Why is there grass between my toes?
I’ve just spent the past hour drowning in a pool of sterile water, but there is grass on my feet. With half the water still inside me, I snort and I sneeze as I slap grass off, to slide socks on.
Why have I spent my morning in Tonbridge Leisure Centre?
Gateway into the Mediterranean
A Cypriot resort has cut into natural rocky shoreline to benefit its swimming tourists, adding another bullet point to their brochures. For amateurs, there’s a wide 5ft deep rock-pool. For pros, a gap in the wall enables a gateway into the Mediterranean. I say amateurs, but I mean children.
Wading in, my scarlet skin is soothed by cold salt water. The kids laugh and play, as I stress and stress and stress. A grumpy Irishman abroad: my girlfriend revels at the phenomena.
Her golden body glides around shallow blue waters as my feet stump into the shale seafloor.
She is at one with the water, I am not.
She floats without effort, I do not.
She asks me the question – shall we go to the deep part?
I cannot say no. It’s her holiday too. I can’t be a spoilsport. Of course I say yes.
Waves tumble over the top of the thick man-made rock-gate. Timing is everything when venturing out through this exit.
She goes first. With a pump and a push, she’s out into the bluer seas. I am disgusted. That “yes” I just gave will never be a maybe not. She is on the other side; I have to make it there now.
The panicking limbs communicate my upcoming calamity far and wide. Waves do not want to miss this. Crowding up, one after another, they thunder over the sea-gate. Grumpiness and stubbornness go like bucket and spade, and I will not let this ordeal defeat me without a fight.
I make my move.
Crawling over the sea-gate, I pray no surf sweeps me back with the kids.
Waves show no mercy.
White crests pummel me hard in the face, hauling me back. The rock-gate takes a chunk of my knee as a memento. I know it’s bleeding but I cannot give up. I try again, and again, but I’m still with the children. Not old children that is, I am triple the age of some. Thank goodness they’re Russian: I will be spared of understanding their belittlements.
A couple of hours later, we’re sunbathing together. My girlfriend soaks up the Cypriot sun after a relaxing swim. I lie in the shade, slopping moisturiser upon a weeping wound, only recently regaining my breath after a heroic attempt of escaping the paddling pool.
I gaze at her to find elegance, moving onto the adjacent waters to find solution.
I spot a masculine man with bronzing I will never bequeath. Clad in speedos with more than one budgie smuggled in, he penetrates the waters. Waves cower before him: they know a sea-god has arrived. He glides over the gate and into the seas, commanding the waters, with something long and black in his hand: a sharp-ended tool. He throws it. Darting deep, he fetches it.
This man is harpooning and I swim with children.
I have to learn.
And here I am.
I’ve dropped my T-shirt in a changing-room puddle. Fishing it out, I show no shame in wearing it with a wet-patch emblem. Walking out of the changing room, I meet my girlfriend, her blonde-brown hair wet from the same swim. She grins as she spies the soaking tee under my coat. I thought she’d be all out of giggles by now, after witnessing my paddling performance.
Think of me, drowning in the Leisure Centres of London, while you start this year conquering something new.
As I flapped my hands and hammered my legs, I knew she was right when she said slower, when she said keep calm, when she said you won’t drown. Next time my body will listen.
One day, I’ll be treading water.
Another day, you will conquer too.