A storm was brewing as ominous rain clouds painted the sky black all along the coast, from Peterhead to Footdee, at Aberdeen beach.
A bitter wind whipped our faces as my dog and I stared across Aberdeen bay.
Something caught our eye: two bright orange things were bobbing about on the waves. I thought it was just the usual jetsam and flotsam.
We both squinted a little harder.
There was something flapping under what I could now see were a pair of orange life jackets, side by side. In that moment between one wave sweeping in, and another lining up to follow, two pairs of arms were rising and falling in rhythm.
My fevered journalist’s imagination was at full stretch: had they jumped overboard from a sinking boat?
They were bobbing closer to the shoreline.
I spotted a pile of clothes near the rocks; maybe there was a connection.
I realised I was staring at two women swimmers steadily making progress towards this very spot – and they might actually be enjoying themselves.
Such an inspiration
A couple of minutes later, they rose from the waves and I half-expected to see two young super-athletes stride forward majestically.
Not exactly Ursula Andress with James Bond stood gawping nearby as in Dr No, which, incidentally, celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. In a white bikini holding a dagger in one hand and shells in the other, she made cinematic history.
I know what you’re thinking: I remember more detail than I should, but there was something even more memorable unfolding here.
As the first swimmer emerged onto the sand like an Olympic triathlete, something struck me: she was at least my age. Probably a pensioner, and her swimming partner was also of a certain vintage.
I was full of admiration. What an inspiration for others – not just old codgers like me, but people of any age.
They didn’t even wear wetsuits; just normal swimwear with bare legs and arms exposed to the bitter elements.
I wondered if the Special Boat Service accepted over-60s applicants.
600 metres of sea swimming a day
There was something heartwarming about watching them, particularly as we are now escaping Covid’s grim embrace.
They say it’s healthy for older folk like me to keep stretching their body and mind. I do my best, but all I achieve is walking my dog and trying to see how many bacon sandwiches I can eat in a week.
I have been thinking of having yet another serious stab at chess to sharpen my mind. But, Queen’s Gambit is not as heroic as plunging into the freezing North Sea on a winter’s day.
I plucked up the courage to speak with these superwomen, or rather shout down from the promenade against a howling wind.
Just to make sure there wasn’t an outside chance they were survivors from a shipwreck I shouted: “Where have you come from?” They looked a bit taken aback by the absurdity of my question.
They explained how they swam 600 metres every day just for the fun of it; more in summer. I gasped – was that nearly a third of a mile? And they said it was four degrees in the sea.
“Why do you do it?” I shouted back, stupidly. Their reply was lost as the westerly wind whipped their words away in the direction of Denmark. But they smiled patiently, so I don’t think they were offended.
Do we take the plunge on masks?
I turned away and pulled up my Covid mask to keep my nose warm against the wind. But the mask became caught in my collar and the elastic snapped.
Masks are a signal to the forgetful that we are not totally out of the woods
That’s another mask I must buy. But, hang on, we’ve reached March 21 – the very date the Scottish Government was supposed to abolish our legal obligation to wear them.
Faced with swimming in uncharted waters, do we just take the plunge and go back to the carefree – or careless – good old unmasked days? Tempting, but asking for trouble.
Restrictions might go away – despite a delay over dropping masks until next month – but Covid isn’t: pandemic morphs into endemic, yet remains part of life, for the vulnerable especially. So should mask-wearing, in certain places.
Masks are a signal to the forgetful that we are not totally out of the woods. Wary visitors from the Far East were doing this way before Covid, after earlier viruses.
So, no offence, but I shall stay masked wherever possible.
Swimmers have to be very self-aware and conscious about their breathing; I hope others act the same in everyday situations with Covid still lurking over our shoulders.
David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of The Press and Journal