16 July 2006

Hibernian Squalour #5,468, or, Unsolved Mysteries of the Sea

So the sun is spilling down, splitting the rocks and sending us all out to the nearest beach-al area, there to sit around until our complexions turn beet-red. In a week or two, things will be back to normal and we can pretend it’s always been raining for as long as we can remember, except for that nice heatwave back in '98. In five or six years perhaps we’ll finally accept the spell of nice weather in ‘06. Until then, there are icecreams to eat, trouser-legs to be rolled up, and sun-cream to splather on our faces, limbs and delicate bits.

I used to swim in the sea practically every day, first thing in the morning, rain or shine. I say “practically” every day because, in fact, I abstained during the months with BRR in them. Well, September and half of October were okay, before “the turn”, as the hardcore swimmers used to call the time when the water temperature suddenly dropped a few degrees. Not many degrees, but just enough to make the difference between Refreshing and Bollock-shrivelling.

Being beside the seaside is always a balm to the soul, whether you dunk yourself or not. There is the refreshing sea air, full of negative-ion goodness, guaranteed to lift your mood. The riot of life, plants and birds and small skittering things, a tableau of nature on the march, a daily reminder of the large portion of the planet that simply gets on with things and (thankfully) doesn’t particularly give a damn about you.

Getting in there is a bonus though, striding out to about knee-height and just throwing yourself in. There’s always the preparation bit, where you get goosebumps and start wondering if it isn’t maybe a little too cold. But once you’re in, you’re in, and you wonder why you ever doubted. Breasting the waves, slithering down under like a fish with your eyes open, checking out the happenings in the benthic community. (Benthic is from the Greek, means “of the sea bed”.)

Who cares if you’re not Olympic material? That isn’t the point. You’re in there and you're moving around. Do it for a few weeks and your back will feel better, your limbs not so stiff, and your complexion will glow. Swimming in the bay, if you have a bay, is a highly recommended pursuit, good for what ails you.

For a few years the bay was simply too filthy to swim in though. Blame the recent population growth, the high rate of conspicuous consumption, whatever. Since they built the sewage treatment plant, things are better, though it looks like they’re going to need another one soon, what with all the Celtic Tiger cubs needing somewhere to send all their poo, etc.

I still like going for a dunk, even if it’s not a particularly nice day. It’s one of those things: even if you’re not in the mood for it, after you’ve done it you’ll be glad you did. Of course the high summer is the most opportune time, with plenty of sun and the tides at their peak. Plenty of people around, so the ideal time is when there aren’t so many people that you’ll fear for your clothes and possessions left piled up on a rock, but not so few that you feel like a complete antisocial bastard.

There is another great advantage to having a few people around. The more people there are in the water, swimming and paddling and thrashing about, the less likely it is that you’re going to meet a jellyfish.

I have a major bee in my bonnet about these jellyfish. Spotting one in the middle of the swim is often enough to make me turn around and head back in for the towel and tobacco.

Jellyfish are, of course, very aesthetically appealing, as desktop backgrounds or screensavers for instance, and look very pretty when you’re watching them bob around on your TV, but in real life the bastards sting. Now the quality of the sting varies from Mildly Annoying For an Hour or Two to Making You Feel Like Someone’s Spiked Your Fanta. The worst I ever had made me feel like I’d pulled a muscle in my leg for about a day, but it was enough to put me off the buggers.

So there I was yesterday, happily ploughing along through the calm waters at low tide, when I spotted one. Turned around and then spotted another.


But it was such a beautiful day. Perfect for a swim. They weren’t going to put me off this time, no way. So I just went in to a safely shallow bit and started marking off my territory. Thrashing and kicking and stomping. They started moving away.

So I stayed there for a bit, free of marine invertebrate molestation. Grumbling a bit, not wanting to swim too far out in case I came across one. But not wanting to let the bastards win anyway. For now, I’m content with a minor victory.

Victory? It’s no more than a squabble with your neighbour about the apples that fall on his side. The jellyfish, after all, don’t come up to swimmers with the express intent of chomping on them (with accompanying Jaws soundtrack). They’re like the old tramp who gets upset when someone sits on his bench, or the guy who parks in the same public space every morning, or the kids who come to the playground every day and feel it belongs to them. No more than my thrashing and kicking and water-agitating, they’re marking off their territory.

Besides, creeping middle-aged-hippie-ism compels me to try and see the other side. Of course there’s more of them, the bay is clean again, after all - that’s why there are more people swimming in it, yes?

Call it peaceful co-existence then. At least, it had better be. Next time, I’m bringing a couple of heavy rocks just in case.

Further aiding me in the achievement of balanced, reasoned perspective on the jellyfish issue was the arrival of two foreign gents, denizens of a neighbouring island, who were happily strolling along nearby when one of them pointed out a big trunk of dried-up kelp. They started moving away rapidly, and from their talk it became clear that they were afraid it was a poisonous snake of some kind.


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