One of the glories of Sydney is its pools - pronounced purls - I mean swimming pearls. Almost every metropolitan beach has a concrete pool in the rocks at its southern or northern end, sometimes at both ends; every suburb, just about, has its municipal pool; when you fly into Sydney on a clear day it can seem that likewise there is an oblong or crescent of aqua in every backyard.

I grew up swimming in rivers and I still think river swimming is better than any other kind ... the softness of the water, the mysteries of depth and flow, the allure of the other bank ... but I love the sea too, particularly beaches where you can body surf. As kids we used to go to the baths a lot, especially when in the mid-sixties we moved to Greytown in the Wairarapa, where there was a strong swimming culture. One of my sisters became a national champion and we all attended the weekly swimming competitions held on Tuesday nights, not just for the excitement of racing but also because you could sit up the back under a blanket with whoever you wanted to so long as she wanted to sit with you.

After I left school I didn't swim, except very occasionally at the beach, for about twelve years. Just forgot all about it. Spent my time in pubs and theatres and nightclubs, abandoning all forms of exercise, all sport too, which I'd once been passionate about. Until I got to Sydney. Part of it was realising what a twisted wreck my body was becoming, how clotted with tar my lungs were, how sludgy in mind I felt; but a bigger part was my friend Lud. He was the one who inducted me into the Sydney swimming culture, partly by example, partly by subtle exhortation.

In those days he used to swim at the Sydney University pool and told me how to go about getting a badge for myself. Can't remember now how we worked this. Neither of us had any formal connection with the place, apart from the casual work I sometimes did as a stagehand at the Seymour Centre. Anyway, Lud's habit was to start the day with a smoke, usually of black putty, the Afghani hash that was so plentiful then, after which he'd go up to the pool and swim oh, I don't know, 60 laps? A lap is 50 metres, so 60 is what, 3 kilometres? He had a beautiful, languid, powerful stroke and could go, it seemed, for ever. I learned lap-swimming in imitation of him.

We used to speculate on the possibility that the Afghani hash was opiated; what isn't in doubt is that, after about 20 (Lud always said for him it was during the 17th) laps of an Olympic pool, you will get a rush of the body's natural opiate, endorphin. This, along with the near complete aeration of muscular tissue, will have you walking away from the pool after your swim feeling like one of the blessed: ambling across the rocking ground as over a deck above gentle seas, heart pumping large and slow, the sights and smells and sounds of the day entering your senses with a kind of velvety insinuation that is intensely pleasurable.

I got to know other Sydney pools: The Boy Charlton in Woolloomooloo, part salt, part fresh, where all the Gays (used to?) go, the North Sydney pool with its elaborate stucco murals of crustaceans and dolphins and the big face of Luna Park peering over the top, were probably my favourites. Later on, I used to go out to Shark Bay in Neilson Park and swim around the inside perimeter of the shark net there. Once we moved up to Pearl Beach, I became a committed sea swimmer.

Then I lost it ... to me, tobacco and swimming are alternative lung uses and, while I'm doing one, I won't generally be doing the other. And since last year in Auckland, when I became addicted to cigars and then, later, up in S.E. Asia, replaced that addiction with addiction to the kretek, the Indonesian clove cigarette, it's been tobacco tobacco tobacco ... until today. Today I finally dragged myself off to the Leichhardt Aquatic Centre and managed 13 rather halting laps of the Olympic pool there. Not enough to get an endorphin high, but enough to feel physically about 100 percent better. Mentally too perhaps ... I don't know.

Beautiful pool ... might describe it another day. Course it's brought Lud strongly back into my mind. He had one of the best intellects I ever encountered. His bent was philosophic, I guess; multi-talented, he was curiously without ambition. He was a hedonist, though not in any frivolous sense. Formidable chess player. Loved his Scotch. Born in Scotland, raised in the Pacific Islands - Fiji, Samoa, Papua Nuigini - educated in New Zealand, he sometimes seemed like a hybrid pakeha-polynesian. He had a special feeling for the works of Malcolm Lowry. And a vast medical and scientific knowledge gathered from his reading. Was fascinated with how things worked: he used to like taking his cameras and pushbikes apart and putting them back together again. For a brief season he painted, producing rainbow coloured abstracts; then stopped. The last few years of his working life he repaired photocopiers and then fax machines. He made me a fax machine out of bits and pieces cannibalised along the way. If he'd lived he would probably have gone further into computer technology.

Lud was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease about, what, five years ago? Maybe more. He died from it late in 2002, in Byron Bay. MND is a cruel disease. It affects all muscular tissues in the body but leaves the mind, the vision and the sexual function intact. The last time I saw Lud, the disease was so advanced he had trouble enunciating. Nevertheless, he was re-reading Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and was acute enough to correct me when I said presbyoptia instead of presbyopia, a word I learned from him. The night he slipped away the big abstract of his I have, inside a heavy wooden map frame he scored from the GPO while working there, came crashing down off the wall in the hallway.

There's no remedy for the early death of a friend, no answer to the questions you ask about what they might have done if things had turned out differently, or what you might have done differently in the time you had with them. In the face of existential angst, hedonism, at least the way Lud practised it, does have one advantage: it means the life you live, evanescent as it is, is full of pleasures fully indulged. That part of pleasure which invokes memory is perhaps denied the dead, along with all other pleasures; but only once you are dead. Until then, you can lap your way into an endorphin daze as often as you like; and, after today, I intend to do just that.

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