M is for murmuration. Isn’t it wonderful?

But this is going to be M is for mer. As in la mer. The sea. Sea swimming. I hear a collective sigh. Not again. You get it. Swimming in cold water is amazing, give her a biscuit.

But I was wondering, what is it about this cold sea swimming thing that works for me? Oh yes, bragging opportunities, being at one with nature (if Brighton beach constitutes nature), the build-up of brown fat, camaraderie, (though I tend to be on the antisocial end of the spectrum); immune defence (see also brown fat). All of that. But actually, for me it’s about courage and fear, and how these things sometimes have little to do with actual danger, and how useful it is to be reminded of that.

I’m not for a minute saying that swimming, or even dipping, into the sea in January, in a bathing costume isn’t potentially dangerous. If you’re unused to it, it would be very silly (not to mention horrible) to start in the winter. On top of the cold there are currents and breakers that even experienced winter swimmers should treat with a great deal of respect. I am not a fan of the New Years Day swim which puts ridiculous pressures on the rescue services, let’s be clear.

But actually, if you’ve been doing it a while, and you go when the sea is calm, and you go often enough to know that consistently you come away saying, that was bloody brilliant; if you know it’s a bit daunting as you arrive, you also know that as you immerse it’s not horrible, it feels amazing even if it makes you gasp and the first two minutes feel like twenty. And if you know you won’t stay in longer than 5 or 6 minutes when it’s really cold, because you’ve experienced a hypothermic reaction a couple of times and you definitely don’t want to again, then you also know the fear is of something that’s not real.

And yet. And yet. Every morning I’m scared, not very scared, but scared. My mind and my body tell me it’s going to be unpleasant and dangerous, and I have to remind them both that it’s not. It’s why I sometimes go on my own, because a group can distract you from that fear. But it’s the fear that takes me back there. I like the reminder that you can be scared of a lot of things which aren’t actually scary, but you only remember they’re not scary once you do them, and to do them, you have to either push through or bypass or quieten the fear.

I’m mostly in favour of the last of these. I like to acknowledge the fear, thank it for doing a useful job (because some things you really want to be scared of – eg cold water if you’re not used to it, bears, Trump, violent partners, violent parents (if you’re a child) dragons – probably not dragons – breaking down on the motorway without rescue cover), check whether it’s useful in this particular situation, and if it’s not, set it gratefully aside.

Easier said than done, but this is the thought process. Swim tomorrow? I’m not even going to think about it till I’m on the beach.