There are easier ways to spend five pounds.
This morning, the Sparkly One and I arose - a little shakily, a little blearily and not a little reluctantly - at 6am, dashed the sleep from our eyes, and left the house, setting course for Heron Lake. We were off to do some Open Water Swimming in preparation for this year's Blenheim Triathlon.
For me, this was a chance to face my fears and splash about in deep water - something I haven't done since, oh, ever, not including time wearing a buoyancy compensator and some form of self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. Oh, and the 3 nervous minutes I spent in the Pacific Ocean off the Galapagos Islands, and a few minutes in a shark cage off New Zealand.
Basically, being in water deeper than I am tall is a big thing for me. And, not being a big thing myself, this includes quite a lot of water.
The Sparkly One is, by contrast, resolutely at home in the water. She has swum in lakes, rivers, oceans and seas. For her, it was a chance to test out her stroke in the wetsuit she'll be wearing for the tri. And keep an eye on me, no doubt - she is, after all, a Lifesaver.
We arrived a little before 7am, slipping the cold-looking chap at the gate a couple of Lady Godivas (or perhaps that's Ladies Godiva, as per Surgeons General?). The early morning noise of the M25 was already in full swing as we pulled into the car park and nervously got our gear together. Although grey and miserable, the morning was more or less dry, and not too cold - the car reported 15 degrees on the Celsius scale - as we struggled into our wetsuits, caps and goggles.
Then it was down the boardwalk and into the water. The first few steps were gentle enough - easing gingerly down the ramp into water barely knee-deep. And cold! My bare feet knew about it immediately - klaxons and alarms reporting a Cold Water Alert. But higher up the wetsuit was doing its job and based solely on the situation report from my legs, I wouldn't have known I was standing in cold water.
Having taken the first leap, so to speak, I gingerly lowered myself into the water up to the waist and administered the Jaffle McSnaffle Crotch Test of Water Temperature. This is a tried and true method for determing whether a particular spot is temperate enough for bathing: if the body can be lowered into the water up to the waist - completely submerging the crotch - without a resulting "Oooooooooooh!" then the temperature is acceptable. On this occasion, I was pleased to discover that the wetsuit was also doing its job admirably, and the Test was passed.
With that, there was nothing else to do except take the literal plunge into deeper water. And so off I went, splashing and swimming out into the dark water, acclimatising, trying not to think too hard about what I was doing. The little voice at the back of my brain - you know the one - was beginning to warm up with some comments about the depth of the water and the distance from the safety of the shore, and the panic did start to rise briefly. But I was able to ignore it, and before long I realised that I was comfortable in the water and Doing Fine.
When I finally judged the moment right to stop and look back - by way of confirming just how far I was from safety - I was not more than 200 metres from shore, and knew I could make it back with ease. So much so that I was able to swim on a little while, with mounting nonchalance.
And with that, our experiment was largely concluded, and all that was left was for us to head back for the certain welcome of dry land. On the way back, I even stuck my face in the water (Bearded One, please note!) for a stroke or five, and was rewarded with a murky green darkness. How dull. Honestly, I don't see what all the fuss is about.
On reflection I have to say that it was not so very cold. I mean, certainly it was cold - just not so cold as fear and uncertainty would have me imagine. By way of example, I was easily able to find the Old Chap as I dressed, so it really can't have been that cold in the water.
And that was very much that: dried and dressed we sallied forth, heading for warm showers, clean clothes, and large cups of fresh coffee. There may be easier ways to spend five pounds sterling, but this was both satisfying and rewarding. A lift to the confidence, a spring in the step, decent bragging rights ("Guess what I did before breakfast...").
And an unexpected bonus: a flash of blue, a distinctively-shaped streak above the water's surface; a kingfisher finding breakfast. Magic.