Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 28 July 2012

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Well, I found the Adulis restaurant and my online date was there. She didn’t muck about, and neither for once did I, and when we parted at noon the next day, I was very tired. So I was relieved to be checking in later at a spa hotel on the north Cornish coast called the Scarlet, to write a travel piece about their two-day organic wine-tasting break called ‘Naturally into wine’. It was the perfect opportunity to recuperate, I imagined. A gentle swim, perhaps, a stroll on the beach, then a glass or two of Peasant’s Varooka in the evening to see me out.

A cheerful woman called Cherie checked me in. Should she put me down for the beach yoga class, or perhaps the transformational dancing, before breakfast? ‘Transformational dancing!’ I said. ‘Before breakfast!’ ‘It’s brilliant,’ she said. ‘Oh, go on, then,’ I said, fool that I am. 

Horribly early next morning, then, I shook hands with Amanda, who was leading it, and with Bonny from Melbourne, who worked at the hotel. Bonny had never done any transformational dancing before either. Amanda led us barefoot into the silent, sunlit meditation room. Three tea lights representing our campfire flickered in their holders on the smooth wood floor. We sat around these, on cushions, cross-legged, facing each other. Closing our eyes under Amanda’s instruction, we visualised what our perfect lives would be like, then we breathed our visions slowly and deeply into reality. Then we lay down on our backs and Amanda invited us to feel the benevolence of the living planet beneath us while she purified the air with a shamanic rattle. Then we stood up and faced each other; Amanda slid a CD into her boom box; and we started to dance. 

The music was Native American-style chanting to a hypnotic techno drumbeat with psychedelic guitar riffs, increasing in tempo and intensity, until finally, after a solid hour of it, Amanda flung open the doors to the open sky, whacked up the volume to maximum, and we were pumping and gyrating with our arms waving above our heads like three raving lunatics. Apart from cajoling us by frenetic example through every last barrier of decorum (and trilling with demonic exuberance as she succeeded), Amanda’s only spoken intervention was to lead us in the chant: ‘Fire! Fire! Take me higher!’ 

I wouldn’t have believed I could dance like that without a good drink (at the very least) inside me, but I did, and I did indeed feel transformed afterwards. It was a fantastic way to start the day. Then I went down to breakfast. 

After breakfast the phone rang in my room. Would I like to go ‘wild swimming’, said Cherie, cheerful as ever. The tide was just right, right now, and wild swimming was absolutely brilliant, she said. I was totally shattered after our three-handed early-morning rave. But given the current extent of health and safety regulations, I surmised that wild swimming was in reality probably nothing more than a safe, gentle, wet-suited swim in the sea with a surfing dude, still stoned from the night before, paddling alongside on a surf ski. ‘Oh, go on, then,’ I said. 

Forty-five minutes later I was poised uncertainly, with occasional attacks of outright terror, on the lip of a barnacled rock, in front of me a boiling, crashing ocean, and this Johnny bloke, his head entirely smothered in sun-protection cream, was anxiously indicating that when I was ready I should follow him. I watched him leap in and set off with quick, small strokes, which, to begin with, seemed to have little or no effect on his direction of travel, because the ocean was too busy raising him up ten feet then dropping him down fifteen. With my heart in my mouth I slid into the sea and after bobbing helplessly for a bit, I swam very slowly, and with great expenditure of energy, behind him to a far-distant, mussel-clad rock, and from there to another point further along the bay. It was truly wonderful to be in the ocean and feel its power. Easily the best thing I’d done since the transformational dancing two hours ago. But it was utterly exhausting, and to the extent that I wanted to die. 

After about an hour we rested by treading water inside a rock cistern while being dramatically lifted and dropped as the sea flooded in and receded. ‘Do you surf, Johnny?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘I do.’ Eventually I wheedled out of him the fact that he was only Johnny Fryer, the current British national surfing champion. 

When I got back to the hotel, Cherie said that, if I liked, I could take Jasper, the brindle hotel whippet, out for his walk on the beach. ‘If it’s all right with you, Cherie, darling,’ I said, ‘I think I might just go and have a little lie-down for a moment.’