Wildly Wonderful: JJ
I don’t want to write about JJ with a sad heart. He was pure joy; effervescent as a Double Dart cascade or a stormy sea; wild and wonderful and kind and clever and affectionate, and always up for anything. He was my friend and I adored him, a universal sentiment among our ever-expanding group of wild swimmers. JJ made us all feel special, he had time and hugs for everyone, always.
This is a series of fleeting impressions from an Atlantic Ocean of memories. Thinking of JJ I hear his laughter echoing from the walls of a sea cave, I feel zings of adrenaline and the whoosh of a wave as we career through a sea arch having egged each other on, I see a blurred, ghostly form in a tiny tent as he shivers after an hour in Crazy Well Pool during his acclimatisation for a Channel relay. I see him bobbing and photographing Shags and Cormorants around the back of Thatcher Rock. I see his silly, yak-chewed hat and crazy jacuzzi hair, corkscrewing and tipped with mini-dreads from constant immersion in wild water. I see the sun shining and glinting off the sea as he smiles. I watch him with his beloved boys, tactile and funny and deeply interested.
JJ had a hand-knitted hippy heart veined with high-tech neoprene through which digital technology pulsed. We were the Japanese Tourists, obsessively snapping each other and everyone else with our underwater cameras. He was warmth in wind-whipped winter water, and love, and amber depths in a moorland river. He was a ‘sinker’ – a muscled and super-fit type who couldn’t bear to carry the extra couple of kilos of blubber he needed in order for his legs to float; he was an amazing swimmer who flew through wild water like an eel with a jet engine. How we laughed at his expensive buoyancy shorts that added extra buns and quads onto his already legendary body. He took it all with good grace.
Walking alongside me on dry land, chatting as we climbed back up a cliff, or along the track through Holne Woods, JJ was quietly-spoken and thoughtful, or playful and funny, or challenging, and always interesting. He’d move among the group, spending time with everyone, head bent forward in concentration, discussing advanced swim training methods, or interactive smart phone apps for kids with diabetes, or telling a funny story, or explaining an idea for a swim, or this week’s twist to his famous gin-soaked lemon drizzle cake recipe. Honey also loved JJ and his cakes, having stolen several hunks thanks to his habit of leaving them on the ground.
Standing next to him in my swimsuit at Burgh Island as he pulled his wetsuit on (the one with the gold sleeves that he so loved) I laughingly called JJ a wimp. He hesitated. Queenie piped up from behind; ‘She’s got bigger balls than you have!’ He removed the suit and swam in trunks. He once signed up for an extreme endurance swim after I joked to him on Facebook that he ought to be able to do it since he had a whole 5 days to recover from the 10k he was entered for; I added a winking face, but as he pointed out, I should have known he’d have to go for it.
I haven’t swum since JJ died one endless week ago, and when I do I know I’ll glimpse him just over the next wave, camera dangling from his belt, attempting to smile through frozen lips. He’ll shoot past like a meteorite in Sharrah Pool, and I’ll hear his voice in the cascade. JJ thank you for sharing so many adventures, and thank you for being a part of my life for the two years or so that I had the honour to know you.
Jonathan Joyce, wild swimmer and bloody wonderful bloke, 1971-2013
As ever you have exactly the right words Lynne. Lxx
Thank you Lynne, for this, such special words for a very special person. Never forgotten xxx Alex
Thank you, agonising…xx
having painted such a wonderful portrait of your friend, is it just me who is left wondering why he has died in, what appears to be, such perfect health?
Jane JJ died in the sea at Beesands last week. We don’t know why.
We walked in at Wembury on the Monday hand in hand Lynne…..Pauline said ‘there is not enough sea in the World to wash our blues away’, and she was right but being in the sea made me feel somehow closer to our amazing friend. Thank you for making we weep again….these tears are needed. Much love xhx
Thank you Helen, big love xx
After a week where it’s been hard to find a smile your words and photos of JJ have been very lovely to read. Simon (his friend & fellow director at Storm)
Thank you Simon, he’s so missed by us all, and I was acutely aware that he had another life in Edinburgh – glad you liked the blog, it wasn’t easy to do him justice. Much love.
Terribly sad news, but this is a wonderful tribute to him.
Thank you, Lynne. Jx
I’m a ‘newbie’ wild swimmer, and met JJ at my first swim at Thurlestone a few weeks ago. He had time for me. He gave me a talk on Anticipatory Thermogenesis, which boggled my brain at the time, but made perfect sense once home and ‘Googled’. He didn’t laugh at me because I couldn’t swim more than a few yards as I’d never swum in a wetsuit before; he told me that it was possible and I’d master it in the end. I didn’t know him, I wish I had, but I know that your tribute to him is spot on. Linda x
Thank you Linda – you’ve just summed up why we loved him so xx
What a beautifully written tribute to your friend. The sudden death of someone so young and fit must have been a dreadful shock to his family and friends, not least to the swimmer who was with him at the time. Wishing you the healing time will bring.
Thank you x
Lynne, he was the same all of his life. I look forward to meeting you at the funeral, Jonathan has good friends, great to know he is so appreciated. As his (grown up) little sister I have lots of memories of a young fella but big sparse gaps over our adult lives, just touching in a few times a year. He was a lovely uncle to my daughter with all the interested attention and fun that you describe here. Thanks for sharing and filling in some of the gaps. xxx
Lisa it means so much to me that you liked the tribute – I didn’t know where to start, or where to finish. I’m looking forward to meeting you too. Love xxxx
Thank you x
A lovely tribute. I didn’t know JJ, although I’m sure our paths crossed in the car park or on the beach at Bigbury sometime. Your post has very much made me wish I had known him though. I’m so sorry you lost such a good friend.
Thank you, you’d have loved him too! x
Well, Lynne as you know I didn’t know your friend but I feel for you all as I write this…he seemed such a character and a lovely guy… you have written some lovely words..much love Edith x
Thank you Edith, he was indeed. Hope you’re ok, lots of love xxxx
I wish I had met him. He sounds like a real good ‘un.
He was, I know I only know you from blogs and FB, but I suspect you would have got on very well indeed! x
I met jj when I hooked up with the wild swimmer’s on Torquay seafront. I swam with him for a short while in the 10 deg sea in my wetsuit!! I was freezing!!! He was in trunks!!! Brrrrrrrr,brave man I thought and all the other wild swimmers. Anyway I now love sea swimming,still in my wetsuit but dam I enjoy
the sea,just like he lived for so much. I swam in the sea on the 22nd of this month an said my respect for jj. I knew him a short while but big respect for him and RIP,ur in my thoughts fish man. David
my respect for jj
Thanks David, once seen, never forgotten!
I never met his but I feel as if I have after reading your beautiful writing. Love to all the survivors of this calamity. Alan White.
We were in the same class at Halliford School twenty five years ago. He was remarkable then. Very sad news.
I have only today learned of Jonathan’s death from the Bristol University alumni magazine.
I knew him in Bristol in 1994 – I was a first year undergrad and although he was in his final year of a maths degree, we were on the same astrophysics course. We became friends and I was struck by his extreme warmth and joie de vivre. Going round for dinner once at his student house I remember him showing me his pet corn snake and discussing cosmology with him until the early hours whilst drinking whisky.
Although we lost touch after he graduated, I have often thought of his larger than life persona and his great friendly smile.
It has made me very sad to hear of his death.
Dear Julian so sorry you had to hear about Jonathan’s death second hand. We all miss him…x