IT’S the middle of March and the sea is five degrees.

Under the Government’s new restrictions to fight the outbreak of coronavirus, we are all only allowed to take exercise once a day.

Mine, today, is open water swimming.

There is also a decent amount of blustering down at the seaside - deserted except for dog-walkers glancing in disbelief my way.

It’s mainly because I have just taken off my coat and am heading, in a swimming costume, into the sea for an icy dip. As you do.

I have swum in the sea before but never any earlier than April and then only during an unseasonably warm period, or wearing a wetsuit.

Which, make no mistake, would still be chilly.

But here I am, allowing Mat to convince me it is a good idea.

I believe him because he is a qualified swimming teacher and unerringly enthusiastic about getting out in the fresh air, at one with nature, and having a dip all year round.

He was tutored by double World and Olympic medal-winner Keri-Anne Payne and is captain of the Red Caps open Water Swimming Team based in Chalkwell, Southend.

And certainly credits it with having changed his own life, firmly believing it can do the same for others.

Mat hasn’t always been a swimming teacher but this is clearly what he was born to do.

Halstead Gazette:

Having worked in the City for many years, he hit rock bottom and for a time was dependent on drink and drugs.

Clean and sober for more than five years, he got out of the City and re-trained as an electrician and “found” the sea.

He entered into an open water swim for Havens Hospice - completed while on crutches having suffered a serious injury and from there his love affair with the sea continued to grow.

More and more people responded to the groups he set up on social media, inviting like minded cold water swimmers to meet up for a swim and after a while Mat started to think about the possibility of turning it into his full time job and training as a swimming teacher.

He now splits his time between coaching in the open air and teaching in a swimming pool when they re-open when the pandemic is over.

Don’t be fooled by his wetsuit - he doesn’t have it when swimming on his own but would basically die of hypothermia if he didn’t wear it during the many, many hours he is stood coaching in the sea.

Never tiring of discussing the benefits of the pastime, not least the positive impact of being outside and at one with nature can have on your mental health.

Who else could be so persuasive as to convince me, a fairly confident swimmer but unsporty and unprepared, to walk into the freezing cold North Sea.

Such is his calming and encouraging approach, it actually never crosses my mind to turn back.

Yes, I can confirm it was absolutely freezing cold, like little slivers of glass landing on me actually, but I probably got used to it quicker than the days I am stood waist deep at Frinton with the sun blaring down and a small child splashing me relentlessly.

Once in, I am soon being put through my paces.

It is all going, well, swimmingly in fact, until Mat suggests I put my whole head under the water.

This feels like the worst ice cream headache you have ever had or putting your face into a bowl of ice cubes. It is possibly the only part so far I am not so keen on.

I could have stayed in longer than the 13 minutes I manage, actually quite a long time in cold water terms.

Someone with less upholstery than myself, to put it delicately, would probably be in there less time. (I knew it would come in useful at some point.)

The longer you are in, the longer the recovery time once out.

I am a bit numb at first, heading swiftly to the hut to get dressed and warm up.

Open water swimming might not be for everyone but one thing the North Sea does have on its side - there is no chance of infecting or being infected by the terrible plague blighting our planet.