Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Windermere Revisited

Sunday was our 23rd wedding anniversary. We arranged to have two nights at the Low Wood Hotel on Windermere - site of the Great North Swim in September. It was wonderful to go back and spend time reminiscing about the event, gazing at the course, sitting at the end of the jetty, wondering if I had the nerve to jump back in and steal a swim (I'd packed the wetsuits, just in case...) I dangled my foot in the water. It was bone-gnawingly chilly (12c), but I knew I had to get in a lake somehow or other while we were here...(And by the way, the hotel is lovely too!)

Yesterday we went on a fact
-finding mission to check out places to park up when we come back to swim next spring. First off, a failed attempt to get into White Moss car park between Grasmere and Rydal Water - absolutely rammed as it's half-term this week, so we headed up to Loughrigg Tarn instead. Remarkably, without any problem, we found a place to park at the side of the road, then took a leisurely stroll, to size up the tarn. My dissatisfaction at not being equipped to jump in heightened. By the time we got back to White Moss it was less crowded, so we set off round Rydal Water. Gradually, the plan emerged - we determined to come back and have an early morning dip.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Thought for the Day (3)

Today - 50x25m lengths in 35 minutes. How about this enigmatic statement:
All good writing is swimming underwater and holding your breath.
F. Scott Fitzgerald
I'll meditate on that tomorrow morning.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Bermuda Vacation

Just back from Monday morning wake-up splash. 20 x 50m lengths in 32 minutes in my new red swimsuit, and a new idea for my poetry assignment, so a good start to the week. 
When I was a kid I loved to play the board game Careers - in fact, I found a pre-loved set a few years ago on ebay and it's become a favourite with my family too. Each player starts by deciding on a personal formula which is a mixture of cash, fame and happiness. The purpose of the game is to make your way round the board, accumulating ££ (cash), **(fame) and hearts (happiness) to match your winning formula in the various careers on offer. One feature of the game is the Bermuda Vacation which yields a high quota of hearts. I never really got it when I was a kid - the Bermuda Vacation seemed a bit boring compared with the other activities on offer. 
Anyhoo, I've just read about Bermuda's Round the Sound swim and suddenly it all makes perfect sense. The swim takes place every October in Harrington Sound, Bermuda and has swims for all levels of ability and endurance, from 0.8k right through to 10k for a tougher challenge. It's been going for the past 19 years and although it's a long haul from the UK, it ticks all my boxes, combining clear, sparkling turquoisey blue waters with the great outdoors. Beautiful fish and plants make keeping the eyes open underwater an attractive option too. I'll need to have stopped working to be free to do it in October.....or maybe I could go out there at another time of year and swim the course on my own........
Meanwhile back in the real world, I'll need a few more £££ in the bank to fund the adventure - or a lottery win - or perhaps an advantageous card coming my way from the good old Community Chest? 

Friday, 16 October 2009

My own private pool

This afternoon I felt like cutting loose, sneaking a crazy break from routine. I headed down to the 25m pool where I used to swim before I got addicted to 50m laps. I love this pool, it's featured in my life for the last 20 odd years so it has a cosy familiarity. All the signs were promising for a quiet swim - tumbleweed blowing through the car park, empty changing room and a dry floor - always such a luxury! When I walked out to the pool, sure enough, there were only two other swimmers and a lifeguard lounging on his umpire stool. Hurrah! A length or two of breaststroke, then I got straight down to crawl and it was fantastic. After 50metre lengths, 25m feels so neat and achievable, not at all intimidating anymore. Ten minutes later the other swimmers got out and the whole pool was mine, mine, mine! 

Among wild swimmers, indoor pools often get bad press, there's a disdain for swimming in chlorinated boxes. I agree that swimming outdoors is something else, but I love the sparkling, turquoisey blueness of indoor pools, the predictable smells, the contained regularity and the comforting neatness of the tiles and the lines on the floor. 

I worked hard, but 64 laps flew by today. I was so dosed up with endorphins by the time I left that I couldn't resist buying a new swimsuit which had caught my eye on the way in. It was half the price of my old favourite which is starting to stretch a bit, so as I'm spending so much time in the water of late, I thought - why not?

(There wasn't really any tumbleweed in the car park, that was poetic licence).

Saturday, 10 October 2009

That's my boy!!!

