Ten Lessons From Travelling Alone In Dublin

Wednesday 6th February, Southampton Airport.

I was sat in Costa with a cup of tea clamped between my shaky hands, staring out at 6am darkness, and one word flooding my sleep deprived brain.

Alone.

I had never done it before. Never travelled solo, never left the UK without family or friends. Without safety in numbers. Without backup. Without someone to talk to, to confide in, to hold my hand during turbulence, to take the piss out of my imminent-death-fearing tears. (Defying gravity is just asking for trouble, right?)

But there I was. All alone.

And I was about to learn some things.

*

My first lesson: I can fly without crying. There and back my stomach was filled with butterflies, but my eyes were empty of death-fearing tears. Which is a positive development. (Side note: I did almost have a panic attack in the toilets after arriving at Dublin Airport, but I managed to rein it in. Which I guess is positive?)

Second lesson: the Irish are super friendly. I was never far from a conversation, whether it was about rugby, the right way to make a cup of tea, books, Irish history, Dorset, doughnut unicorns, the new Mary Poppins film, Brexit *sobs*, or even just the weather. It was very rare that I actually felt alone alone.

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The Spire in Dublin

Third lesson: if in doubt, go on a guided walking tour. There was a part of me that really didn’t want to look like a tourist – despite absolutely, definitely, completely-and-utterly being a tourist – but the walking tour was one of the best things I did. Not only did I learn a lot about Dublin, I also met another solo traveller and we spent the afternoon charity shopping, chatting, and photographing our way around the city. I went on this tour and can highly recommend it if you’re ever in Dublin.

Fourth lesson: I don’t like Guinness. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t, but I just wanted to make sure. (I did finish the whole pint though.)

Fifth lesson: things are expensive in Dublin. A teeny tiny hot chocolate will set you back over €3; a packet of Cadbury mini eggs is €1.99 *throws hands into the air in disgusted disbelief*; or you can buy two creme eggs for the bargain price of €1.70. (All the important things, obviously.) I suffered severe Dairy Milk withdrawal symptoms over the three days I was there.

Sixth lesson: the middle of a superking bed is the bestest, cosiest, snug-as-a-bug-in-a-ruggliest place ever to read a book. It’s just a shame I ended up hating the book I read (The Queen of Bloody Everything by Joanna Nadin. I was more than happy to leave it behind at the hotel).

Seventh lesson: keeping track of key cards/passports/tickets/money is stressful. I can’t even count the number of times I thought I’d lost my bus pass and all the mini heart attacks that followed that thought.

Hotel mirror selfie, Dublin, February 2019.
Now you see me, now you don’t

Eighth lesson: when you’re travelling alone, there’s no-one to judge your questionable dietary choices. My breakfast on Thursday was a hazelnut praline doughnut and my breakfast on Friday was a massive chocolate muffin, just because I could. You can judge me all you want, but I’ve eaten them now. So there. *sticks out tongue*

Ninth lesson: (seeing as we’re on the subject of unhealthy food) ice cream in February is totally a good idea. A friend recommended a visit to Murphys Ice Cream, so I stopped off there on Friday afternoon, even though my core body temperature was roughly -40°C. The ice cream was amazing and all the staff were so lovely (see lesson number two).

Tenth and most important lesson: 99.99% of people are inherently kind and awesome. My flight home got cancelled because of Storm Erik. After having a little cry at the Flybe desk and trying to figure out where the hell Southend was in relation to Dorset (I used to think I was good at geography, but I officially take that thought back), I joined a painfully long and completely stationary queue to rearrange my flight and ended up chatting to a few of my fellow flight cancellees. It turned out that one of them – an amazing lady/guardian angel called Sue – lived near my home town, and after figuring out we could catch a flight to Exeter, she offered me a lift home with her. I know the general consensus is that you should never get in a car with strangers, but not only was I 100% sure Sue wouldn’t kidnap me, I’d reached a point of tiredness where I was 100% willing to be kidnapped so long as I was vaguely near my house. Sue didn’t kidnap me, and I will always be grateful to her for keeping me calm and looking after me (and the non-kidnapping). Thank you, Sue!

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Storm Erik through an airport window

I can’t wait to go back and explore more of the city, and more of Ireland too.

Just maybe when there’s less stormy flying weather.

31/10/18

So, Halloween last year was an interesting one for me and my family.

It wasn’t spooky and it wasn’t ghostly, but it was scary.

This post explains why.

