Friday 20 September 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'Summer is a state of mind'

Brendan O'Connor swims in Dublin Bay in July. Photo: David Conachy.
Brendan O'Connor swims in Dublin Bay in July. Photo: David Conachy.
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

I'm starting to realise I have some form of seasonal affective disorder. I literally became a new person last weekend. Just like that, something changed in some subconscious place, in some sub-atomic, sub-cellular way. It was like my very genes shifted. I think I know the exact time it happened. The sea was flat and clear and blurred in with the sky on Good Friday morning. And a slight shimmer seemed to hang over it. It was like a scene from Excalibur. A Good Friday swim always feels like a baptism, but this was special. I got out and everything had changed. Or I had changed.

Are we all like this? Do we all just metamorphose as soon as there's a hint of summer? Do we all suddenly feel a new burst of energy? Does everything that seemed to weigh heavily the day before suddenly seem a bit lighter? Do the stakes suddenly seem lower to you? Do some things suddenly seem less important to you? And other things more important? Do we all suddenly seem free?

Of course, you could argue that if precisely nothing else has changed in your situation apart from the addition of fine weather, but you suddenly have a whole new outlook on everything, then the problem is you. But it's not that simple, is it? When you get that feeling of summer freedom, it seems so solid and so present, that you wonder why you can't just magic it up all the time. But in order to live, freedom seems to need the light, less clothing, balmy air.

It helps, too, that Dublin on a bank holiday weekend, maybe for the whole Easter holidays, is emptied out. You suddenly see it. You see the trees, the Georgian buildings, the sky. There is room for it, and for you, to breathe. We both take a break from the crowds, a long sigh. It feels slightly post-apocalyptic, but in a benign way. They haven't all been subsumed up to heaven, leaving only the sinners here. They've just gone to Roundstone and places. They will be back, but for now, they've left it to us, and we look after it. Cycling suddenly doesn't involve taking your life in your hands. Walking feels peaceful. The place feels almost rural.

The lack of traffic also means you can get to the sea in no time. And even on a beautiful Easter Sunday, it's not packed out there. Rather than the hurried swim and the rush back into the warmth of the car, you can swim and then lounge and eat sausage rolls and then maybe swim again. The kids seem to feel it, too. Towels laid down on the paving stones, bums in the air, they literally unravel and unwind. They can sense my lack of tension too. That helps. I am present.

And when the air is warmer I feel you get that reset from the sea a bit more. The contrast is clearer. You are warm, then you get in and you are cold, and then you get out and it is warm again. And the sea played its part. It was so crystal clear. You could have been on a Greek island. On Sunday, three gannets put on a class of a passion play in the bay, suddenly going limp mid-air and diving headlong into the sea. It felt like everything was coming together, coming out to play.

Then the girls left me. Normally when they leave me, I feel unsettled in the evenings. The quiet house feels ominous. And I miss them. I want to hear their voices. But then when they ring to tell me what a great day they had, that doesn't help. But this week it was OK. I had a good bit of work on, yes, so no bachelor drinking. But I was able to grab a cheeky swim in the evening if I beat the tide, or at least a walk down the South Wall in the blue hour. And then a Jack Nicholson film festival, suggested by Sky on the occasion of his 82nd birthday last Monday. It is mundane sitting there in the silence of a summery night watching Jack and Meryl in Heartburn, and in summers my heart is in Cork or Kerry or Italy or Greece or anywhere. But even sitting watching Jack when menace still flowed through him, is suffused with whatever magic the weekend brought.

Doesn't matter now what happens to the weather. Summer is a state of mind.

Brendan O'Connor's 'Cutting Edge' continues on RTE1, Wednesdays at 9.35 after News and weather.

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