Give me all of the seas. The still teal around silver-beached islands, where the far-out horizon is a thin line of barely perceptible colour change. A Rothko. Give me the choppy waters of a Turner, peaks of spittle-white masquerading as icebergs. I want the deep navy with the surface wobble of jelly; or the entirely transparent water that laps at the shore, transforming my normal-sized feet into milky giants.
Give me all of the seas and let me swim in them. Cold water under December clouds that turns me Christmas-red when wading back out, feeling as though I could take on the world – and have just taken on a part of it, in fact. Floating on my back, in warm water, in a hot country, dunking my head to wash away sweat on the upper lip. Swivelling gently around for the fun of it, like a kebab.
For swimmers, each opportunity has its draw. I rather like the chlorine smell of indoor pools, the sounds echoing off the walls. The bored-looking parents sitting on their phones on the benches, half-returning the waves of kids with blue-and-white sponge floats. I enjoy the community spirit of outdoor lidos, seeing the same old faces. I have given the ducks in swimmable ponds names.
But as trivia board games will tell us, 70% of the Earth’s surface is water, and, of that, 97% is the ocean. Every time we tiptoe towards it, bodies heavy with the added weight of wet sand, or picking out the easiest route via pebbles, and plunge in, we become part of its ecosystem.
We can see the fish flit back and forth, and jellyfish, which I am scared of, thanks to a documentary I once saw about the sting of the portuguese man o’ war (I mean, seriously, the name alone). But, for the most part, the only things that distract me – briefly – from the pleasures of the sea are slippery, mossy rocks, and seaweed pulling my ankles into an embrace.
Paddling, snorkelling, swimming, splashing: it is, without wanting to sound mawkish, a real gift, the sea. The “locked” part of landlocked countries seems to speak to this. “Locked” – a lack of the freedom of the ocean – seems appropriate, rather than, say, “sea-less”, which sounds neutral.
One time, as a teen, in that awkward stage of not realising everyone is too concerned with their own insecurities to pay even a second’s attention to yours, I went on a beach holiday and not once did I get in the sea. I think of that now, and I want to chuck me in: let the healing salt work its magic, wash it all away.