I started it as a submission idea for a magazine and decided I didn’t want to let it go. So here it is in all its messy glory. It’s basically a stream-of-consciousness letter to my Mum, right from the bottom of my topsy-turvy heart and brain. It may also shine a bit more light on my Moomin Medicine post from November.

And I’m happy to report that, although there are ups and downs, she is very much on the mend.

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Mama Pippin

It’s not right. You. Here.

I sit on the bed and stare at my purple-blue feet that are too cold and too hot all at the same time.

I want to look at you, but you scare me with your smallness and your illness. I want to look at you, but I don’t want you to know that I’m afraid. You know my face too well for it to lie to you. It’s half your face, after all.

I lean back on the hard mattress and scrunch the thin blue sheets between my fingers. In my head a nurse comes over – a Miss Trunchbull style nurse – all stern and angry. The imaginary nurse tells me to get off the bed, tells me to leave the hospital, tells me never to come back.

But outside my head, nothing happens. No-one tells me off, no-one asks me to leave.

I stay on the bed that’s yours but not yours.

The side of the not-yours bed cuts deep into the backs of my thighs and it cuts deep into my heart. I shuffle, wriggle, squirm from both pains.

I talk about work and how it’s been busy. I look at Dad. I talk about the kittens, how they miss you. I look at Dad. I talk about the chickens, about breakfasts and dinners, about the Great British Bake Off and how Rahul has won, about the weather and how it’s cold today. I look at Dad.

I do steal glances at you with my half-yours eyes. I try to make them lie to you, but the look on your face lets me know I’ve failed. You’re not fooled – never have been – by my lying, half-yours eyes.

Dad talks. He’s so much better at this than I am. He knows what to say, knows how to be. I drum my fingers against the sparkly white edge of your bed and I stare at the clipboard hanging from the end of it. Note after note after note.

I wish I had my notebook.

You know the one – it’s the one filled with all the inane and absurd worries that my brain spits out and clings to so desperately, so hopelessly. The one my therapist has told me to keep. The one I chitter-chattered to you about for weeks and weeks, joking – hurting – about all the ridiculous and horrible scenarios my mind invents, all the while not knowing the ridiculous, horrible scenario real life had invented for you. I could fill all the pages of that notebook now. But where do I even start, Mum?

I’m worried about everything.

Why did your surgery take so much longer than expected? What happened? I’m worried that the surgeons might have left something in you – a scalpel, a glove, a piece of cotton wool. It happens sometimes, so why not this time? And I’m worried – so, so worried – about what they might not have taken out. What happens if they didn’t get some of the cancer? What if they couldn’t reach it all? Or, worse, what if they just forgot a bit? I haven’t read about that happening, but I’m sure it’s something that could happen – and if it can happen maybe it has happened.

I’m worried about germs hiding everywhere and I’m worried about all the germs on me. I’m worried that I kissed you on the cheek with all my germs; that I’m sitting on your bed with all my germs; that I should never have come here with all my germs.

Most of all – and this one eats me up alive – I’m worried that I won’t be able to look after you, that I won’t be able to repay all your years of looking after me. How can I be strong like you? How can I cope like you would when it feels like all my insides are going to bubble up and burn out of my chest?

The list goes on and on and on.

Dad’s still talking but now he’s talking to me, looking at me. I come around.

It’s time to leave.

Mum, why don’t you to come with us too? You shouldn’t be here and none of this should be happening, so why don’t we just pretend that it’s not? That will work, won’t it? That will make it go away.

Maybe not.

I stand. I lie badly with my eyes. I kiss you with my germs. I’m desperate to go and I’m desperate to stay. This not-yours bed has stolen all of earth’s gravity and I don’t want to go back to falling through the empty space of home without you.

Time. To. Leave.

Dad and I walk away. A thousand gravity-cords stretch and pop and snap at my all-yours heart, ready to pull me back, ready to stop my hot-cold feet in their tracks. But away we carry on walking.

It’s not right, Mum. You. There.

Come home.

Camera Shy

Like a lot of people, I’m not a huge fan of having my photo taken.

The sight of a camera lens pointing in my direction is enough to send a juggernaut of hyper self-conscious panic right through my heart. The words “say cheeeeeeese” are enough to make me want to sink into the ground and be eaten by worms. And opening the camera on my phone only to find my confused, freckly, selfie-unready face blinking back at me? Well, that’s enough to make me want to throw my phone into the sea pour les poissons*.

I’m both fascinated and completely repulsed by myself in photos. (Me, me, me, I, I, I, self, self, self. Sorry.)

