I had a think about it, and I could not remember a time for over two decades when I did not swim. Every day, wind, rain or shine.
For a few years, it was at 4pm when the shadows began to lengthen and the light lay obliquely on the surface of the sea.
Gradually, necessity dictated that I rise at dawn and greet the ocean as the sun rose.
Life is like that, always changing the rules of engagement.
For most of my life, the idea of not swimming was unthinkable, and at times the thought of doing without it was something incomprehensible and distressing.
I would feel physically ill at the prospect of a day with no swim.
Everything in life has the potential to become an addiction, I suppose.
Swimming was mine.
Thankfully, it was legal.
Like all addictions, one will go to great lengths to obtain a hit.
I once swam 2km in 10C water one winter by tricking myself that I was about to get out. I just kept going, saying I'd just do another few meters...
I began to realise a kind of useful philosophy.
when people asked with horror how I managed to swim so far in the cold at that hour,
I would try and explain that it is all a matter of the mind: that actual sensation of being so cold, and the burning on the skin is all transient. It disappears in minutes and your skin tingles and burns, so that you don't feel the cold at all.
And at dawn there is no warm sun to feel on your body, so the water seems a lovely prospect since it is often warmer than the air anyway.
I began to think of this idea in relation to things that made me anxious:
it will pass, it will change, these things are transient.
But this winter, because of reasons, it became harder to swim.
The ocean pool was demolished to be renovated, which ruled out dawn swims among the predators having their breakfast in the wine dark sea.
Work interfered with daytime swims, and my lovely sojourn in golden-hot Venice seemed to render me vulnerable to the cold. The sea spent the southern winter in a state of fury, waves lashing and rolling and thundering, making it particularly hard for the ocean swimmer to make any headway at all. I did my best, but I almost had my pelt flayed off by rushing columns of sand.
I was indeed a smelly and rotting dried up old fish out of water.
Until one day someone suggested I join her swim group, two beaches away.
Everybody is very loyal to their own territory, and at first I declined. But I began to think I might just have a try. I hadnt quite known where and when this bunch actually swam, so she ordered me to meet up and come along.
We swim across a marine reserve, out to a headland which shelters the bay from the heavier waves rolling in from the sea.
Creatures breed in this bay. They are all protected:
Sharks, Rays, Eastern Blue gropers, Wrasse, Luderick,
Whiting, Squid, Cuttlefish,
Old Wives, Silver Bream.
and last spring, I am told (and have seen pictures)
a baby humpback whale joined in.
So the fish has migrated, and now swims in the bay in a shoal.
and every day now,
says hello to the Gropers, the Rays and the Sharks,
the Wrasse and the Luderick,
the Spotty Catfish, the Old Wives,
the Sand Whiting and the Silver Bream,
and the salt soaks into her gills, enlivens her scales, illuminates her big fish eyes
and she says to herself when she thinks of the woes in the world:
this too will pass
and swims boldly across the bay: into the ocean,
home at last.