Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The First Swim

The weather is just perfect for an early-year swim in the sea. Perhaps if I didn’t live here I would take up my own kind offer and jump off a handy rock and splash about for a bit before staggering out for a refreshing glass of tinto de verano, easy on the ice. However, since I do live here, I tend to forgo the splashy stuff and get straight in to the bar for my order. I mean, it’s still too cold for us thin-blooded locals, and anyway, come to think of it, I haven’t swum in the sea besides a couple of ill-considered visits after an extended lunch for about twenty years.
I may have a very slight case of hydrophobia, the fear of water, which is apparently a side effect of rabies. As far as I know, no other signs of this dreadful plague are in evidence on my person and I wonder if it might just be a minor and slow-moving dose that I might have picked up that time I was savaged by a bad-tempered vole which I was attempting to attach to a hanky prior to parachuting the rodent from the roof of the family pile while I was still of a tender age. Still, forty years on and I’m still going strong, no twitches or obvious widow’s peak, although I do like to keep the windows open during the full moon.
The sea is protected by ‘Costas’, a selfless organisation that makes sure that the primal brine isn’t sullied by anything beyond an occasional bather while the pristine sands of the coast are free from skyscrapers, dog messes, barns, garages, piers (a huge no-no) and, above all, any suggestion of permanence from those temporary ‘dismountable’ buildings which we call ‘beach bars’. Anything really beyond a happy sprinkling of ‘Blue Flags’ which denote ‘excellence’ in the beach facilities, cleanliness, showers and wheelchair access together with no interference in Mother Nature’s soft and salty embrace. So protected is the sea these days, that I wonder exactly what the showers are for – are they like swimming-pool showers, where you are meant to wash yourself down before getting in so as to keep the water clean? Apparently, the ‘Costas’ people have decreed that any tussocks of grass which grow on the sand, or any seaweed washed up onto the shore, can’t be removed by the local town halls (except after midnight when the ecologists are all tucked up asleep on their futons). In short, the sea and the beach belong to us all, are to be left au naturel, and we have free access and use for all its treasures, except when told differently.
The other day, I took the dog down to one of those ‘unimproved’ beaches along the coast a way. No metal benches, beach bars, life savers, peculiar white-painted cabins – with the inevitable ‘Goofy was here’ graffiti: no football or beach-ball courts, no playpens, swings or broken whirly-things, no flags, dustbins, informative signs in three languages, showers, accordionists, tulip-vendors or public lavatories. Just a few of those highly colourful motor-caravans as favoured by the wealthy trekkers from the far north that the police are now talking about fining after three days camping outside of the ‘approved areas’. Peaceful. I even anticipated seeing a few dolphins near the shore nodding and squeaking at us. They’re asking for fish really.
My dog seemed to be happy enough with the lack of clutter on that particular beach and ran about chasing pebbles and bits of flying seaweed (oops!). I took my socks off.
Things went well until I began to drive home with the window up to stop the cloud of sand and dust thrown by the wheels. The car stank of warm and wet hound and the thunderhead of dust, it turned out, upset a group of hiking Germans dressed in old-fashioned shorts who were coming the other way, intent on invading the next-door beach. Boy, did I get an earful.
On reflection, I should have been carrying a Blue Flag.

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