Whoever uses an air conditioner is a wimp. As the real heat-waves of summer are upon us, many people in these parts flee indoors and turn on the air conditioner. At home, at work, in a car – wherever you happen to be, an air conditioner is available.

But then you miss the glorious feel of summer. The sting of the sun at noon, the smell of air that has been baked, the sweat that cleans out your pores, the indescribable feel of lying in bed naked at night, floating on the heat and drifting off to sleep. Nothing beats the sensation of going for a run or a ride on a 40 degree day. And if you spend all day blasted by an air conditioner, how can you appreciate the sea on a hot evening?

What happens if the air conditioner breaks down, or if the button gets stuck on hot? Having lost the ability to enjoy the heat, let alone tolerate it, you’re stuffed.

‘Don’t swim after eating or you’ll get stomach cramps and drown.’

‘Wait an hour after eating before swimming’.

These and more are part of the common folklore, repeated ad nauseam to children in summer as they holiday by the beach. So the kids fidget and annoy each other before finally being allowed to swim again after what seems like an eternity. We have it from parents, teachers, and pretty much everyone.

It’s complete rubbish. You may as well say, don’t ride your bicycle after eating, or don’t run after eating, or don’t do anything energetic after eating. You might get a stomach cramp and crash your bike, trip over, or some other dire outcome. Actually, it is much like the myth of the common cold – that if you get a chill you might catch a cold. Like that myth, this one too is usually impervious to facts.

As for me, I have swum plenty of times on a full stomach. Not even a twitch in my gut when I do so.

The other day I suddenly realised that this is the first time in four years that I have been home for a full spring and summer. I’m thoroughly enjoying it: the days have that almost indescribable feel of the first heat of summer; the beaches are some of the best in the world in an unpretentious working town; swimming every day in the ocean; and reading Hegel’s Philosophy of Right and Marx’s critique. What more could you possibly want? There’s no other place quite like it.

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2012 June 045 (Newcastle)b

Some more pictures from our hike yesterday on a section of the Great North Walk - the last part that runs along some of the beaches around here.

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The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has come up with an easy way to measure what they call your fitness age – without having to exhaust yourself on a treadmill (with the same result). They have put the calculator here.

For me, the vital statistics are:


How often do you exercise? Almost every day.

How long is your workout each time? 30 minutes or more.

How hard do your train? I go all out

Age: 52

What does your waistline measure in cm? 80

What is your resting pulse (per minute)? 46

Estimated fitness age: under 20!

Mao was in the habit of swimming across the Changjiang (or Yangtze River), especially in spring and summer. He also liked to swim across the Xiang River in his home province of Hunan. Every now and then his conversations were recorded, such as this one:

People say that the Changjiang is very big. In fact, something that is big is not formidable. You didn’t allow me to swim across, but now I have done it, haven’t I? Isn’t United States imperialism very big? But we stood up to it and so what? Therefore, some big things in the world are in fact not that formidable. (The Writings of Mao Zedong, vol 2, p. 676)

Not bad for a heavy smoker in his 60s.

Nudism was a particularly strong feature of the USSR, as also in East Germany. Lenin was, of course, a nudist, along with Krupskaya and many of the Bolsheviks. But what about Stalin? I have yet to find out more information on that one, but he is a long-term resident of Fox Bay nudist beach in the Crimea:

Stalin at nudist beach Crimea


More information on the range of natural places in Crimea may be found here.

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Never-sinking Lenin


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It takes quite something to beat January in these parts. It’s hot, the beach is irresistable, the days are long, the sun shines. But beyond that January has a distinct feel – the relaxed, mind-is-elsewhere, do-it-next-week feel. It matters little whether you are actually on holiday, having begun some time before Christmas, or whether you are back at ‘work’. For instance:

I walk into  main office and ask about something or other for which I’ve been waiting. The person behind the desk is reading a worn paperback, totally absorbed. She looks up at me blankly and takes quite a while to focus. ‘Oh, I think it’s on order but there’s a bit of a delay. Might be a couple of weeks’.

Someone calls me from Melbourne about a talk and radio stint at the end of the month. He is just back at work, has the dates wrong, forgets my name, has over 280 emails to deal with. ‘Why don’t you just hit mass delete?’ I suggest. ‘If anything is important, you’ll get another email’. ‘What a wonderful idea’, he says.

And then you have the ‘shutdown’. Many places simply shut everything down before Christmas and then open again around epiphany. Computers don’t work, doors are locked, no-one responds to anything. But is this counted as part of your holidays? Not at all all: four weeks holiday are on top of the two-week shutdown.

One of things I love about summer is swimming in the ocean and then letting the salt water dry on my skin. In fact, with a daily swim I don’t bother with any other form of washing – at times for days, if not weeks on end. I’m like a salt shaker and what’s left of my hair gets bleached. But the best part is sniffing my armpits. Why? They smell like the deep blue sea.

Last week the swimming season at the beach’s ocean baths began … and the sea water was  absolutely freezing, like melt-water from the alps. 16 degrees said the sign, but it felt like maybe 12 degrees. All the same, we plunged in, gasping and yelping. After about four laps, the tingling feeling goes, the extremities either retreat or become numb. About 15 minutes later we emerged, a deep shade of purple.

Yet every day, throughout winter, some old fogeys take their constitutional dip: half an hour or more, marching up and down, waist deep, or swimming their laps. How do they manage? I would suggest that at a certain age the nervous system simply packs it in, sensations disappear, and you can plunge into Antarctic waters as though in the tropics. The brain too slows down, since any normal person will find that basic functions are fatally affected if you swim in less than 16 degrees.

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