In 2010 I was a leisure swimmer, dutifully plodding up and down a chlorinated box for half an hour two or three times a week, swimming breaststroke because I couldn’t swim crawl. When I saw cold-water swimmers, usually on Christmas Day TV, I thought “Nutters”, and dismissed them from my mind. And then two things happened.
In May 2010 our family went away for a weekend in Aldeburgh. We were staying in a hotel on the seafront and I was in a room with a sea view. One morning I woke up about 7am and opened the curtains for a look outside. The sun was up and the beach was deserted; the sea stretched millpond-flat to the far horizon, unbroken except for a sole swimmer gliding parallel to the beach through the milky blue. It was my cousin Hilary enjoying a morning dip, front-crawling effortlessly in the early-morning sunshine. I thought “I want some of that”.
If this was a novel, I would have gone home, booked some swimming lessons that very day and fallen in love with my swimming instructor, but since it’s real life, it wasn’t until September that I and Virgin Active overcame our respective lethargies sufficiently to get me into the water for half an hour under the kind tuition of a very nice Russian boy called Alex. Gentle reader, I did not fall in love with him, although I am not saying that his Slavic good looks did not make it easier to grasp the niceties of rotation, bilateral breathing, catching and pulling. After six months flogging up and down an expensively exclusive lane under his encouraging eye, I could actually swim a passable front crawl. But in an indoor pool, obviously. I had no thought of joining the Christmas Day nutters. Oh, dear me, no.
And then the second of my Important Things happened…..