I am a swimmer. Tumble turns are nailed with grace at the end of every length, bilateral breathing is of utmost importance, anything less than a silicone hat is not worth your while, and good lane etiquette must be observed at all times.
I am a swimmer. When I finished my degree, I signed on and went swimming in the sea every day for the summer. The importance of aligning oneself with the current to achieve maximum efficiency taught me a thing or two about the mysteries of the universe and the music of the spheres, and made me wiser in ways that I still don't fully understand. While the amateurs swam from Blackrock out to the first or second rock, I swam out to the distant buoys with the big boys.
I am a swimmer. As a teenager, competitive swimming was the only sport I ever took on. A few mornings a week I would train before school, getting up at ridiculous o'clock for breakfast, walking over a mile to the pool and then spending the day sitting through my classes with chlorine red eyes while residual water gurgled through my ear canals.
I am a swimmer. Last weekend when I was getting my weekly sea swim at the Dock beach in Kinsale, there was a bit of a hairy moment. It was then that it occurred to me that maybe it was not the wisest idea to be spending so much time out in the water on my own, as anything could happen. Just around the corner was Sandycove where I heard there was a dedicated group who would be there every day at high tide. For my next outing, I would head there and join them. After all, I AM A SWIMMER.
At least, I thought I was.
Over the last few months, I kept hearing about this bunch of lunatics that swam religiously around this tiny island just around the corner from Kinsale. Any time this came up in conversation, I felt obliged to faff on about some of the things that were mentioned in the opening paragraphs, that I am something of a swimmer myself, one that relished those stormy mornings at Salthill when the sea was angry as it presented more of a challenge, one that I would always overcome with aplomb. At certain times, one may have heard me say that "Mother nature is a cruel mistress, but the sea is my bitch" with the pomposity and grandiosity that always precedes a pratfall.
The first eye opener was when I turned around the corner and saw the island for the first time, glistening in the early morning sunlight, and looking a lot bigger than I had originally expected. It didn't look foreboding, threatening or treacherous, and as far as lumps of rock sitting in the sea go, it looked pretty friendly. So this is what I would have to swim around? Right, shouldn't be a problem, after all I am a blah-blah-blah (feel free to fill in the gaps yourself).
After parking up the van, I stripped down and fell in behind a group of four or five who were walking down the slipway. They were a tight group and had clocked me as an outsider the moment my green hiace came around the corner. I said it was my first time there and that I would tag along behind them, using a false modesty as I believed my swimming would then speak for itself. Which it did, as I struggled to keep up with them. When we got to the first corner of the island, it was explained that the next bit would take about fifteen minutes, that the sea was a bit choppy today, and that if I wanted to swim back to the slipway it was still a respectable swim. I'll follow on, it's ok, I want to go round the island. Alright so, just watch out for jellyfish, someone got stung by one earlier. Just one sting, but it went the full length of his arm and into his mouth. At which point everyone burst out laughing, while my horrified face failed to muster a grimace.
Once again, I struggled to keep up. To be more correct, I failed to keep up at all, and two very decent souls lagged back and swam on either side of me to prevent me from swimming into the island or way off out into the Irish sea. My sighting ability was so poor that it should be spelled with an 'sh'. The only thing worse than having to eat humble pie is having to wash it down with numerous mouthfuls of seawater. I managed to finish one lap of the island, but by the time I was toweling off, the rest of the group were halfway around their second lap. Who knows, if I had hung around, I could have watched them sail around for a third time.
So now I will go on record and withdraw any claims I previously made about being a seasoned sea swimmer, one that knows a thing or two about a thing or two, or how when it comes to the water, Dr. Herringbone Dread ain't nothing to fuck with. Now that humiliation has helped me achieve some level of humility, I can comfortably put myself on the bottom of the open water food chain, a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas. Unfortunately, my ego has not been fully deflated, and I am now determined to make a decent go of this craic. After all, that was only day one, and there can only be improvements from now on, right? If I am wrong, the sea won't be long giving me a hearty bitch-slap.