As I sit and type, Storm Callum is doing his best to live up to his hype, buffeting around the house with the odd violent lash of rain against the windows. The sort of night that makes you put the heating on and be oh so glad to be indoors. Though I’m persevering with the wearing of shorts even as I type despite or maybe because of my mother’s advice to pay heed to the autumnal weather. Fifty and still rebellious. I feel a bit like the swimmer I had a lovely exchange with at the Guillamenes. I was there to mark the last day of my forties ” I keep coming out and getting into the water in case this will be the final swim of the season”, he said as we made our congratulatory exchanges, about how great we felt, post a mid October sea swim. I feel the same about the shorts as the swims, I’ll throw them on again today; tomorrow might be just too cold.
Actually I kind of like the idea that the first night of my new decade has been ushered in by a storm while I’m still wearing my summer shorts… it seems fitting somehow, I think. I marked the first morning of my fifties the same way I marked the last day of my forties with a swim at the Guillamenes. I love the vagaries of the ocean and the sky overhead, an ever changing palette of colours, light and energy. Accompanied by a symphony of sea sounds, the vast expanse of water and sky just grounds me in the smallness of my being in a good way. I am at home there. Structurally the Guillamenes is the same place every time I visit but on another level, it possesses so many alter egos it is always a bit of a magical mystery tour.
At this time of year, it’s like a reliable friend. One who you know will be there but you’re not quite sure if they’re up for visitors. It’s hard to explain to non sea swimmers but the sea is more than the sum of its parts. Yes it’s always wet and sploshy and inevitable not warm off any part of the Irish coast, with various degrees of roughness or calmness on display but it so much more. It has texture and taste, which you can only experience when fully immersed in its buoyant delights.
It can be bright and revealing of its depths or grey and murky offering up surface viewing only and prompting mental strains of “Jaws” to play on repeat inside your head. Smooth and listless or energetic with a swell. Predictable or erratic, it can be a playground or a fight ring. The sea is well capable of sweet whisperings as you are enveloped in a silky smooth denseness or it can just as easily spit you out and tell you to fuck off. The wonderful thing for me is either way I feel great. Once my feet have gone numb the rest of my body seems to be able to cope. As one might expect, I do have a grading system.. a one dip, two dip and on the very rare occasions a three dip swim. Yep, sometimes I have to get in and get out very quickly and get in again to acclimatise and catch my breath.
These two last swims have been one dippers, being able to swim on two consecutive days probably helps. Like many things in life, the more you do it, the easier it gets. The Guillamenes has been my sanctuary, a watery place of refuge these past few months. The ocean gives me brief respite from my grief in ways I find hard to describe. It is well able to absorb and provide camouflage for my own salt water offerings. Submerging yourself in cold water brings mindfulness to a whole new level. The sea demands my attention even when on its best behaviour. I’ve shared so many swims with so many people I love at the Guillamenes, my brother John included, that I like to think the sea and the rocks share back little nuggets of their love and courage when I most need them. That post swim coating of salty sea residue is like a veneer of protection better than any armour. The camaraderie amongst the swimmers softens my soul.
My birthday on the other hand brought all tangible manifestations of my grief into sharp focus. Turning fifty was not something that phased me at all, turning fifty without my brother alive was something else.
However, in spite of the dread that preceded this years birthday, the day came and went, with cake eaten and presents received and emotionally charged as it was, there were moments of joy too, intertwined sometimes seamlessly, with the moments of acute sadness. A card missing a signature but full of love, a book of poems, a bouquet of flowers and gifts in the post. Telephone calls, whats app messages and facebook messages all brightened my day. The company of my family and the simple joy of a shared take away. The presence of love.
It’s not everyday either that your youngest child looks at you with their little face full of wonder and awe just at your continuing existence . As I boiled the kettle for my first cup of tea of the day, she looked up at me and just for a few seconds I saw myself through her beautiful big brown eyes full of love “Happy Birthday Mammy..you’re fifty” followed by a bit of a pause “Your half way to a hundred – WOW”. Be in no doubt, there was genuine admiration there.