For about ten years I barely let anyone take a photo of me. Photographic evidence of my existence in that time is minimal. As minimal as I could get away with. And the evidence that does exist is pained and reluctant, through gritted teenage teeth. I think everyone goes through a stage like this, long or short. (I’m kind of curious whether people felt like this way back in the day, sitting for a family painting? If someone could pleeeease invent time travel, because I’d like to go back and ask. Pretty please.) My stage just happened to be a very very very long stage.

So imagine my surprise when I found a photo from that time, taken a few weeks after my fourteenth birthday, where I looked… relaxed. At peace with the lens. Zen with the flash. Okay with the camera.

Granted, that’s probably because I thought the photo had already been taken and that the danger had passed.

But I’m taking it as a small victory anyway.

For me, the best things about the photo are the memories that come with it. Memories so so clear and sparkly. Devon. July. Running. Laughing. Brothers, sister, mother. Twinkling lights and a shushing, shiny sea.

I can walk right back into the blue and feel it all the way through my veins.

But there is one thing about the photo that I would change, even if that wish to change it is futile.

I would stick two fingers right-royally up at the voice hiding behind my forehead that told me I was all wrong, the voice that told me (tells me) I was (that I am) hideous, disgusting, fat, ugly, gross.

I wasn’t. I’m not.

Nobody is.

And none of that stuff matters anyway.

We are all so so so much more than our bodies and our faces, no matter what those bodies or faces happen to look like.

We are all so so so worthy of having our pictures taken and not giving a flying fuck of how we appear in that split second.

So please. If you’re out there and camera shy like me, stick up those metaphorical fingers and tell that voice to piss the fuck off. Smile and grin and laugh and don’t care. Be at peace with the flash. Stare right down the barrel of the lens. Challenge that camera to a duel.

And in the wise, wise words of Moominpappa (I’m sorry, I just can’t help myself):

‘The world is full of great and wonderful things for those who are ready for them.’

Don’t let that voice make you think you aren’t worthy, whether it’s worthy of a photo or worthy of a life well lived.

Be ready.

Because life is alway saying cheeeeeeese.

blurry

*there’s a story behind “pour les poissons” involving a ten euro note, a gust of wind, and a sweet but matter-of-fact elderly French man in Collioure. I promise I’m not just being pretentious à la Fawlty Towers.

Moomin Medicine

Last night, five minutes after turning out the light, I started to cry.

Not a delicate, ethereal, movie-style cry, but a full on ugly and snotty cry that made me feel like all the water in my body was cascading out of my eyes and nose.

The cry started for a lot a lot of reasons – and I came up with more and more reasons as I went along (thank you, brain!) – but somewhere down the melodramatic, tear sodden line I actually managed to have a good idea.

Read the Moomins.

So, in between disgustingly hideous sobs, I hauled myself back out of bed, switched back on the light, and found some Moomin medicine*.

It came in the form of Moominpappa at Sea, and in one chapter I was cured.

Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson.

First, I laughed.

“I’m going to stay here,” said Moominpappa. “I shall stand guard over it. I’ll stay here all night if necessary.”

“Do you really think,” Moominmamma began. Then she just said, “Yes. That’s very good of you. One never knows what will happen with moss.”

No. One never really does. Moss is tricky like that.

Then I nodded like a congregation at church.

“It can take a terrible long time before things sort themselves out.”

Hallelujah, praise be.

And then I found myself wondering if Tove Jansson had broken directly into my brain.

“…only nice thoughts came into his head, thoughts of islands in the sea, and great changes taking place in all their lives.”

It’s good to cry sometimes. All of us need a good old fashioned tear-fest every now and then. And maybe, seeing as last night was Halloween, I was simply exorcising a few emotional ghosts.

But I was certainly grateful for my Moomin medicine.

*side effects may include: laughing, smiling, marvelling, a warm happy feeling in your heart, and forgetting all your woes.

Comfort Book Food

Not only is autumn the perfect excuse to curl up with a book, it’s the perfect excuse for indulging in a cheeky bit of comfort food. So with autumn in full golden, leafy swing and with the final of  The Great British Bake Off this Tuesday *sobs dramatically* all the stars felt aligned for me to get out the mixing bowl, raid the cupboard, and make something yummy.

I headed over to The Little Library Café – a brilliant website full of recipes inspired by the food in books – for ideas. Sure enough, I found a recipe that I not only had the ingredients for, but was inspired by a book (well, series) I had read (well, listened to) as a child.

