For those wondering why Barny's in Ireland instead of Knowle West, he's on a bit of a sabbatical. Not one to miss out, he's supporting Lido's Midsummer Swim in his own special way - by swimming through the sea (and its wildlife) to Ballycotton Lighthouse. However, an unexpected swimming companion threatens to throw Barny's plans awry as he prepares for his challenge...
Monday afternoon 4.30pm
Off the main Shanagarry beach this time. Low tide again.You have to walk for five minutes to get to the sea's edge and wade the same again to get out of your depth. I swam beyond the reef and into greener colder waters. Only one seagull flying low over the water for company. Someone - the daughter of a former lighthouse keeper - tells me it's going to take 1 hour 40 if i am lucky. She's got to be kidding. Why did I say I would do this thing
And the other problem is Pluto. Pluto is Rebecca's dog. His mission in life, his entire reason for living, is to look after Rebecca. And that means being with her every minute of the day. It's not that he minds other people's attention; at the Blackbird the other evening he wasn't above resting his nose briefly on my lap, but his heart is with Rebecca. Always and at all times. If, say, she picks up a glass of wine or laughs at someone joke, he sits up straight and though feigning a passable nonchalance, is worrying - about a possible accident befalling his beloved mistress. This means Pluto has to come with us. To protect her, he says, from the shark, to guide her through the strong currents. Which would be fine except that in reality, as opposed to his dreams, Pluto isn't that keen on swimming in the sea. Chasing balls along the shallow sea's edge, yes, but when it comes to the deep dark green waters of the straights of Ballycotton, his loyalty to Rebecca will be reduced to sitting on the end of the harbour and imagining he is Afredo in La Traviata, howling the famous duet Gran Dio, morir si giovane (oh God, to die so young) , except that Violetta is two thirds of the way to the Island and not so much at death's door as just moderately weary of both swim and singing dog.
So Rebecca's idea is to build a raft for Pluto and attach it by a rope to her waist. Certainly not my waist. He's not my dog. As much as I love dogs and as much as chivalry runs deep in my veins, I'll have enough on my plate with the jelly fish. And I am not certain that this raft scheme is the best solution anyway. I have suggested a life jacket for him or at least a small outboard motor on the raft which Pluto can operate with his tail. And with both life jacket and outboard motor, I think Pluto could get into the part; like Russell Crowe in The Commander, pursuing the Frenchies against all the odds.
The thing about all this is that you start off with a simple idea. You see the lighthouse, gauge the distance with an experienced nautical eye, plan the route around the small island between the harbour and the lighthouse and make the decision. Simple. But nothing is simple. It's not the half mile you thought. There are cross currents. You need a boat with someone to skipper it. He needs to known what he is doing, know the waters. Tides, weather, sharks, jellyfish, sting rays, all these complications. And now Pluto.
Yesterday, on the way back along the coast path from my swim near Paradise Cove, I stopped and sat and watched a pair of mating kestrels. I have seen them almost every time I have been there. There they were, sitting on their ledge three quarters of the way up the cliff face. Occasionally the male bird would take off and glide over the cove, land briefly in the grass on the other side and then return, back over the cove to the ledge, to his mate. I wondered what he was doing, whether he was bored of just sitting with her, needed to be in his own space for while or was looking for rabbits. If anyone has any ideas about this, let me know.
Pluto/raft update: R's idea is now is a crate insulated with what she describes as 'the stuff they put in the walls of buildings'. Brilliant. I thought this swim was about me not a dog. Next thing, there will be a hero's welcome at the harbour for Pluto when we return, a flotilla of fishing boats, dogs lining the streets of Ballycotton and the mayor of Cork in attendance at The Blackbird for a reception of biscuits specially prepared by the students of Ballymaloe cookery school and water imported from some special stream high up in the Wicklow mountains.
For more information on Lido Midsummer Swim that takes place this Saturday 21st June in support of Square Food Foundation, click here
To make a donation to Square Food Foundation, click here.
To find out more about Square Food Foundation, click here