new year's day. kids at their grandmother's. last holiday ever, maybe. shitty white cell count. still no-one on the stem cell register. i should be inside with kathy, but the wind's coming in off the sea and i'm guessing there aren't too many germs over the atlantic. christ, it's good to be outside. dragon's breath and pine-needles. down into little coves then up again into dappled forest-light. the world empty till i snake down to a beach below trebah where fifty, sixty people are gathered for the yearly icicle swim: a hundred yards out into the freezing estuary, round the lifeboat and back. whippety outdoor guys in wetsuits, sturdy shopgirls in purple bikinis and lard, father christmas in speedos. a brazier stands on the high-water line of weed and flotsam, fifty orange eyes punched into a dustbin, sparks rising like birds in the smoke. what the hell. i strip down to my shorts and shiver on the big pebbles till the gun goes and we hobble into the surf. cold like hammers and ice-cream headaches. someone actually screams. a minute, two minutes and i'm rounding the anchor-chain. i can no longer feel my legs. there are faint cheers coming from the beach as the faster swimmers make land. over the top of the little waves i look towards the open sea and realise that there are two directions i can take.