My sister and I used to borrow cassette tapes of Milly Molly Mandy from the library and listen to them before bed, and just the mention of those three ‘m’s is enough to bring back a flood of guilt at the late fines my mum had to pay when I lost one of the tape sets. She actually ended up having to buy them off the library in the end. Oops.

Sorry mum.

Library fines and childhood guilt aside, Milly Molly Mandy also brings back happy memories of being tucked up in bed, snug as a bug in a rug, listening and laughing and wondering at all her little adventures in the quaint English countryside.

Now it brings back yummy memories.

Chocolate? Love it. Ginger? Love it. Chocolate and ginger all smooshed together in a cake? That right there is a recipe for true and everlasting love.

The recipe itself was really easy to follow (although I did manage to mess up the tin size because I always have to do something at least a bit wrong. It meant I ended up with a slightly flat cake, but it also meant there was extra room for a thick layer of icing. Every cloud). I added chocolate chips to the batter* and I made a mascarpone and chocolate icing rather than butter icing, because the cake mix was quite sugary and I thought the creaminess of the mascarpone would balance out the treaclyness of the sponge (it did).

It’s safe to say that I’ll be staying away from the bathroom scales for the next few weeks, but the deliciousness was worth it.

Now I just have to emotionally prepare myself for Tuesday.

The cake will probably help.

Homemade chocolate and ginger cake, baked using a recipe from The Little Library Cafe.

*the more I write about chocolate, the more I realise I should probably go on some sort of detox. This makes my soul hurt.

20/10/18

The morning is darkness and mist and my bleary-eyed reflection in the kitchen window. It’s desperate sips of tea and wet hair against my neck. It’s toast and make-up, butterflies and tickets, more butterflies and a backpack filled with things I may or may not need. It’s Bournemouth station in a navy dawn and goosebumps, breaths that steam and smiles all round as the coach doors open. It’s a sunrise over the New Forest and fog puddles between orangey trees. It’s reading a book and trying to sleep, nibbling chocolate and pins and needles.

Oxford is bright and bustling and grand under a big blue sky. It’s Dr Martens and markets and bicycles that ring-a-ling. It’s pigeons that fly right at me, pigeons that stare at me, pigeons that hobble and hop and look unwell and that break my messy heart. Note to self: they don’t let unwell, or even completely well, pigeons on coaches. Note to self, note to self, note to self. No pigeons.

The Ashmolean is stone running up, up, up into the sky and banners that sway in an autumn breeze. It is Spellbound: Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft. It’s glass and steps and museum maps, echoing voices, crumpled tickets and a big big door that leads into a magical dark.

Behind the big big door, I fumble for my notebook and struggle for my pen. I read and scribble, shuffle from cabinet to cabinet, ooh and aah inside my head. Backpacks bump, coats rustle, boots tap tap tap.

Witch in a bottle. Zodiac man. Nativity horoscope. Moon blood. Devil through the ears. Demon Astaroth. Love locks. Certificate of innocence. Lent doll. Poppet curse. Skeleton carriage.

A thousand lightbulbs flicker and pop in my head.

I exit through the gift shop.

The afternoon is wandering and wondering, lost. It’s dreaming spires and falling leaves, crowds and cameras. It’s the Oxford Botanic Gardens and a strange peace burning in my chest. It’s warm conservatories and brick walls with pretty gates, dying petals and glittering trees, skittering squirrels and a man falling from a punt. It’s splashes, laughs, and smiles. It’s a pot of tea and a slice of cake and buying stationery I don’t need. More Dr Martens, more pigeons.

Dreaming spires of Oxford. Autumn view from the Oxford Botanic Garden.
Fairytale view from the Oxford Botanic Gardens.
Gateway in the Oxford Botanic Garden.
Gate goals.

Leaves, wall and path in the Oxford Botanic Gardens. Autumn in Oxford.

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The evening is Google Maps and eyes glued to my phone. It’s relief as things look familiar and tired legs grateful for a seat. It’s fortune telling fish that predict I will fall in love and it’s confusion because that doesn’t sound like me. It’s my head pressed against a window and a bright three-quarters moon, eyes closed and music. It’s messages, ping ping ping, and deciding to go out and get drunk with friends even though it’s late. It’s realising I’m not a proper grown-up.

The night is rum and giggles and stars.

20/10/18

It’s a date I won’t forget.

Unfrequently Asked Questions

Did you know that random question generators totally exist?

Because I didn’t until last week.

