Maeve Higgins . . . on how to swim in the sea

Disarm the waves with a smile, then watch your legs turn peach and blue as you hesitate in front of them.

Maeve Higgins

Maeve Higgins


I was in my room the other day doing some research on my psychic typewriter. I spent some time looking for patterns in my search-engine history and found many. Some were predictable enough: “Joe Duffy married?” leapt to, “Then who is The One?” which in turn trickled sadly down to, “How to like yourself.”

Others occurred more frequently but were harder to understand, like, “Goats being silly” followed by, “Gluten-free shortbread.”

I had the strangest feeling then, that the time slipping away from me would not be returned, so I focussed instead on today’s lesson which is how to swim in the sea. I’ve organised, with the newspaper, for it to be easy to tear out this page and bring it with you to the seaside.

The printers really fought me on making this page waterproof and it’s probably obvious by now that those old guys in the basement won.

So, maybe slip this into a polypocket or paste onto a bit of card and wind thoroughly with sticky-tape. Have you thought about investing in a laminating machine? Look, could we talk about this later? Right now, it’s time to jump in. Wait! (Apologies to those of you who jumped in before I said this next thing). First, make sure you know how to swim. Then, put a towel into a Spar bag, along with a pair of shoes that you don’t mind sacrificing to Big Daddy Neptune.

Tie your hair up and put your swimsuit on under your oldest tracksuit. Defy anybody with a pulse to ignore its quickening when they see you riding by on your dad’s bike.

Keep cycling until you get to some kind of cove. You will know it by the bank of dark seaweed frowning at you from the shore. Trudge through this, ignoring the plastic bottles and baleful jellyfish remains, until you get to the rocky little beach. Don’t think. Take off your tracksuit and put on the runners you’ve had since fifth year, the ones with Billy Corgan lyrics written on the canvas. You will swim in shoes.

Pay no heed to that thick-necked bouncer of a seal assessing you in his glassy way – nobody is refused admission to Club Sea.

Disarm the waves with a smile, then watch your legs turn peach and blue as you hesitate in front of them.

I’m warning you now that all the things there are to be afraid of, real and imagined, will gather themselves together and show up – an unbidden, terrifying slideshow.

You’ll see sharp drop-offs in the seabed, feet tangling desperately with unseen ropes, rogue currents, lungs full of brine, floating bodies of unknowable creature brushing against your face . . . this will continue until you realise that the thing you’re most afraid of is being too afraid to go in, and that’s when you’ll blank your chattering mind and walk into the water, cursing with joy, further and further, until you don’t feel the cold any more.

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