Had a great chat with CBC’s Vish Khanna via Skype. We discussed everything from Hawksley, to female relationships, windy Dublin, bad men and more… And then, Vish cold called Hawksley Workman to ask him how he feels about featuring in Cadillac Couches!
Click on the link below to have a listen. (Make sure you click on the text rather than the arrow in the article.)
Early Sunday morning November 5, I got a text from Devildog (formerly known as C) saying: How’s your resolve? It’s rainingand it’s low tide…
Devildog was C’s nickname back in her youth for her might in arm wrestling and Herculean chin up competitions. It still suits her as I always think she’s a little Kamikaze, swimming further out, and always wanting to swim where the water is wildest. Devildog never bails, but this text was clearly a feeler.
My resolve as it turns out was holding steady, because once I’ve got my swimsuit on it would piss me off to take it off unused and unpack my massive swimming bag. The thermos was made, the hot water bottle was wrapped inside the towels heating them for later. Toque on. Seadog was minding the monkeys, I was ready for pick-up.
It was indeed raining, though not heavily, and a beautiful palette of greys and pale greens surrounded us at the Forty Foot.
Out of the water came a tanned, buff youngish man wearing purple, blue, yellow and pink floral Bermuda swimming trunks. A Pow! of colour that inspired us on this rainy wet morning as we shivered our clothes off, teeth chattering.
We shivered our way in and it was biting cold as usual. But after flailing about as normal, the giddiness kicked in. Lately when I swim I don’t want to get out, I’m blissed out and 10 minutes never feels long enough, but we know that hypothermia can set in and have the effect of making you want to stay in forever. The water was crystal clear and speaking of crystal it looked like the raindrops were landing on the sea and then rebounding in a stunning miniature water ballet. Water sprites maybe? No, it was hail.
Hail balls don’t sink right away, they bounce on the surface of the sea…
I was mesmerized by all this watery magic. Not wanting to get out, I was flirting with danger. It takes willpower some days to get out of the water, just like knowing when to stop drinking wine. Sometimes you just want to throw caution to the wind, party on and get messy, enjoy the high.
November 15, the day of my book launch was, as expected, a bit stressy. Seadog had to drive me around downtown on errands. Charming as downtown Dublin is, it’s also a quagmire of determined one ways. Seadog was well fed up by the end of it all and I needed to purify my diva self before my big night. No better way than a dip. It was 13 degrees Celsius outside and 10 in the water apparently and 4.4m high tide. It’s a new feature of our swim life that Devildog pays attention to the height of the tide as advertised on the tides charts. Until now I just liked to look up what time high tide was at on my handy tides app, ignoring the height stats altogether. Being Devildog she likes it super high. It’s true it’s nice and even helpful to be bobbed around up high on the water on a high high tide. I swam in some sunbeams and chilled myself out to prepare for the big night. It did the trick.
Another Sunday morning swim in November. 7:45 a.m. pick up. Sharkbait (formerly known as S) has multiple kid activities on a Sunday so it gets us out the door an hour earlier than I would prefer. It is sunny, but only 1 degree Celsius. Devildog has christened S Sharkbait because of her preoccupation with spotting imaginary sharks and other big watery creatures.
Speaking of water creatures there were two seals there that morning swimming languorously. Devildog and Sharkbait are aghast that I haven’t swum in the sea for 10 days. They are going almost every day. Devildog says housework is piling up. Hurrah for not doing housework I say!
I know by not going everyday I miss lots of stuff. Sharkbait and Devildog give me the highlights of the week, like the day they witnessed a crowd of twenty people gathered to celebrate the life of a fellow swimmer. There was a man in a boat to scatter the ashes. Or The Great Knicker swap. Sharkbait managed to forget her swimsuit one day and so Devildog very kindly gave her her swim bottoms and swum in her underpants herself. Swimming in jock bra and swim bottoms, that’s devotion. An old lady confided she’d done that hundreds of times. Meanwhile men swim naked around the corner and flap their willies in the wind.
Another day, there was a crew of three cute young bucks filming a promo video for something or other. Scarves wrapped tightly around their necks, looking smart in their Peacoats. The Forty Foot is so iconic it features in a few Christmas ads. Meanwhile 40 foot regular old grumpy guy, as I think of him, was doing the rounds with his bucket and broom bleaching the hell out of the cement, killing the slippery green seaweed algae and moss. It seemed like more bleach than he usually used and the stench gave the place an odd swimming pool atmosphere.
An older woman with a rainbow-patterned bathing cap blessed herself and did the sign of the cross with the sea water as she waded in. She swam up to us later as we were bitching about something. We told her we came here in part to vent about life’s problems.
