The Shivery Bite

Every holiday, every trip to the beach and skirmish up North has involved a dip in the freezing waters of whatever bay or loch side I find myself at.

The lure of the waves resonates within me and I just can’t hep but step slowly into the clear, icy cold water. Pebbles scratch at my feet as my sharp intake of breath loudly booms across the quiet water. I can almost hear it laugh at me “…come on, get in ya big jessie…”

I shiver and wait for my feet to get used to the cold. Although the further North I go, I never really do, I just get emotionally better equipped each place I try. The first step is always followed by a hysterical manic laugh that comes from deep within my belly. It’s not forced, it’s just a way of releasing the shock as I know the water is going to be as warm as a penguin’s favourite block of ice. There should be signs saying ‘love your toes, stay away from the water’ or ‘you don’t feel the cold once you go blue, so dive in and enjoy yourself’.

I have never owned a wet suit, maybe I should just get something from the toes up – a knee suit perhaps?

I know quite a few fresh water swimmers so my proverbial swimming cap is always doffed to them with incredulous admiration.

Swimming has always been a huge part of my life and I think back to the times as a teenager I would jump on the bus to other end of town every Saturday with my friends to go for a swim. Bounding up the steps of the Commonwealth Swimming Pool, or the Commie, as we locals call it, I would push the wooden bar of the revolving door and step inside. Perhaps partaking in a comical one-spin too many. I’m sure the security guard found that as amusing as we did.

The smell of chlorine made me smile, its scent conjured up blue-tinged water with wavy black lines glimmering up from the bottom of the pool. The lane lines were there to remind me of all those that had graced the boards over the years. I always thought it would take forever to swim one length, the other side seemed so far away and then I saw the professionals do it in under 40 seconds or so.

The long traipse down the grey-tiled stairs to the changing rooms was always done at break-neck speed. I had a pool to swim, there was no time to wait!

Once I selected my cubicle I have recollections of thick orange plastic screens that I would pull across so no-one could see me change. I hated the way they touched my skin so I would keep myself as far away from its clutches as I could.

I remember the bands that I had to wear once I had chosen my locker, it contained the key to all my worldly possessions. The bronze key fitted into an exact replica key-shape within its structure, sucked into place until I needed it again.

Then there was the ‘pool I tried to avoid’ – a small indentation in the path towards fun that was filled with chemicals. There was no other route to the pool. I had to walk through it. The large, icy four-inch puddle stood between me and the real McCoy. I would step as long as I could, it was always bitterly cold.

Now that the horrible part was over I swam. I jumped. I laughed. Repeat again and again for an hour. 60 minutes of brilliant energetic nonsense in the pool and the electronic voice would spoil it all by announcing that my colour of band’s time was up. I had to leave.

There is something quite energy-sapping about changing out of a swimsuit back into your clothes. It’s like the texture of my skin became like velcro, nothing was able to move up or down without a hilarious dance of elbows and joints sticking out at odd angles to help the material move where I needed to.

Tired and hungry, no ravenous, there was only one thing left to do.

The shivery bite is the name given for a snack I have after a swim. These days I have trained my kids to stick an apple in their bag. A quick, juicy fix to quench the thirst and ease the hunger pangs of the most ardent swimmer until we get home.

But back then I had access to the Holy Grail, Brattisanis Chip Shop. An Italian institution known to everyone in Edinburgh under the age of 15, especially those who frequented the Commie. It was the place to go. The one and only shivery bite that I could have or ever need.  A 50p bag of hot, crispy, brown-sauced chips that I would eat with reckless abandon on the warm, sleepy bus home.