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