The smell of the sea.

I remember someone (I can´t recall who) wistfully describing that one of their favourite things about travelling was learning how a new place smelt. When you first land, and step out of the air that the plane has been holding and recycling, smelling of the country you left, and into the new air of the country you have arrived in.

Here in Spain, in Barcelona El Prat airport, it is the scent of heat, a musty, but comforting smell. It is of heat, and of the dirt of the sidewalk, the dust in the air. It is the smell of a place that is so close to sea and so close to mountains you feel like you can travel to either side in less than a day.

For me, Cornwall smells like the sea, full of salt that a days walk along cliffs beside it will leave you with the taste of it in your mouth, the smell of it on your skin.

Brighton and the places I lived around it smelt clean, rather unfocused as a smell for me, not strongly enough of the sea to compare to cornwall, but perhaps best in the autumn, when the city and towns smelt of clean, crisp change.

(And, often, the wisp of a cigerette filled with weed).

I always prefer the smell of the Cornish sea over any other though.

In England, the sea is never far from my heart, in fact this is the furthest I have ever lived from it. In Cornwall I was a walk shorter than two minutes from being beside the water, viewing the sunrise and sunset upon the waves night after night from my kitchen window.

Living near Brighton my flat walked out onto the seafront.

I could be out and facing the sea in a minute.

Which I adored for summertime runs, and winter time ones too. (A stormy sea is a beautiful thing to run beside when the rain coats your body as you pace through the night, you feel the silence of the night, as though you are one, experiencing the moment together).

And Barcelona seafront is a world away from the beaches of my childhood.

Cornish beaches of pebbles and bolders, the only glimpse of sand when the tide is far out enough, and the torture of running over pebbles to make it out to the relief of soft sand to caress your bare, sore feet.

And water so cold it knocks the breath out of you.

That you have to fight with yourself over every centimeter higher you wade in, until you force yourself to duck under, eyes scrunched tight and holding your nose. The salt water stinging your eyes as you burst up for air.
Your skin pink and tingling with the cold, the smell of the sea inside your nose.

I remember swimming under a grey sky with my brother, in t-shirts and our underwear, a fit of childish madness urging us to jump into frozen waters, when it started raining, and we learnt together that when you are shoulders deep in the winter sea, the rain that falls on you feels warm.

The funny thing is, as I write that I remember me and my brother both state that we are not strong swimmers, or cannot swim.
In our childhood there was no space for teaching us to ride a bike, or swim, or anything that it seems everyone I´ve ever known was taught to do.

He has a son now, and a powerful, incredible wife who took me to the pool nearby when she was heavily pregnant, and her and a friend of hers who was also pregnant, would swim laps upon laps as I tried to swim more than just from one edge to the other.

Being heavily asthmatic does not help this, but being incredibly stubborn does.

In this moment I can recall how it felt to climb out of the pool afterwards, my little lungs straining, but feeling freer the instant they were not being pushed upon by water, the feel of my skin coated in the clorine stink of the pool, in my nose, my eyes and the string like feel of my peroxide dyed hair that I would joke about turning green everytime we changed beforehand.

She wants to take their son swimming, but my brother, stubborn perhaps in an awareness of how hard it is to learn as an adult, skills everyone else learnt as a child, is unwilling to fully participate. He is stronger in other skills, and the child will learn different ones from both. I am proud of this sister of mine with a body so powerful that she ran a half marathon 5 months after his birth, that she can kickbox as a champion and beat my brother even with his frame looming over her. She is an inspiration to behold. What a wonderful mother to have.

I loved the tiny changing rooms where you would try to dry one foot and balance enough to get it into a sock, through a trouser leg and into a shoe without touching the wet floor beneath.

And the corridor as you left, floor to ceiling with mirrors, a single shelf along one side with old school hairdriers waiting to blow away the risk of walking out into cold weather with cold hair.

I had come here as a teenager with a friend who feverishly wanted to teach me to swim.

I would hold my breath under water as she counted, trying to force the fear of drowning from me. She was so enthused, a little slip of a fish in the water that she changed my fear of water into something else.

We would stay in there for hours, until our skin was wrinkled and pruned, rush to pull our clothes back on, talking excitedly to each other over the tops of cubicle doors, and stand, gossiping excitedly in the way only teenage girls can do about nothing, as we blowdried our hair carelessly (just enough to put it up into lazy buns) then strolled out into the crisp air, and down the long main road to buy chips in a cone, extra salt and extra vinegar, the taste of chlorine in our mouths tinting the memories so now whenever I go swimming in a chlorine pool, the moment I step out into fresh air, I crave the salt and tang of chip shop chips.


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