Hot Curries and Cold Swims

A Hot Date

Many years ago, when I had less beard and even less sense, I was on a date at a curry house in town.

The waiter asked for my order, and big-balls ego-teenager Liam ordered a phall, the hottest curry on the menu.

At this point in my life, the hottest curry I had ever eaten was a korma. I didn’t even like spicy food.

The reasoning behind ordering ladlefuls of lava?

A) This will impress the girl sitting opposite me!

B) It cannot be that hot, surely, you just have to put on a brave face.

This peculiar kind of stupidity seems unique to teenage males.

Spoiler alert! Neither Reason A nor Reason B held true.

The red-coloured, red-hot Ruby Murray arrives.

I eat my first fiery forkful. It is my last.

Before I have the opportunity to taste anything, my mouth is seared with an intensity of palate-pain I have never experienced before.

My face goes as red as the curry, breaking out in beads of sweat.

My eyes begin to water and my nose begins to flow involuntarily.

So much pain. Keep straight face. When will pain stop.

The fact that my beetroot face, eyes and nose are all leaking apace has not evaded my date, who for some reason looks upon my self-inflicted pain with compassion more than disgust.

Curries: Easy Does It

Presently, I bloody love a hot curry.

My love for hot curries has absolutely nothing to do with that write-off of a date.

I was in Goa, some time after this traumatic curry, at a beach-hut serving fresh fish caught in the ocean just opposite the hut, hauled up the beach by the fishermen every morning.

After explaining that I don’t like hot and spicy at all, at all, I ordered a Goan fish curry.

The waiter returned with a beautiful, colourful and immensely appetising dish.

I tuck in, and I’m instantly written-off.

The waiter, a really friendly fellow, asked me how my meal was. So sorry, there’s been a mistake, I said I don’t like it hot. I can’t even eat the darn thing.

Turns out, this was the Goan version of “not hot” – to me, “inedibly scorching”.

So from then on, the friendly Goan waiter took me under his wing, starting me off with “no heat” – to me, “bloody hot” – slowly bumping up the heat, mixing up the meals as the days went by, until two weeks later, I could not only suffer some heat, but actually enjoy it.

I learned that the intensity of heat and spice actually unlocked new flavours, if you gradually tuned your tastebuds to tolerate it. You just have to go in gradually, incrementally upping the intensity, rather than flying headfirst into the deep end. Lest you get burned.

A Tuned Palate

Two years ago this month, my winter sea-swimming buddy Luke celebrated his birthday by going for a swim at Portelet Beach.

Our friend Matt turned up, with absolutely zero intention of swimming, wrapped up warmly in his car as Luke and I, already in our bathers, bounced around the carpark doing burpees and shadow-boxing.

Matt looked at us, with a pained disbelief, asking, “What is wrong with you?!”

That same Matt cycled out to Bordeaux to meet me for a dip recently, with the wind howling and waves rolling into the harbour.

I reminded him of Luke’s birthday dip at Portelet.

“Whatever was wrong with us then, that’s wrong with you now!”

Matt and I then swam out through the chop to Tommy Rocque, clambered up and jumped off, swam back to the pier and played about in the waves for a few more minutes before getting out.

Matt has swam every day this year.

Swimming: Easy Does It

Had Matt thrown himself in with Luke and I at Portelet Beach, he would surely have frozen, and had a similar kind of traumatic temperature shock as I had with with my curry date.

That birthday dip at Portelet Beach, that was a phall. You can’t go bowling into a phall all guns blazing, nor can you go into a mid-winter sea-swim, without being well acquainted with that kind of extreme. Aside from being uncomfortable and unenjoyable to the uninitiated, it can be hazardous and unsafe.

Matt started kayaking, dipping and jumping regularly last summer, but did not stop when the weather began to turn. He started with the summer madras, bumped up his tolerance with the autumn vindaloo, and has ended up tackling phalls on the daily throughout the depth of winter – without finding it cold.

A couple of winters ago, Luke and I forcibly woke up our friend Ben for an early morning dip. I will never forget the noise he made after taking the plunge.

Ben gasped so deeply he made a shrieking sound, before leaping out of the water and racing back to his clothes, leaving Luke and I bobbing around in the water.

I remember that one morning so well partly because of the sound Ben made sucking in air; so visceral, so totally involuntary. More so, for the thought, “Were he underwater, he would have sucked in the sea and not the air.”

Ben tried to eat a phall when his palate was tuned to a korma.

As it happens, Ben did something similar to Matt last summer, and began swimming and jumping regularly, through autumn, then into winter.

Last year, Ben was backflipping into the sea and staying there for a swim afterwards, in the same sea temperature that plunged him into shock just two winters ago.

Becoming Seaworthy

Luke started regular dipping about three years ago. He joined me for a dip at Cobo at the end of that summer, when the sea is at its warmest. Afterwards, he was shivering.

Swimming almost daily, the time he spent shivering gradually shortened as the time he spent swimming gradually lengthened, all the while the sea temperature dropping.

That winter, Luke and I would dip every morning around dawn, often just as the sun was rising. This made for some aesthetically epic but cold-to-the-bone swims. Luke reminded me recently we would often be shivering after those dips, which were usually under 10 minutes.

This season, we have become post-graduate students of the cold.

My swims range between 10 and 25 minutes, yet I rarely shiver. After this morning’s swim, a half-mile around Bordeaux bay in 7.2 degree water, though my fingers went white, I didn’t shiver. The extent to which I felt cold afterwards lasted maybe half an hour, equal to the time spent swimming and getting changed.

Cold is an Attitude

“It’s colder out than in!”

I used to think that this was an inane cliche people repeat to try and convince themselves that the water isn’t cold, a self-soothing platitude, even.

Anyone who braved the briney last week will know otherwise.

The wind whipped the warmth out of my extremities before I had even reached the water. Getting into the sea felt like an escape from the cold, not a plunge into it. Proof that cold is all relative, eh? My body’s reaction to getting into 8 degree water when it is below freezing out of it was, “Ahhhh, that’s better.”

“Cold is just an attitude, man!” I say to those who shiver at the thought of a wintry sea swim. “Cold is just a conspiracy of the energy companies and Dry Robe salespeople.”

This, of course, is a joke. Partly, anyhow.

Obviously, it is colder in winter than it is in summer.

But if you capitulate to the cold, coop up indoors, avoid it at all costs, stop sea-swimming and outdoors-ing until springtime, of course you will feel the cold when you do come to face it.

The danger is going to the other extreme, ordering a phall right off the bat. You have to ease into it, a madras before a vindaloo, a vindaloo before a phall.

Now, on a serious note: if this ramble has taught you anything, it should be the following.

I am praying that we can order a curry this week.

2 thoughts on “Hot Curries and Cold Swims

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