But it turns out that they totally – like actually totally – do and they’re quite a lot of fun, even if it’s purely for the novelty factor. I discovered their actual and total existence via the lovely blog Chrikaru Reads, and thought it would be nice to do a slightly less bookish post for what feels like the first time in a while.

There’s still a picture of a book along the way, though. Of course there is.

Here goes.

What is the first thing you notice when meeting someone new? Their eyes. I’m one of those creepy lock n’ stare types, don’t know why, just am (and I’d like to take this moment to apologise to anyone I might have freaked out with my eyeball-centric focus upon meeting them). Clichéd though it is, I really do believe that eyes are teeny-tiny windows to the soul that just happen to also come in a lovely array of colours. And what’s not to like about multicoloured teeny-tiny soul windows?

What is your favourite thing about winter? The moments when your hands are so cold you just have to put them on a loved ones face to let them experience the temperature for themselves. Don’t worry, I get as well as I give (equal and opposite reaction and all that universe karma jazz).

What is something that makes you smile? Maybe it’s childish, but drawing hearts in condensation makes me smile. No mirror/window/cardoor/condensation-coated-surface is safe.

heart drawn in condensation with hand shadow

How did you get your name? Do you know the meaning behind it? Pippin is the nickname given to me by my mum – it’s after the blossom of an apple tree, not the hobbit (although I would be more than happy to be named after a hobbit). I have very fair and freckly skin, so in spring and summer I was mostly found in the shade under the trees in our garden.

LittlePippin

What was the last book you read? Ah, there had to be a book. I recently finished Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon. It’s such a scarily, refreshingly, and brutally honest book about a subject that I think is closer to a lot of people’s hearts than many realise. It’s certainly close to my heart (and head) and I wish I wish I wish I could have read it years ago. Currently, I’m reading and loving How Saints Die by Carmen Marcus.

Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon

What drink do you usually order with your food? You’ve probably realised by now that I’m not a very sophisticated and grown-up lady, so it’s more likely to be a vodka and cola than wine, or a gin and tonic if I’m feeling a bit more fancy.

What is the last dream you remember? I’m not great with dreams. They escape from me, spill out of my ears and nose and eyes and mouth as soon as I wake and leave me to fend for myself in cold, stark reality. I don’t remember them, don’t remember their colours, the people that filled them, or the feelings they invoked. All I tend to remember come morning is the back of my eyelids and the certainty that my alarm has gone off way way way too soon. So the last dream I remember with any clarity is from back in January. I dreamed there was a new room in my house – a very brightly lit bathroom with book-lined walls (of course) and a freshly run, steaming bath. I just stood at the doorway trying to understand how it had got there, afraid and sure something bad was going to happen. I walked round to the old room that the new room should have encroached on, but it was the same shape inside (because obviously dream-rooms don’t have to obey the annoying and kinda cumbersome laws of physics). I went and sat where the new room should have been and listened as someone – who, for some reason, I knew was my mum’s dad (he died twenty-two years before I was born) – climbed the stairs. And then I woke up, scared and sweaty (nice, I know), as the door to the room opened. WEIRD.

It still spooks me and it’s been ten months.

Do you like to sing out loud when no-one else is around? (operatically): YE-ES! *clears throat* Excuse me, sorry. But yes, yes I do. So much. It’s an awful, strange, and kind of alarming noise, but at least it’s only my ears that get hurt.

Do you believe in love at first sight? No, I believe in attraction at first sight.

What is your favourite candy? This is the one question in the universe I can answer with absolute certainty, and it’s also the most boring and predictable answer in the universe. Chocolate. I love it. Dairy Milk is my favourite, but pretty much anything goes (I am aware of how sad and hopeless this makes me sound) so long as it doesn’t have orange in it. Who would be so evil as to put orange in chocolate?

Phew. So there you have it. Random answers to random questions the internet asked me. God, I love the internet.

I used this generator if you want to have a go.

Happy questioning!

Secret Diaries of a Shy Girl

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Top secret ramblings of an angsty teenager.

I found some old notebooks at the weekend and it was a strange and eye-opening experience going through them. The oldest one is from almost ten years ago, from when I was sixteen, and it made me smile, frown, and cringe all at the same time. It’s a bit of a mash up – part diary, part story about an Edwardian suffragette, part sketchbook. You can definitely tell I had been reading lots of classics for my GCSEs from the writing style of the fictional bits, and you can absolutely tell I was a teenager from the diary parts (holy moly, the angst!). And from the sketches, I clearly had an obsession with drawing trees and eyes.

