Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Jonathan Joyce: free spirit; 1971 - 2013

Our swimming family down here in Devon - and indeed further afield - has been thrown into shock by the sudden death of a man we all loved.  Jonathan Joyce died while swimming with a friend  off Beesands. They weren't doing anything out of the ordinary, just training, ploughing up and down parallel to the shore, only 25 metres from the beach, when something happened and Jonathan lost consciousness, and later died.  We still don't know why.   We are all totally devastated.  I want to try and do justice to Jonathan with words; I don't know if it's possible, but here goes.
First impressions: he was tall dark and handsome, with an electric smile and a glow of warmth around him like the Ready Brek advert.  Clad usually in shorts, odd socks and a raggedy woolly hat, he would greet you with open arms before clasping you in an affectionate hug.  In many ways he defied convention but in a creative, positive way, which benefitted others, for example with the company he set up with friends in Edinburgh. (He used to boast about how he never wore a suit - but of course when he did he looked fab). Quite simply, he was just such fun, always up for a laugh, sociable and interested in everyone around him.
Here are a few memories:  Jonathan announcing his new challenge - what he called his 'wildathon' -  cycling to the River Dart from his home in Ashburton, via ridiculously steep hills, then hiding his bike in the bushes before running the two miles to Sharrah Pool where he would swim before doing  the whole thing in reverse.  I have to admit my main reaction to hearing about this was "how very tiring".  Not for Jonathan though.
Next: us swimming in the Mermaid Pool at Burgh Island, and diving off the platform in the middle; with Jonathan choosing to do a spectacular somersault and making an almighty crash as he did so.
Easter Sunday last year: a gorgeous day at Soar Mill Cove, with an Easter egg hunt (with melting eggs) for Finn and my boys. Jonathan was the only man swimming and as we took pictures of the group before going into the water, there were lots of jokes about "Jonathan and his harem".  He then shot off and swam around the Ham Stone about half a mile off shore.
I remember Steph's birthday, celebrated by swimming around Burgh Island, everyone carrying a red balloon.  In order to make this happen Jonathan lugged a huge cylinder onto the beach to blow all the balloons up. 
Then there was the first time I ever swam with Jonathan, one December day at London Bridge in Torquay, where we ventured  into one of the caves.  There was a big swell and we all shrieked with nervous laughter as we were unceremoniously lifted up and then sucked down as the water ebbed and flowed; a very bonding experience (which Jonathan video'd, to hilarious effect) , which I think gets to the heart of why us swimmers seem to become so close.  When you're out there in the sea, you all look out for each other; it is an intensely shared experience.  Jonathan's death seems so cruel and so unfair.  But he, of all people, can truly have been said to have lived life to the full.  Dearest Jonathan, I hope you are enjoying endless swims in the great ocean in the sky.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

The hidden world

My favourite swims are explorations, going around rocks and through channels, never sure what will be around the next corner, getting totally absorbed in the world of the sea.  Great Mattiscombe, down near Start Point, is perfect for this.  First I swam off towards the strange pointed pinnacles to the right of the beach, where I became obsessed by a green optical effect under some of the rocks. Then I swam along the coast, in and out of shimmering lagoons, where red anemones clustered like fat rubies in the white rocks, to a tiny hidden cove filled with white shingle.  Then I found a beautiful cave which lured me in with its haunting light; I floated in the pool inside it looking up at the 'skylight' above and then down, through my goggles,  at the swaying shingle below.  Magical.


Saturday, 1 June 2013

The sacred stone ceremony

Anna, one of my most treasured and regular swimming companions, is a district nurse and hears all sorts of stories about Dartmoor from her patients.  One old chap told her how, as a boy, he and his friends, when swimming in the Dart, used to like using boulders to sink themselves to the river bed.  The method: first you find a pleasing  boulder; then you stand, poised, with it clasped to your chest; you then bend forward and let it pull you down; finally you place the boulder on the bottom with a satisfying 'chink'.   This is something we've taken to doing, and without getting too "Totnes" about it, it feels rather special, like an offering to the river, or a prayer.  A few days ago I said goodbye to my beautiful mother for the last time, and so we went to the Dart where we all offered stones for her.