It’s thirty years this month since the Toulouse Experiment but you won’t have heard of it. It was the early ’90s when three of us, on another samey night out in Waterford, decided to buy one-way tickets to France. Plans for escape are not unusual on boozy Tuesdays in February but, to my continuing shock, we actually went ahead with it and within a week we were off. We went to Paris for a few days, slept on someone’s floor and had adventures – we had a gun pointed at us, one of us went missing – then planned to fly on to Toulouse (the missing one had turned up). My two flibberty-gibbet friends managed to miss the flight even though they were right beside me in the airport, so I landed in Toulouse alone, without a word of French. I survived and stayed on there for four months, mostly drinking wine. What has this to do with the coast? Not much except that one of those flibberty-gibbet gals turned up last Sunday on a visit home from Switzerland and suggested we go for a swim. Though Switzerland is land-locked, she’s a coastal gal and she has been dipping a few times a week in Lake Geneva. I would like to try that one day but I think I will always prefer the salt and the tumbly waves.
We went to Garrarus and, though it was windy, grey and rough, the tide was low enough that we could safely dip in Johnny’s Pool, a part of the beach which at certain times is protected from the worst waves. I don’t know exactly who Johnny was except that he was one of the numerous regular sea swimmers at Garrarus and he has since passed away. There have been all weather sea swimmers here for a long time.
I started year-round swimming with a group of women about 15 years ago. Back then, when most aspiring, upper-middle-class women declared proudly that they would only swim in the Seychelles in mid-summer in a hot tub, those sea-swimming women were practically thought of as witches. However, since lockdown, every Tom, Dick and Harriet is in the water. There’s a saying swimmers here use – ‘The sea is like soup!” – they’ll say, meaning its bloody baltic! Now its more like thick stew, full of people. I didn’t even bother going for the usual Christmas swim as I imagined it would be like the Ganges with dryrobes®and prosecco.
I have to admit here that I received a dryrobe®as a present a couple of years back and was over the moon. Up to then I had been using an elasticated towel (also very handy). However within a few weeks of receiving the dryrobe®, they had become a cultural byword for ‘idiot poseur’, with people wearing them around the town as they shopped, to indicate they had been swimming. So while it’s too practical not too use, I always don it with a slightly apologetic air that suggests that though I am not of the same vintage as the Johnny of Johnny’s Pool, I am definitely not one of those Johnny-come-latelys.
So last Sunday was my Christmas swim – finally! – with my flibberty-gibbet pal who I hadn’t seen in a long time, though she did manage to reach Toulouse that time, as did the other one, before they both headed straight back to the more interesting Paris. The slower south suited me better. She is still a flibberty-gibbet, as am I. We had tea and chocolate. And it was lovely.