It was just before three o’clock on Sunday morning in Tunisia when the 18-year-old swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui won a gold medal in the 400 metre freestyle at the Tokyo Olympics. But it seemed as if the whole of Tunisia had stayed up to watch. Videos of his coach’s celebration dance and his cheering family went viral. Hafnaoui wasn’t expected to win. He had barely qualified for the race and was competing in an outside lane, which may put swimmers at a slight physical disadvantage (from the waves splashing off the wall) as well as a psychological one. He also comes from a country of empty swimming pools.
I was stung by a jellyfish the other week. Actually, I was stung by two jellyfish in the space of three days. But the first one must have been a tiddler, because after the initial panic – is my leg going numb? am I going to drown? – and slatherings of hydrocortisone the reaction quickly subsided. Pathetic, I thought. Not much more than a transparent floating squishy stinging nettle. Two days later I was splashing happily about a few dozen yards from another Aeolian beach when someone snuck up from below and pressed a red hot skillet against my wrist. Flailing away, I got stung again on my thigh. By the time I got back to the beach most of my forearm had swollen up, and my wrist was decorated with raised white welts, quite elegant in their way, like variations by Picasso on the Nike swoosh.