torsdag 14 december 2006

If you think this is just for raving nutters, try doing it yourself


yvonne & john
Originally uploaded by lomokev.
We go in the sea at Brighton at 7.30, most mornings summer and winter. Sometimes we have newspaper and television features about us. The usual line is to portray us as raving nutters or eccentrics.

If you think that, just try doing it yourself. In the winter you could die of heart failure, cold water shock or a panic attack. If the sea was rough, you could also die at any time of the year, again, either from panic, or being swamped by the waves or smashed down onto the shingle. And you might think you would be all right and die because you have misjudged because you can't read the sea.

Sea bathing is not a trivial activity. This was well understood in the eighteenth century by Dr Johnson and his intellectual circle, who were dedicated sea bathers and came to Brighton regularly; they pursued the activity in order to hone their minds through engaging with the wild forces of nature. They treated the exercise as nothing less than a scientific experiment, in the same spirit as did the pioneering natural philosophers of the seventeenth century who founded the Royal Society. Consequently, those who entered the sea in all weathers were regarded with respect - so much so that anyone who aspired to be a "person of quality" had to be seen in the sea at Brighton. And that is why Brighton came to become Britain's leading resort at the end of the eighteenth century.

Sadly, the sight of bathers in a winter sea today is little more than an occasion for popular bemusement. Yet it remains significant. A recent article in The Observer told the story of a severely autistic boy who was taken surfing, and through this, was drawn out from himself for the first time in his life. If the effect on the mind of engaging with the wild waves were more generally understood, sea bathing would not be regarded as a mere fun activity.

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