Updated: Jan 14, 2020
I was swept away by the incoming tide of Susie and Philip’s kindness and warm hospitality in Cornwall. Susie invited me to swim some of my 65 in her locality, Porthleven, St Ives and Penzance. Pauline and I arrived the night before, and Susie was straight to the point – “do you want to swim?”. ‘Yes’. “Before or after your cup of tea?” We had just driven from Oxfordshire with a couple of breaks, one to dip in Roadford Lake, just beyond Okehampton, and another to see the fine Victorian Cathedral in Truro. We were car-tired, but Susie did not mess around; even before seeing our room, I was in togs and dry-robe, ready to go down to the very near-by water front. Sand, frisky water coming in, I took a short swim while Susie and Pauline watched. I was dumped by two waves in quick succession coming back in – “welcome to Cornwall” I thought. I felt like my limbs were being torn from my torso, much in the way that some people tear a leg off a roasted chicken. That, and eating sand from the shore-floor. ‘Must be careful’ – note to self; eating sand is not for me. Pauline and Susie didn’t seem to notice, or let on, how I had been thrown about by the water.
Keeping this episode in mind, we drove to Penzance the next morning to swim with her people there, the Penzance Belles and Buoys. We walked on the pathway around the Jubilee Pool, a sea-water pool open in Summer, under repair in Winter, firmly closed off now, but still looking magnificent in the dappled sunshine and with the ocean in the back-ground. Jubilee Pool is an ocean pool built in the 1920s, and is a beautiful Art Deco ocean-liner fantasy. Also magnificent in the background in another direction was St Michael’s Mount, the twin-not-twin of the Mont Saint Michel in Brittany. The Battery Rocks gets its name from the gun battery that was located here in 1740 as protection from attacks by the French navy. This was between two Anglo-French wars, and are more likely to have been gun placements prepared in advance of the Anglo-French Wars that began in 1744 and ended nineteen years later. Swimming started here in the late nineteenth century, after many decades of peace between England and France. For me it is difficult to work out what was what, since my sense is that the Cornish have an ambivalent relationship with the English, and probably always have had. Nonetheless, the gun battery placement provided the initial infrastructure upon which the sea-bathing steps and rails were constructed and which are used to the present-day by the Belles and Buoys.
There were not so many Buoys this morning, although I was assured that they numbered more than usual this bright Saturday morning. They gather every morning at 11am, and dazzle in the January light with their swim-couture – bright caps and cozzies, lippie and sunnies. These are the Belles; the Buoys are more subdued, but no less chatty and verbally buoyant. Jackie comes over with a great big hug – I know her from the Serpentine in London – she’s looking good, smil;ing and happy. Dressed and ready, Belles and Buoys colourful against the white of the Jubilee Pool wall, into the jostling ocean-water. I swim out and meet up with Karen, a supreme photographer of the wild things that live on and with the Battery Rocks. We talk. She is taking photographs and asks if she can photograph me. I am flattered. Karen is lovely gentle soul with an eye for the beautiful, which she photographs so well, usually small things that most people miss. Here colourful images of sea creatures put in mind the crocheted reef animals that fascinated me at the Venice Biennale last October. It starts to rain – I am told it always does – and Karen says she will stay in until it stops. I stay with her for a while looking out to St Michaels Mount, to shore and the Jubilee pool. Swimming back, mind-music gone, the rainbow over Jubilee Pool is very pause-worthy and marks the end of another perfect swim, in another perfectly special place with a perfectly special swim-scene. Thank you all!