A Swim in the Sea – Tim Jamieson

We were in the car and on the way to the beach, they day after Christmas: me, my dad, my brother and his girlfriend Gina. I’d decided to accompany them to experience Gina’s annual Boxing Day swim, and witness my brother’s first go, unless he chickened out.

It’s a tradition for Gina and it was also the first year she was doing it without her granddad who passed away almost exactly a year ago. I thought I’d come to watch. Hopefully I could document it, and if nothing else breathe in the fresh British seaside air for the first time in a year and a half.

We drove along the winding road and passed rolling hills, brown and minty green, dotted with cotton buds of grazing sheep. The sun bounced across the fields and the view almost took my breath away. The same boring sights I’d spent years growing up with seemed foreign and exciting now. It was a weird feeling and I asked my dad if we could stop on the way back so I could take a couple of photographs.

“Did I tell you about my new business plan I had a few weeks back?” my brother said to no one in particular. His voice coming from the back seat.

“No,” I said in reply.

“Well,” he went on, “I was in the pub with G and I ordered a few packs of pork scratchings to go with my pint.”

“Nice,” I said.

(Pork scratchings, for those who are not sure, are essentially deep fried pork rinds: chunks of unwanted pig fat. They sound disgusting, but I promise you they are delicious, especially washed down with a pint of Harvey’s Best ale. Unless of course you are of vegetarian persuasion, then steer well clear.)

“After a couple more pints I had my idea: what if you get pork scratchings and crunch them up finely to the texture of salt…? People would go mad for it, on chips, on kebabs, I mean it would totally liven up a salad wouldn’t it?”

I looked sideways at my dad and laughed.

“After a couple more pints it really sounded like a good idea, before I knew what I was doing I’d ordered 3kgs of pork scratchings from Amazon.”

I laughed again and said, “Did you crush it up then? Did it work?”

“Mate it was disgusting, obviously a shit idea. But at least I had stuff to snack on for the next couple of weeks. Crazy what you come up with in the pub. Anyway, we ended up getting blind drunk and the next morning I was the proud owner of: http://www.grind-that-rind.com. Not really what you want to be handing out on business cards to people is it?”

I was crying, my brother always makes me laugh, though usually a few days of his company is enough, and I’m sure he felt the same way about me.

We passed by an old shop called Boon Books, which instantly took me back to my travels in the centre of Australia, and a landscape gardener I worked with called Boon – Boono in Australian – who used to drink twenty-four cans of beer every afternoon and raise all sorts of hell. We rounded the bend in the road and caught our first glimpse of the sea.
We pulled into the car park and I asked my brother again if he was going to give it a go or not.

“I dunno man,” he said, “it does look freezing. I’ll make up my mind when we get out on the beach.”

We opened the doors of the car, crossed the road and walked out onto the sea front. As I stepped out onto the beach the pebbles crunched under my freshly polished boots. Immediately I was hit by a wave of old memories.

To my left, sea spray was kicking up against the shore, forming a rising haze under white chalk cliffs. To my right the beach stretched away into the distance, eventually curving round, culminating in a concrete breaker and a stumpy lighthouse. It was a beautiful afternoon but very cold and fresh, just as winter should be. The sun seemed to be hovering in the sky, not rising or setting. I zipped up my coat over my chin and ducked down into it.

The beach was all but deserted apart from my brother and Gina stripping down to their underwear, shooing my dad away as he snapped with his camera like a greedy paparazzi. I guess my brother had finally decided to go for it. I smiled, I was proud of him in a strange way. My dad let them be and lit up a smoke, unabashedly now, unlike the dreadful attempts to conceal his habit in our youth.

It wasn’t quite the perfect white stretch of palm lined sand and glassy waters I’d been sporadically visiting over the past few years but it was beautiful all the same. Growing up, when we visited the beach, I’d spend all the time either not noticing or complaining about the lack of sand. But now the sun danced over the glistening pebbles and I was blown away. Like the scenery on the drive in, I’d gained a new perspective on an old view to be captured through the lens of my camera and stored away as another exotic destination in my mind. It’s true what they say, going away makes it all the better coming back, though I’d add a proviso: going away makes it all the better coming back, as long as you know you’re leaving again.

My brother and Gina were in the water now, and from the looks of it trying not to drown. They shouted at me to join but it was their moment not mine – also I hadn’t yet been declared clinically insane by a doctor, so I just shook my head and smiled; my feet firmly on dry land.

I looked over at my dad playing with the settings on his camera while trying not to get smoke in his eyes from the cigarette dangling out of his mouth and I thought of my mum at home, no doubt enjoying her carefully rationed gin and tonic, both of them finding it difficult growing old. I was going to make the most of my time while I could.

As much as I love my family I couldn’t help but feel my current stint at home, the no-man’s-land of the Christmas holidays, was like being in a station, waiting for the train, or a flight, or a bus; not technically on the way to anywhere but not stuck in one place either. It was time to settle down with a good book, a drink and the company of people who in their own ways were waiting to carry on with their own journeys, and be happy in the knowledge that I wasn’t there yet but I was on the way.
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