This week’s fancy dress theme is “pink”. Obviously, I forgot this so all day I look like a goth at a 6-year-old’s birthday party (right).
Although it’s not as hot as last week, it’s still sunny when we start our first 50-minute swim. The time passes quickly enough, and to my delight my watch reads exactly 50 minutes when I get out – no more bad books for me!
While I’m getting changed, a man comes over and asks if we’re training to swim to France. I say yes. He says what’s the temperature, 17? I wish, I tell him, it’s 12.1. Open water swimmers dig decimal places.
All too soon and it’s time for the second swim. I am cold. Really cold. My body is shivering even before I’ve taken my jogging bottoms and coat(s) off. I wade in, and it feels warmer in than out in a ‘maybe this is this what death feels like?’ kind of way. I start swimming and within a few strokes, my teeth have stopped chattering and I’m away.
I turn at the first buoy and bump into my friend Mike.
“Where shall we go then Anna?”, Mike says in his jolly East End accent, “Somewhere nice?” as if the answer was going to be anything other than I think we should go to the red buoy over there.
“I think we should go to the red buoy over there”, I say.
And we swim together. Usually I like the aloneness of swimming, but it’s nice having a buddy for this one. The wind is whipping the water up rough, making the success rate of spotting the next buoy about 1 in 3. Our strokes sync, so we catch every other breath facing one another – a split second of eye contact which makes you feel less alone.
This week I’m staying at the Dover Adventure Backpackers for three times less money and three times more sexism than the next cheapest option – within minutes of my arrival, the man in charge has slapped the arse of a female employee. It’s only about a 10 minute walk away from the beach, and out beyond the harbour wall I can see France!
At least the showers are warm and have a lockable door. I quickly change and head to M&S to pick up some lunch – when not in Rome, buy lunch as if you are still in Rome and not actually in Dover.
I sit in the park and watch the local youth on BMX bikes, but my enjoyment is curtailed by some menacing seagulls. I would look away and when I looked back they’d be a foot or so closer. You know the ones.
I walk back and again, I get some more funny looks.
Upon returning to the hostel, I gingerly approach the guardian of the wifi password (right), watch Eurovision long enough to get loops of europop beats in my head, and drift off humming ‘storms don’t last forever…’.
I wake before my alarm to hear the rain thrashing against the paint-chipped windows. SuRie has lied to me.
Down at the beach I’m told 75 minutes. It’s cold, it’s rough and there’s loads of salty face-slappers. For the first time since swimming here I’m ready to get out before the end.
The break is shivery and short. Because of the falling air and water temps, we are told that for the next swim we only have to do 10 minutes, just one short circuit by the beach, but we can do more if we want to. We are beyond delighted by this news.
But despite the promise of proximate tea, this is by far the worst re-entry yet. Instead of the usual sounds of bovine birthing, this time it’s “No! No! No! NO! AAAARGH”
But it actually feels warmer than the first swim. I get back round and ask to go again. I get back round and ask to go again. It’s on this third lap that I begrudgingly realise I’ve been played. Telling us we’re welcome to get out any time is a great way of making sure we don’t, under any circumstances, get out.
Back on dry land I’m asked whether I swim for a club because I’m “built like a swimmer”. Translated, this means “you have big shoulders”. This fact hasn’t escaped me – two weeks ago I bought a sports bra, only to find that I’ve gone up not one but two bra sizes in the back since the last data point two years ago. That’s 4 extra inches of pulling power. Not like that.
Clearly, swimming changes you in more ways than one.