How many times have I come to this beach? I’ve lost count. I can’t remember the first time. I would have been 2 or 3, I expect, a shock of bleached blond hair and blue flannel pants. It then always became the go to place for swimming whenever the weather was good. “Let’s go to Thorpeness!” and there was never any question about it. The water is always murky, the colour of milky tea, but it’s warmer water here than the clearer Atlantic waters of the West. What did we care when we were young? It was close and we or I could swim. What more could I want?
Surely part of the excitement of swimming is the anticipation, as a musician might perceive it, the crescendo, the buildup to ‘the drop’. There is always an element of fear and something subversive about outdoor swimming (this is the word Roger Deakin gave it in his homage to outdoor swimming ‘Waterlog’). There’s those nagging questions ‘Will I? Won’t I?’ ‘Will it be cold?’ ‘Are there currents?’ ‘Is there some monster of the deep out there about to nibble at my toes?’ With the sea especially we’re launching ourselves into another domain, an entirely ‘other’ world ruled and governed by different forces and creatures to those on land, somewhere we’re not really meant or made to be. And that’s what – mentally – is so refreshing about it. It’s the ultimate adventure, the ultimate dare. The thrill, those tingles that you get as your head bobs up like a seal’s 50 yards out there, the reason you let out a ‘wooohoooo!’ everytime is because you’re escaping the normality of everything around you. You’ve crossed to a place where people, things are an irrelevance. All is reduced to water, sky, waves, movement. Elemental. Minimal.
So many of my best memories of Thorpeness are from when I was a teenager. Is the whole concept of this journal really just a big dollop of nostalgia? Quite possibly, but why not revel in memories? When all else is gone surely this is all we have. Hurriedly grabbing the stripy towels out of the airing cupboard, making a sausage roll of towel and trunks and jumping in the car. As a 15 year old with my sister and her first boyfriend – windows down, music blaring – the teenage dream. As a 17 year old with my first serious girlfriend in her best friend’s Fiat Panda. Sometimes driving straight from College in Ipswich – me like a dog in the back. No seats, just blankets. Then cavorting in the waves. Smelling salt on skin and the touch of lycra bikini – something as foreign and exciting as the sea itself. As a young man in my early twenties after our annual cricket match being picked up by lumpy waves that came drilling into the beach at a 45 degree angle. Being dumped and thrown about and loving it along with our friends as the seasons were on the verge of turning.
And now so much later I’m still here. Still the same. Why can’t I perceive myself ageing? Still flinging myself out there, whooping, laughing hysterically, manicly not comically – as I did with G all those years ago – and being whisked along by the sea – the coastline with its funny, colourful houses and families and gardens rolling past me like some bizarre seaside slideshow. Still buoyed by the sea and what it does in every way.