The colder the better, right?! she said, knowingly.
Last November swim was on a sunny Sunday morning at Sandycove because it was too ferocious at the 40 foot. Minus 1 outside and 7 Celsius in the water. Devildog and I stayed in 15mins because we didn’t have our watches on. Shivered a lot. Frozen boobs and ladybits. Had gallons of chocolate afterwards to defrost our engines.
First December swim was on a Sunday again. Minus 1 again. 8:30 swim date. Pink sky. Freezing. There were two outraged women getting dried up after a swim talking about rudeness and injustice. I knew what they were on about: The Irish Times article the past Friday about the Sandycove Bathers’ Association upholding a ban on women from their club! And the one woman said, it reeks of the time of Charles McQuade (super conservative archbishop of Dublin). There had been a petition passed around to allow women in the club and they had voted against women 24 to 17.
It had upset me too because it’s such a magical and special place no one should claim any ownership or exclude others from any piece of it.
Here I had been thinking, at last winter swimming! no jellyfish, no bad algae, lots of parking. But there’s a new annoyance down at the Forty Foot. Old Codgers! Actually it’s not a new foe, it’s an ancient tiresome one rearing its Cro-Magnon head. Now when I see a grumpy old guy I wonder is he one of them? Can’t help but feel personal. Banning women from their club, The Sandycove Bathers’ Association make me feel excluded. I didn’t even realize they had their own changing hut with a kitchen inside, but it’s down right rude that I’m not allowed into it. Up yours, and your kitchen, Codgers! They’ll no doubt get an earful when they try to collect money for 40 Foot upkeep as they do sometimes.
In the Sunday Times that day some of the Sandycove Bathers’ Association were redeemed by board member Frank Kelly (Father Jack from Father Ted) saying he couldn’t understand how some members had voted women out…
Relations between sexes are interesting at the 40 foot. Historically it was a women free zone. I think now generally it’s very polite and gallant and for the most part equal. There’s no pervy vibe. Us three hairy sirens often outstay the men in the water. Not that it’s a competition… We notice men watching us, not in a predatory way, but rather in an are they crazy, it’s been 10 minutes kind of way? Most people this time of year just come to dip themselves and get back out, like human tea bags. Last year, I bowed to the knowledge of the regulars and thought maybe Devildog was being reckless by letting us stay in the water that long, but we all survived our winter swim season and it taught us that we can trust our own judgement. Even if Devildog does look seriously blue after the swims.
That Sunday morning , the women outnumbered the men. One older man showed up and right away, the two women said: “I hope you didn’t vote against us, Joe.”
“No,” he said, smiling charmingly, “I approve of women on principle!!”
Afterwards Devildog and I went to heavenly smelling Avoca for delicious berry scones. Then I got myself home and into a steaming hot bubble bath with the Sunday supplements. Bliss.
Friday afternoon Devildog called me to tell me if I want to swim it has to be extra early this Sunday. She leads with: It’s high tide at 7:30am!
Happy Christmas Everyone! Next swim: New Year’s Day (All Welcome!)
P.S. An article in The Irish Times today declares that research says that cold water swimming isn’t good for old people and that the sudden shock isn’t good for the heart. But the place is full of seniors and as one regular is quoted as saying loads of the bathers even have pacemakers. They wade in rather than dive in as a precaution. I think the article is wrong and these people are proof that the sea is in fact a fountain of youth.
In late September, Prairie Dolphin went on tour to Canada for two weeks. The sea in Victoria, British Columbia is freeze-your-butt-off cold, even colder than our Irish Sea. But there is now a new swimming venue that was especially cleaned up by divers and volunteers this past summer with a swanky pontoon and everything: The Gorge Waterway, where the river meets the sea and connects Victoria Harbour to Portage Inlet. They even hosted a swimming festival.
My mother is the original sea lioness. She brought me to the Gorge on a super sunny, Indian summer day with the autumn leaves orange and red. I somehow imagined the water would be warm… I climbed down the mossy wooden ladder and got in.
It was a novelty to be swimming somewhere other than the Irish Sea. This felt more like a lake. It was wonderfully still except for the floating reeds and tiny minnows scurrying around me and the odd seabus taxi pootling by and a school of kayakers paddling towards the Craigflower bridge. (more on this swim in an upcoming piece in the Globe & Mail Life section)
Another Victoria evening, down at Dallas Beach I stumbled onto a proper wild swimmer’s cairn. Cosmic, I thought…
Sunset in Victoria.
