One way to get into the swim of things

Bangkok Post - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS - Roger Crutch­ley

As a kid I would mar­vel at re­ports of some­one swim­ming across the English Chan­nel. Be­ing a to­tal wimp in wa­ter, I couldn’t be­lieve that any­one would want to swim the chilly 33 kilo­me­tres be­tween Eng­land and France when you could hop aboard a ferry. Swim­ming the Chan­nel has be­come so com­mon-place it rarely gets a men­tion th­ese days. How­ever some­one who did make the news is Ross Edgely, a 33-year-old English­man, who last week be­came the first per­son to swim around main­land Bri­tain’s 2,882km coast­line. He achieved this in 157 days with­out set­ting foot on land. Mr Edgely’s daily rou­tine fea­tured up to 12-hour stints in the wa­ter, fol­lowed by sleep­ing on a cata­ma­ran with a small sup­port group. In a clock­wise di­rec­tion, he started and fin­ished at Mar­gate, a small sea­side town on the south­east coast.

Be­ing some­one who finds dip­ping his toes into the sea at Brighton a ma­jor chal­lenge, I just can­not con­ceive any­one want­ing to swim around the en­tire British coast­line.

Dur­ing his five-month swim Mr Edgely in­evitably got to sam­ple the dif­fer­ent salty wa­ters that grace the coast of Bri­tain. He told the Guardian that the sea in Scot­land “tasted re­ally nice, but the Hum­ber Es­tu­ary was straight-up fer­tiliser.”

Jel­ly­fish stings were a ma­jor prob­lem and Mr Ed­g­ley’s scari­est mo­ment came when a gi­ant jel­ly­fish at­tached it­self to his face for half-an-hour. Just imag­ine that. This oc­curred at the same time he was strug­gling to ne­go­ti­ate the treach­er­ous wa­ters of the Gulf of Cor­ryvreckan whirlpool off the west coast of Scot­land. You have to re­mind your­self that he’s do­ing this for fun.

Read­ing about the whirlpool — the third largest in the world — is fright­en­ing enough, let alone swim­ming through it. Even the name, Cor­ryvreckan, sounds like it could be­long in any sea­far­ing hor­ror story. It also has bit of a his­tory…

Or­well’s great es­cape

The Cor­ryvreckan whirlpool al­most claimed the life of Ge­orge Or­well in 1947 when he was stay­ing on the is­land of Jura while work­ing on his novel, Nine­teen Eighty-Four.

On an ill-ad­vised fish­ing trip, his lit­tle boat lost its out­board en­gine in the tur­bu­lent wa­ters and cap­sized while cross­ing the treach­er­ous whirlpool. On the boat with Or­well was his adopted son Richard, along with nephew and niece Henry and Lucy Dakin. They were saved by climb­ing onto a tiny rocky out­crop. For­tu­nately, a few hours later they were spot­ted by pass­ing lob­ster­men who res­cued them.

Com­ment­ing on the fright­en­ing in­ci­dent Henry Dakin said, “I thought we were goners.” Or­well was less dra­matic, briefly not­ing in his di­ary “ran into whirlpool and were nearly all drowned”, but then goes on to write about puffins as if it was just a nor­mal day.

Th­ese days tourist boat­ing trips are ar­ranged for a close-up look at the Cor­ryvreckan whirlpool. They ad­ver­tise “th­ese trips are for the more ad­ven­tur­ous”, which I would not dis­pute. A bit too ad­ven­tur­ous for me, I sus­pect. I had a look at a lifeboat tack­ling the Corry whirlpool on YouTube and that’s as close as I want to get.

Over the sea to Skye

The west coast of Scot­land is cer­tainly one of the most beau­ti­ful parts of Bri­tain … if it doesn’t rain. As a teenager in the early six­ties I en­joyed a rail trip with my par­ents from In­ver­ness to the Kyle of Lochalsh af­ter which we took the ferry to Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye. Now they have a bridge. My mum was thrilled to be on Skye, partly be­cause she loved the Skye Boat Song, although she was a bit dodgy with the lyrics.

I also had a cou­ple of favourite Scot­tish songs of a some­what dif­fer­ent na­ture. In 1958 there was a big hit in Bri­tain called Hoots Mon by the splen­didly-named Lord Rock­ing­ham’s Xi. It was a rock­ing sax­o­phone in­stru­men­tal, bro­ken spo­rad­i­cally by shouts of “och aye”, “there’s a moose loose about this hoose” and “it’s a braw bricht moon­licht nicht.” A cou­ple of years later came Andy Stew­art’s stim­u­lat­ing of­fer­ing, “Don­ald Where’s Your Troosers?”, a lively ditty con­cern­ing the mer­its of wear­ing a kilt.

A bon­nie time

Armed with this foun­tain of Cale­do­nian knowl­edge, I spent a fort­night with Scot­tish rel­a­tives in Nairn, near In­ver­ness, and had a great time once I mas­tered my cousins’ won­der­ful lilt. I heard “och aye” fre­quently and even found my­self say­ing it, along with things like “wee” and “bon­nie”. Hap­pily, in the ab­sence of ro­dents in the house­hold, I never got to hear “there’s a moose loose about this hoose.”

I do re­call be­ing be­friended by a gen­tle­man in a Glas­gow pub and although not un­der­stand­ing a word he said, I kept nod­ding and grin­ning in agree­ment. He was prob­a­bly call­ing me a Sasse­nach id­iot. At least I didn’t get a “Glas­gow Kiss”.

Fred­die’s fi­nal cur­tain

De­spite the mixed re­views for Bo­hemian Rhap­sody, I sneaked along to see the film dur­ing the week and con­fess I quite en­joyed it. Ad­mit­tedly it’s cheesy at times and full of cliches, but it is also thor­oughly en­ter­tain­ing and that’s why most peo­ple go to the cin­ema. It helps, of course, if you en­joy Queen’s mu­sic and Rami Malek is out­stand­ing as Fred­die Mer­cury. Even Fred­die’s nu­mer­ous cats are solid per­form­ers. Mr Malek gives Fred­die a very hu­man touch that can al­most bring you to tears. Well, it’s only a film af­ter all.

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