Sunday, 8 May 2022

Wild Swimming

Aunts are mothers, too--spiritually speaking.

It is Mother's Day in various countries, so I will begin with my public service announcement that the pain of childlessness mostly goes away. It might come back now and again, but the older I get, the less it matters. There are also healthy mental exercises to cope. One is to ponder that one has never had children, so nothing has changed. 

It is worth reminding anyone who happens to be in a position to give Mother's Day-themed homilies and speeches  that John Paul II taught all adult women are called to be mothers in one form or another (just as all adult men are called to be fathers). Stressing that there is such a thing as spiritual motherhood may save you the sight of tears in the porch and the vestry. Rereading Mulieris Dignitatem the week before Mother's Day would be a salutary practise. In fact, I think I'll reread it today myself. 

I will have time to do this, for I have abandoned my desk and the after-Mass tea table for the seaside. We have rented a flat with a view of the sea and the road between the flat and the sea. Therefore, our view of the sea is somewhat impeded by compact, snub-nosed parked cars. As we can still see the various iconic islands, we don't mind this very much. The sky stretches out in its changing shades of blue, white,  grey and, occasionally, pink and gold. 

Behind the cars and the sea-wall there is a sandy beach. The sand is digestive biscuit coloured, sprinkled with broken white shells worn smooth. When the tide is low, rocky outcroppings covered in bright green are visible. I put my green canvas garden chair beside one of them when I went swimming yesterday afternoon.

It was cold. This is, after all, the North Sea, and it is only May. When we were here last year, it was still April, and when I made an attempt at cold bathing, I got only only as far as waist-deep: the water stabbed at my legs like frozen knives. On Friday morning, my first attempt was shockingly cold but not painful. During Friday afternoon's attempt, I began to rush out, but turned around and rushed back in. I submerged myself to my neck, clutched the sand at the bottom, and counted to 200. 

It was very, very cold---but then suddenly it was warm. It was marvellous. I swam here, I swam there. I enjoyed the sun on my face, and the wind had become warm, too. I chortled at the hilarity of swimming in the North Sea in early May--the famous wild swimming euphoria--and pondered that, like the North Sea, I was full of salt and water. Did my earliest ancestors crawl out of the North Sea? I was feeling rather amphibious. 

Benedict Ambrose was standing on the shore with a large towel and a hot thermos, and he looked cold and patient, so after 15 minutes or so, I got out. Interestingly, I was still warm for a bit, and then I was very, very cold. So I went inside, had a hot shower, got dressed and then sat on the sofa wrapped in blankets drinking hot water. I felt enormously pleased with myself and so repeated the exercise twice on Saturday. 

On Saturday afternoon B.A. opted to stay inside the house and watch my walrus impressions through binoculars. I put my towel and thermos on the green garden chair I set by the rocks, and this time I paddled about for half-an-hour. According to various internet sources, sea-bathing is good for the skin because of all the magnesium, and cold water swimming builds resilience and is generally good for one's mental health. 

If I understand this correctly, your body/brain  goes into total panic response when you plunge yourself into cold water, but the more you do it (and not die) the less your body feels inclined to go into total panic response. And, thus, when other stressful things happen to you--like someone you respect telling you you have a "funny job for a [your university] grad"--your body/brain greets that more calmly too. 


  1. Sisters, brothers, daughters and sons can also be mothers in certain conditions. Mothers to their parents or siblings most often, but there are other possibilities.

    Swimming has always seemed to me to be a spiritual experience, albeit a somewhat pagan one....

    1. That's quite true. As for swimming, it is quite spiritual, but I don't think it is necessarily pagan. We're mostly water; the water is mostly water. It's a return to the elements--and also another, rarer way of being human.

    2. This is Mrs McLean: for some reason the comments won't let me use my account. Yes, I can see how that can be a form of motherhood. Meanwhile, I think swimming is spiritual, too. It doesn't have to be pagan. We are mostly water, the sea is mostly water: it's a return to our elements. It's also a rediscovery of another way of being human. We have never been landlocked. We are swimmers.

  2. What do you wear to swim in?, if you don't mind the question. I struggle to find appropriate modest swimwear, particularly as I am somewhat doughy in places.

    1. I wear my handy two piece--racer back and boy shorts--ensemble and swim shoes and don't think about what anyone thinks. Once I saw an elderly woman with a flat stomach but prominent saddlebags in a black bikini, I ceased to worry about that. I'm much more worried about the sun. If it's a hot sunny day, I wear a t-shirt, too.

    2. This is Mrs. McLean! I'm having an awful time with the Google combox. I don't mind the question at all. I wear a two piece swimsuit--a racer back top and boy shorts bottom. If it's very hot out, I wear a T-shirt into the water, as I am very anti-sunburn.

  3. Thank you for the advice. I have enjoyed plenty of sea swimming these past few weeks, and "I don't care what anyone else thinks", has been a marvelously freeing mantra.