One of the many great things that happened in Victoria was I met up with a friend for lunch who had just been Stand up Paddling in a dress and a pearl necklace along with a denim coat underneath a life jacket. SUP is something I’ve seen before and wondered all about. I really dig the Hawaiian vibe. Go to this link to read all about her seal activities and watch the video, it’s super cool:
Back to Ireland and to Joyce’s “snot-green, scrotum-tightening sea”, or a place I now call I home. Jetlagged, groggy and blue, I texted the girls to say when are we swimming?
First Swim Back was the jetlag blues killer. Perfect, cold, totally transparent water did exactly what I needed it to, brought me back to my senses and filled me with gratitude to live only 10 minutes away from this chunk of bliss.
Second Swim Back or alternate title, Glowing Ladybits, was far more adventurous. It was October already and C picked me for a 6:30 a.m. swim. It was pitch black outside ( we hadn’t quite accounted for how dark it would be, that the season had changed and gone was our summer light). Luckily Sandycove had streetlights. The other help was the fluorescent, neon green plankton—at least I assume that’s what it was. All the locals drying off when we arrived were laughing about the possible meaning of the lime green glow in the water. Was it Sellafield’s nuclear waste or Thai Green Curry? I really wish I had an underwater camera that would be good in the dark too so I could show you how trippy and amazing it looked. Imagine your hands carving out oceanic Northern lights with every stroke in the black water.
I think each wild swimmer has ways of gauging how cold the water actually is. For me when I feel it in my actual bones I declare it goddamn cold. That dark morning, I was aware of my calves and forearms as stiff batons. And my ladybits were one solid cold block. That’s definitely a colder water than the kind when it’s just a scalding tingly feeling on the surface of your skin. We discussed whether I could use the term ladybits in my blog, but given all the attention the shrinking of men’s willies in cold water gets in popular culture, surely the term ladybits is fairly harmless and yet so relevant.
Apparently C’s husband thought she was crazy for going out for a swim at this time of the day in the dark but what was even crazier was that she had two others to go with her. Every stroke made a disco green wave.
I love the way we meet up, get undressed and literally step into another dimension, just like we have our own funky transformer Star Trek elevator. And the funny thing is, on our new planet we often talk about the most mundane things like how many years you wipe your kids butts for and clip their toenails.
Week Later Swim
Saw a Tarzan-like man with glamorous thick wavy chestnut brown hair swimming in the seriously stormy sea at 40 foot. Gales and floods the night before made for a rambunctious ocean and so me and the girls swam around the corner at the much mellower SandyCove.
Our cove is manageably choppy, while around the corner it’s wild. S is from Florida and likes to speculate on the whereabouts of sharks. I change the subject and call a lice summit as it’s new to my monkeys. My more experienced parent swim buddies talk me through strategies in the choppy waters involving different potions and types of combs.
Later we walked back around to see the water rage. Around the corner, behind the changing area, we were confronted with Tarzan Man using what can only be described as an elaborate butt floss drying technique, gleefully, like my 4 year old’s patented bum dance.
Despite our surprise, we agreed if we weren’t self-conscious about our bodies we too would’ve enjoyed being unabashed and naked, flapping our bits gleefully in the water and on land but that was not going to happen anytime soon…
Next swim: Foggy Warship.
C texted to say there was an Arctic front blowing in on Thursday and so Tuesday was last chance to swim in mild weather. Plus the Donegal postman was forecasting a snowy winter this year and Paddy Power was giving him good odds. We showed up again to a wild sea. An oldtimer told me to be careful because it was “lively” today. Good adjective I thought, understated.
It was foggy, there was a big grey battleship 100 yards out. I got in and didn’t even feel the cold such is my love of the experience and the quality of my boots and gloves. I wouldn’t have gone in alone, it was too feisty and bouncy. With my buddies though I was able to enjoy the big waves in the safety of numbers.
Over a big wave we suddenly saw three snorkelers and wondered what they were doing in this crazy water and where had they come from? But they probably wondered what are those broads doing in this huge water? People often come snorkeling out of nowhere here. I like to imagine some people just have to see some marine life some days.
Those last two swims were at lunchtime and so I’ve got a new ritual of having a hot chocolate and picnic in the car, looking out to sea, which lots of other people seem to be doing too. When I first moved to Ireland someone explained that bringing a woman to the seaside and sitting in a parked car was like Blueberry Hill or Inspiration Point on Happy Days, it’s for snogging! Must drag Seadog away from his desk for swimdate one of these days.
This episode’s song*:
*spot the frog
PS: Possible name for our swim club: No Knickers, Old Bras and Ratty Towels SC