Sunday, 16 November 2008

The Swimmer as Hero


I have been drawn back to water and swimming as I reflect on my infatuation with this element. This has been fed by the unexpected arrival in the mail of a book from my friend Julian Pepperell. Julian is a marine biologist of note who will soon publish his next book - Fishes of the Open Ocean, a comprehensive illustrated guide to the big fish of our oceans. Julian loves big fish and the science of fish. But he is not a swimmer.
He is a little bemused by my insistence, whenever I visit him on the sunshine coast, on rising at 6am and driving 20 minutes to swim, regardless of the weather, in his beloved ocean. He might even be surprised if I was to publish my book -"Water in which I have Swum" (needs a better title). He'd find it ranged through knee deep muddy waterholes outside Winton in far western Queensland, skinny dipping in raging rapids on the Barron River (in a tropical downpour with a group of appreciative Japanese tourists as onlookers), floating in tranquil crystalline pools in Litchfield National Park and twenty laps of a bitterly cold public swimming pool in London (in the company of fellow icebergs) - and hundreds of places in between. I can't resist them and each is individually etched in my memory.
His gift, "The Swimmer as Hero" by Charles Sprawson has opened up to me the world of the swimmer from Ancient Greece to the most recent olympics. And I can tell you my infatuation is mild compared with some of the eccentrics he explores in this book - one in particular (Swinburne) who seems to have embraced water and swimming as both the mystical and erotic centre of his life.
Here are two short excerpts: "...I had to get my plunge in by 4pm, just before the sun took its plunge behind a blue black rampart of cloud. I saw I could only be just in time - and I ran like a boy, tore off my clothes, and hurled myself into the water. And it was but for a few minutes but I was in heaven............. one far more glorious than even Dante ever deamed of in his paradise." AND
"Swinburne remarked that it was a pity the Marquis De Sade had not been aware of the tortures that could be inflicted by the sea." His was a far more complex relationship than mine.

Interestingly I have a close female friend who describes her relationship with the ocean as one which only really works "when she experiences it as a thrashing!"

4 comments:

MostLusty said...

Hey Capo,

Yes I have been missing in action, started a new job and have had to learn what I'm teaching. Thanks for another swimming post and I particularly like your haiku for Pauline. Need to write a test tonight then will get back to my blog. Will you me modelling tea cosies at Avid on Friday night?

BigFish said...

It is indeed a fascinating book; but you left out the first part of the title: "The Black Masseur", which intrigues even further. I do take a plunge every now and then, mostly to look under the waves, rather than to undertake that slow-motion zen style of swimming out beyond the first line of breakers. I have often wondered how one can stay afloat with so little apparent effort. Sort of like meditative levitation with a little help from Archimedes. Keep on swimmin'

BigFish said...

It is indeed a fascinating book; but you left out the first part of the title: "The Black Masseur", which intrigues even further. I do take a plunge every now and then, mostly to look under the waves, rather than to undertake that slow-motion zen style of swimming out beyond the first line of breakers. I have often wondered how one can stay afloat with so little apparent effort. Sort of like meditative levitation with a little help from Archimedes. Keep on swimmin'

MostLusty said...

I'm glad you will be modelling the purple tea cosie. That is one of my faourites. I on the other hand do not have a cosie to model just a collection of wool and needles that need attention. I'll be the one with the pile of books in my arms with a look of sheer bliss on my face. See you there.