WARNING: This post contains some bad swears which may not be suitable for all audiences.
We meet again, 5.45am.
Saturday morning, and a largely uneventful train to Dover is followed by some excellent news – today we’re only swimming for 2 hours, non-stop. I am delighted, since these means no more of the dreaded Getting Back In Again™. I am also happy because the sun is shining and I’m going to have my face in the sea all morning with ear plugs in, removed from the rest of the country obsessing over the Royal Wedding.
But looks can be deceiving. It’s choppy and there are plenty of salty slappers coming my way. On more than one occasion I turn my head to breathe and a wave goes all the way over the top of it and into my mouth. Lovely.
There’s extra waves on top of the slappers coming from boats. Me and these sorts of waves go way back.
FLASHBACK: It’s September 2016, I am swimming the length of Lake Windermere with my friend Emma kayaking next to me. I am drastically underprepared. At this time of my swimming career, I knew nothing about how much I should be eating or drinking during long-distance swims. As a result, during the 6 hour swim all I ate was one digestive biscuit (officially the driest food known to man), half a banana (officially the most nauseating food known to man) and a couple of sips of water. To give you an idea of how dangerously little that is, by 5 hours in I was hallucinating penguins.
When you’re tired and delirious in the water, everything feels like it’s working against you. Your goggles fill up with tears and every time there’s a wave in the face it’s an excuse to break out into breaststroke and have a little cry. So, when an enormous pleasure boat of holidaying pensioners clutching champagne drives up to peer down at the crazy swimming lady, you are going to have a Sense of Humour Failure™.
Now look, I’m not proud of what I said. It wasn’t big and it wasn’t clever, but it did feel appropriate at the time.
“F**K OFF YOU F***ING BOAT C**TS!” I shouted.
The next few dizzying breaths I pretended I couldn’t see my kayaker awkwardly laughing, and all of the boat c**ts laughing too at my inexplicable over-reaction to this situation.
I mention this because now “f***ing boat c**ts” (FBCs) has become a running joke to denote waves which are formed by passing boats. Or, you know, enormous ferries.
It was, therefore, a rough swim, but over soon enough. This week I was staying in an Air Bnb kindly booked by fellow London swimmer Mikey. We are early to arrive, so have to head straight back out without showering. I don’t really mind being covered in channel, though every now and again you do get a waft of your own stench and wonder how much passers-by can smell you.
We go for a pint I mean a soft drink in The White Horse. This is the pub renowned for having the walls covered in the signatures of successful channel swimmers and it’s difficult not to imagine yourself after the swim drinking a cold gin and tonic I mean signing your name on the wall, victorious.
We cook pasta, watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race, read our books and have an early night. Mikey is the dream swim weekend companion!
The next morning is grey and still. We’re given 2.5 hours and promised a hot drink after 1 hour. I swim the loop once, dreaming of that plastic cup of steaming hot Ribena. The first lap takes 31.5 minutes, so I do another lap, which would make it perfect timing.
But this lap is slower than the first since the salty slappers are back, and this, compounded by the fact that I took 10 minutes to wade in screaming means that the beach is empty when I eventually come in for my feed.
“I’m afraid the feed’s gone back up to the top”, Mandi from the beach crew shouts, running down the pebbles towards me, “Are you really cold?”
“Nope” I reply, which came out slightly more high-pitched than I intended, “I’ll be fine”.
On the next lap I compose this haiku about my feelings, called “The Overly British Swimmer”:
Don’t worry if it’s
Too much trouble. I’ll just float
Here and wait to die.
– Ploszajski, 2018
Thank you, thank you, I’ll expect the call from the Nobel committee.
One and a bit more uneventful laps and I’m back on dry pebbly land. Turns out I didn’t need the warming boost after all. I’ve booked a later train back, so spend a happy hour thawing out in the tepid sunlight with strong tea and Victoria sponge. A royally perfect weekend.