Monday 26 September 2016

Mid-Life Crisis: Unthinking, and clarified by the cold

Published 07/12/2015 | 02:30

Dublin Bay: 'When it is calm and I can stroke smoothly without too much splashing, it is the most peaceful feeling in the world. Sometimes, when the moon lights up the bay, it would almost be romantic'
Dublin Bay: 'When it is calm and I can stroke smoothly without too much splashing, it is the most peaceful feeling in the world. Sometimes, when the moon lights up the bay, it would almost be romantic'

So I'm thinking of doing something called 'ice swimming'. I don't know much about it yet but apparently you can do it up the North somewhere and it's freezing. I mentioned it at home. And obviously I was asked why I was thinking of doing this. And I could only give the answer that all great adventurers give: "Because it's there."

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There is a part of me saying I will actually never do it. But then, that voice that tells me I will not do things has been proven wrong quite a bit recently. Recently a madness has taken hold and I have actually done a few of those things you vaguely entertain and then realise you will never do.

Now and again these days, instead of sleepwalking through life not bothering to do things, I have found myself sleepwalking into doing things.

Which is, let's face it, the only way you'll ever do anything. If you thought about anything too much, as I do, you'd never do anything. Also, as we know, willpower is weak. If we were relying on willpower we'd never do a thing. Willpower is actually a finite resource that is all gone by about nine o'clock in the morning. It's true. I read it somewhere.

Sleepwalking is where it's at. For example, willpower would not convey me out of the bed at 5.30am on a freezing Monday and into the cold sea. If it was down to willpower I'd wrestle with it for a minute and then turn around and go back to sleep. But it's a habit now. So I do it in my sleep pretty much. I wake up, automatically convey myself down the stairs, have a double bulletproof coffee, get carried along out the door, into the car and out to the sea. Once there I robotically take off my clothes, put on my hat and googles and I walk calmly, like some kind of a Manchurian candidate, into the sea. Once in there, I don't think about the cold as it bites the tips of my fingers and toes. I don't do any whooping or shouting "fuggggg!" like I used to do. I just methodically doggy paddle for a few minutes while I adjust to breathing in it, and then I start stroking out to the buoy. I am barely present. In a way, between the darkness and the cold and the eerie feeling of there being no-one around except me and my fellow swimmer, it is all a bit like a dream. If I went back to sleep after doing it, I would probably wonder if it had ever happened.

Not that I don't take in the magic of the moment on some subconscious level. When it is calm and I can stroke smoothly without too much splashing, it is the most peaceful feeling in the world. Sometimes, when the moon lights up the bay, it would almost be romantic, if you were with the right person. And the twinkling lights on the other side of the bay make me think of Gatsby-esque parties still going on as I am paddling around.

But I don't think too much. I ignore the nibbling at my extremities. And I ignore the madness of what we are doing. If I stopped at all to think, the only logical thing to do would be to get out. So no thinking. Keep swimming. We get to the buoy where in summer or autumn we sometimes would have stopped for a little chat. Now he just says: "Let's go back." And I follow the orange glow from the torch-lit drybag he pulls behind him, more for my benefit than his own.

It's nice to feel like this, like an unthinking machine with no sophisticated function other than to get out to the buoy and back and out and back without stopping. Like an animal, just driven to survive.

And then I face into the week, washed clean, reborn, clarified by the cold, ready for anything.

Apparently the water is about 10 degrees now. It's bearable once you don't think. Tomorrow morning, when I swim again, it will be December. I didn't think I would get this far. But we have an arrangement to meet and to get in, so I will get up and I will go. I'm told the water may get three or four degrees colder. I'm thinking that as long as it happens gradually, and as long as I don't think about it, I will just keep getting into it.

So how bad can it be then to do the ice swimming, which I think is five degrees or a bit less?

Probably pretty bad. But best not to think about it.

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