The more recent ones still make me cringe a little, though I’m super happy to report I ditched the faux old-fashioned writing style.

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Moody sixteen-year-old me self-portrait.

I’m so so tempted to get rid of them because the idea of anyone else reading them actually mortifies me down to my gooey and very messy core, but I also know I’ll want to read them again in the future – even if it is just for something to giggle at. It’s nice also, maybe even helpful, to see the progression of my style and my ideas.

So it’s back into hiding they go, ready to embarrass me in another ten years.

Reads – The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

FYI for those who don’t like swearing: there are lots of ‘f’s and ‘u’s and ‘c’s and ‘k’s ahead.

So I have a confession: until last week, I had never ever read a self-help book. Not because I thought I was perfect (trust me when I say that is absolutely the opposite of what I think), but because I was (and am) wary of anything that claims it can change/fix your life. Snake meet oil, oil meet snake.

But 2018 has thrown quite the collection of existential crises at me, and I figured that maybe now was as good a time as any to see what the self-help genre had to offer.

I feel like The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck by Mark Manson was the best book with which to dip my literary toe into the murky self-help waters.

the subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson book review.

Unsurprisingly, I chose this book because there really are some things in my life I hope one day to give much less of a fuck about so I can spend that giving-a-fuck-time on things that are actually beneficial for me to give a fuck about. (Woops, sorry about all the fucks. Aaand sorry again.)

These are some of my main impressions of the book:

  • I love the way it’s written. It’s blunt and eloquent. No matter how hard my mum tried to raise me otherwise, I absolutely love love love swearing. Granted, not pointless, inappropriately timed and/or set swearing. But when it’s used to emphasize meaning or if it’s used creatively or just portrays how people talk in everyday life, then I’m all for it. I don’t accept the argument that swearing always lowers the tone. This book inevitably has a lot of fucks in it, but it didn’t feel like too many. It just felt converstaional.
  • I don’t agree with everything in it. There were some conclusions the author drew that felt a little simplistic and some arguments that seemed to double back on themselves. But I enjoyed going over the ideas and questions that were raised by these points all the same.
  • I love the way it embraces failure. Maybe that’s just because I fail at a lot of things a lot of the time and it’s good to know I’m not alone in my general life failings. But I think it’s mostly because I’ve actually seen how failing “well” – in my own life and in my friends’ and families’ lives – has been the greatest teacher. Phew, sorry if that all sounds a bit new-agey.

Basically, the book is full of common sense and hope – as well as many linguistical fucks – and there are plenty of lessons to be learned from it. I will certainly be keeping my copy of it near to hand, ready and waiting to wave frantically at any other existential crises that threaten to rear their ugly heads.

*walks away from keyboard to wash mouth out with soap*

Salty Bones

Man O' War bay by Durdle Door, Dorset, July 2018.
Man O’ War cove by Durdle Door.

The sun is burning hot and the sea shimmers a thousand beautiful blues.

We pick our way down a washed-away jumble of steps and baked mud, beyond a sign that says not to go further. The beach is toasty under my soles and tingly around my toes.

We set up camp half way round the bay and I strip quickly down to my bikini, head straight to the water because if I don’t get in now I never will.

The water is sharp and cold, a shock, a relief, icy as it slicks across my goose-bumpled skin. It cloaks me, hides me. I float, I swim, paddle, sit, stand, wriggle till I’m soaked through to my blood, salty down to my bones.

And I stay longer and longer, a fear bubbling under my skin until the cold forces me to ignore the fear.

Getting out is the worst part because my head hates my body, even though my body doesn’t really deserve to be hated.

Somewhere lost – very lost – inside me, I know that.

The short walk back to our spot makes me, ridiculously, want to cry.

The towel is my saviour, a shroud, a thin paisley-strewn defence against eyes that will surely hate my body too if they glimpse it.

A book is my saviour too, releases me from my self.

Butterflies dance over pebbles, brush across my knees. They save me as well.

And the skylarks, they save me. They sing and sing, cheep and cheep, and they lull me away from the thoughts that circle round like vultures desperate to pick apart, literally, my flesh.

As we head back, back up those jumbly stairs, back up a very hilly hill, I try to love my legs, love every sinew, every muscle, every bit of cellulite as every one of them helps me back to the car, but I struggle to undo over half-a-life’s worth of muddled thinking. Of being. Of knowing. Believing.

How can going for a swim be so hard?