When Alison and I spent five years coaching in Florida we got to know Suzanne and her partner Stewart. They were in their seventies and regular members of our Masters Squad. What a life they had lived. Both had been married before. Stewart to a French Countess. Some of her family had lost their heads to the guillotine during the French Revolution. Stewart had run his wife’s large estate in central France until his divorce saw him return to the United States. Prior to his French adventures he had fought in WW2 with the Italian resistance behind German lines. He was badly wounded and was awarded an American purple heart.

Susanne was Florida Palm Beach royalty. She belonged to the best clubs and was on familiar terms with America’s mega-rich, names like Kennedy and Madoff. In fact Madoff asked Suzanne if she could ask one of her closest friends if it would be okay for Madoff to park his multi-million dollar yacht at her friend’s jetty. Madoff’s jetty was too small. In a sign of things to come, terms were agreed, and the boat was parked. Significantly however, Madoff forgot to send his cheque.  

Stewart and Suzanne frequently asked Alison and me to dinner at the Palm Beach Sailfish Club. That had to be seen to be believed. There was more money in that room than the New Zealand GDP. At one Christmas lunch Suzanne said that if the room had been a country, it could earn an invitation to the G10 financial summit. She was probably right. The Yacht Club food was unbelievable. Buckets, big buckets, of caviar imported from Russia. Steak, roast beef, every imaginable European wine including many thousand-dollar bottles of French champagne. Ordered by Stewart in perfect French, of course.

I hate to think what the cost of those dinners must have been. Stewart and Suzanne never seemed to care, and certainly never mentioned price. But they were fun evenings. Which brings me to the subject of New Zealand’s climate.

Suzanne visited New Zealand and had fallen in love with the place. She stayed in Dunedin for six months, immersed in the city’s art world. I only heard her express one negative comment about New Zealand.  

“New Zealand is a cold place.” she said.  

In comparison to south Florida, New Zealand is a cold place.

Many Swimwatch readers will know I coach a Syrian/New Zealand swimmer Eyad Masoud. I met him during my year coaching in Saudi Arabia. Now if anyone should understand Suzanne’s opinion of the New Zealand climate, it has to be Eyad. All his life has been spent in a country where temperatures above 50c are common. The day he arrived in New Zealand was 40c colder than that.

I think he has probably adjusted by now. But any lingering doubts were swept away today. Because today New Zealand was a cold place. There was a healthy covering of snow over the South Island. A strong southerly wind, straight from the Antarctic left Auckland shivering, but without the Christmas postcard scenery. It was the perfect day to turn on the heater and enjoy the COVID lockdown.

But not my Syrian mate. He’s an intelligent chap. He gets marks in his engineering degree that I never dreamed of. But, in spite of that intellectual advantage he clearly can’t work out there is a difference between a Jeddah beach on the Red Sea and Takapuna Beach on a cold day in October. Now, that is strange. You see for three years in Jeddah Eyad studied MARINE engineering. I know that has all to do with the inside of a ship but, Jeddah and Takapuna? There is a difference.

Especially when Eyad’s father, who is a doctor, and a caring parent told his son to warn me about going out in the mid-day Jeddah sun. My ancestry had not equipped me to handle the extreme heat. It seems his son is in need of the same advice, but in reverse. Because you see, yesterday Eyad called me to let me know that lockdown got too much. He had swum two kilometers in the sea somewhere in Auckland harbor.

Seals, walruses and penguins I can understand. But a human being, from Saudi Arabia? That is beyond belief. Perhaps the lockdown has got too much. Even though I was impressed I’m going to have a word with his father. His son needs to learn, the word Antarctica means, “Stay warm at home.”  

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