out more about what’s going on but she has got the key points sorted and has already spoken to the Harbour Master and the RNLI.

My dream of coming nose to nose with free-range visiting porpoises comes ever closer. God alone knows why any organisation could think it’s a good idea to hunt and imprison them (lend your signatures to free the Disney dolphins, end the dolphinaria industry, free the Wake Bali Adventure dolphins, send Seaworld’s orcas to sanctuaries). The fella from the RNLI told me yesterday that he had recently been positively sniffed over by a pod of dolphins out in the harbour! It was, by all accounts, an unforgettable experience (I imagine it was for them too, seeing him bobbing about in his big dry suit).

But I wonder, on Sunday afternoon, while the last rays of sun were glinting on the water, were there any dolphins in Lyme Bay worrying about all the plastic crap in the oceans, looking up at me on the wall and contemplating their navel?


PS: A few years ago I swam an open water mile across Lake Windermere and the Thames raising money for the National Association for Children of Alcoholics – I am a CoA and a proud Trustee, NACOA are amazing and just in case you were looking for somewhere to donate a spare tenner to, click here