65@65 SWIM #39 PORTHLEVEN, CORNWALL

Past ‘Nauty but Ice’ – an ice-cream parlour on the harbour-front, past ‘Rick Stein’ – an expensive sea-food restaurant on the other side of the harbour, past the litter man (also on the harbour front), past the people smoking on the harbour’s edge, taking the air plus nicotine. Hurrying, three billowing figures in black dry robes, glimpses of pink, green and blue on each of them respectively, along the harbour, to swim this Sunday morning. I am the blue, Pauline the green, Susie the pink. Philip has nothing to do with this swimming business, and will come shortly. A lovely man, he has many deep interests and a good eye. I don’t ask him what he does - that seems rude - he is a lovely interesting hospitable kind man, and that is plenty enough. I enjoy his company, his slow thoughtful way of expressing his love of the place that he and Susie have half-settled here in Porthleven. Half-settled also in London, but the conversation doesn’t go there much this weekend. Porthleven has two marvellous evocations in Tate St Ives by Peter Lanyon. We are to meet with the ‘Salty Sisters and Briny Brothers’ of Porthleven at ten am this Sunday morning. Not before taking up the offer of a banana from Philip after a very rushed breakfast on my part. ‘Hurry, must be on time’ - my thought seems to be the consensus among us, in action. ‘Mustn’t be late’. But in reality, there is always someone that arrives late, and we know that. The Thames Swimming Group has a name for it, the time between the start-time and the time when the swim really starts – faffing, the verb, and faffage, the noun. It is a very real thing. To this very real thing a law has been made – the Law of Faffing, which is that faffage increases exponentially as the number of swimmers increases. Do we really have nothing else to do with our time and minds? Obviously not, when we put our minds to it. The Law of Faffing is flawed, of course, because the increase in faffage between a single lone swimmer to two swimmers together is itself am infinite rise from zero to something. Then at some number of swimmers the amount of faffing must be so great that people just turn around and go home. Or anarchy ensues. Usually the latter. The limits of faffing have not yet been investigated well enough to be able to say much beyond it not being a universal law, and there must be special conditions that operate according to circumstances. There is, it seems, a need for a study of faffing, swim group size and time. It seems to me to be urgent work, at least this morning, right now as we rush to the harbour steps that are the meeting place for the Salty Sisters. We three black be-robed figures arrive dead on ten, like three muscateers ready for action, to throw ourselves into turbulent waters… Others are there already, some are changing, some are still rushing to the spot we change, much as we rushed. It is mostly Salty Sisters this morning, with only one other male, the only Briny Brother. ‘I can be your brother’ I think, but don’t say. That would be a spooky thing to say to someone I have never met, swimmer or not. Susie has arranged for us to join this, her more local group, this morning. This promises to be a much wilder swim experience. The sisters are much less concerned with couture, and more with the experience of swimming, out into the harbour mouth. The get-in would be easy enough if the waves didn’t pummel, but they do. I am careful – one slip and I could be in the deep water (good) or tossed onto the rock side (bad). I am so careful that most of the sisters and one brother have gone ahead. I follow and reach them as they are turning back. “Too rough today” one says “when its calm we go right out into the ocean”. But not today. I am glad they are careful, almost despite their salty wildness.


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