Issue #288 / June 2024

What makes you happy?





I am visiting my brother in Austin and we just listened to Frogs. We spent the last few days swimming in the local springs. It made me think of your line, “Amazed to be back in the water again”. Do you go swimming in Brighton?


Dear Freya, Alex and My Brother’s Brother,

I have heard it said, now and then, that some individuals wake up happy in the morning. Unfortunately, I can’t count myself among them. So, forgive me if I come across as some Wim Hof-style wellness guru, but I have found something I can do to significantly improve this sorry state of affairs – wild swimming, or more accurately, cold-water swimming.

Some years ago, the winter after Arthur died, I was walking along an empty beach in Brighton and had the sudden impulse to jump into the sea. I was shocked to find that, upon entering the freezing water, I experienced a sudden, violent, radical rearrangement of my relationship with almost everything. I discovered that it was simply impossible to grieve in icy water. This revelation began my love affair with cold-water swimming.

When I am in London, I wake up early, walk through the woods with some other wild swimmers, and jump into the lake. During winter, with water temperatures dropping to freezing, this is nothing less than a catastrophic outrage to the nervous system and an excruciatingly intimate engagement with one’s mortality.

This encounter obliterates all anger and worldly woes. To quote Roger Deakin’s beautiful book, Waterlog, you plunge into the lake with all your raging devils and clamber out ‘a giggling idiot’. In icy water, with our adrenaline and endorphins running riot, we are returned to our innocent, primordial selves via an internal ecstatic screaming to be born defiantly afresh. We become tiny creatures in the shock of nature, and, Freya, we are made happy!

As my friends and I make our way back through the woods, borne on the wings of God’s laughing angels, in the grip of some massive dopamine surge, we understand we are better now. This sense of delight, this shivering joy, will remain with us as we go about our day.

Alex, in Minneapolis, you have the beautiful Cedar Lake, which I have swum in several times. I highly recommend you jump in it. And, my Brother’s Brother, yes, I swim in the sea in Brighton and the lakes of London, and while away on tour, any available river, stream, reservoir, pond, or ocean. That’s where you’ll find me, early in the morning, unsupervised, illicit, subversive – wild swimming – my true antidote to despair.

Love, Nick


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