Arrived at the pool at 7.15 anticipating that joyful mile. The camera screens behind reception showed a virtually empty pool. What? Whoopee! 
'Swimming's in the diving pool this morning.' 
Oh. So that's why the 50m pool's traffic free. 
As we trudged to the diving pool we could see the slow lane was jammed. Like anxious dreams where I arrive at a pool only to find it's two feet deep and frantic with swimmers, seething like tadpoles. Well, the reality today wasn't quite that bad. We decided to do 40 lengths and quit. I swooped straight across into the medium lane which was also busy. A man in front of me was on his back floating a leisurely float. So now, a dilemma - stay here and stoke up my grumpy old woman, or get ideas above my station and duck into one of the two fast lanes, both of which had only three occupants? Dammit, I ducked! A mile was back on the cards! Woohoo!! 
I'd settled by 15. At that point I thought - challenging though this is, it's a breeze compared to what I was up to on this day 15 years ago. Giving birth to our son!! We'd planned a water birth at home. That couldn't happen as he was alternately breech and transverse through the latter half of the pregnancy. Miraculously, by 42 weeks he'd done a tumble turn and got himself into a sensible position for a good push-off into the world! By that stage I was committed to a hospital delivery and when pains started at 7am, I just wanted an epidural in as fast as possible. Which is exactly what happened! I was hooked up to a trace with a printer rattling out black zigzag lines. Intense, hard contractions that I was overjoyed not to feel - Twentieth Century Girl! At 2.03pm our beautiful baby boy (9.4lbs) arrived! He wants to make an appearance on my blog so here he is. Happy Birthday! 
(And today I swam 70x25 - which is 10 lengths short of 2K!!)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Joy to the world

This morning was even darker than Tuesday and winter's not started yet. 
Another grim 50 First Dates/Groundhog Day moment, so as I walk to the poolside, I ask myself 
-do you like this or not? 
-I like it. 
As I put my foot in the water, I say 
-you can be miserable or joyful, what's it to be? 
-Joyful. I push off. So I am. Which isn't to say that it wasn't hard work - it was. But today I was smiling, that's the difference. 
I didn't get a rhythm till lap 15, but I did 22, so I had 7 laps of (relatively) easy slicing through the water. Unfortunately, midweek there isn't time to do a mile. Another 10 lengths would have been the joyful kind. But hey ho! Hopefully they will be joyful on Saturday morning when the wheel is reinvented and I start all over again.

By the time we come out, the sky is fantastic and rosy pink. When I walk our dog on the meadows, the hedgerows are dripping with dew, sunshine pours through gaps in the trees like saints are standing on the clouds overhead, steam rises up off the brook. 
I took photos on my phone but can't get them onto my laptop as the techy teenager's in bed, so instead here's a joyful picture of Grasmere in the summer when we were swimming around the Lake District in preparation for the big one. These golden moments are the reward for getting up early and persevering when it's dark.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Poetry in Motion

Yesterday we were in the pool early and it was a hard slog. When we leave the house now, the mornings are dark, the streets empty and a voice in my head says, 'this is madness, get back to bed. Who do you think you are?!' I feel comforted to see other people out and about, lights in bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, other people starting up their days. 

I undermine myself in a similar way when I get up to write in the early morning. A part of me whispers, 'this is dangerous, where will it lead, forget it and stay asleep'.
It's Tuesday night now - that swim seems like an age ago and I miss it. My next scheduled swim is Thursday morning, I can't wait. Tonight I started back at Poetry School. So now the summer's over, class has begun, the weekly assignment is set and the Muse can come back. I was glad to sense her presence beside me in the passenger seat on my drive home tonight.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Every post a winning post

It's like a fairytale. All the confidence, power and rhythm that I establish by the end of a swim have inevitably disappeared by next morning when I hit the pool again. The lengths have stopped swimming themselves and it's like Groundhog Day, or 50 First Dates. Back at square one and facing the same barriers that were there yesterday.....and the day before.....and the day before.....

.....This morning was no different. The alarm went off a bit later but we were in the pool by 7.35, ploughing up the 50 metre lengths. Although the barriers feel the same, I know I have made important changes, which I don't want to discount. Hence the title of this post, one of my dad's wise sayings. For instance, I'm now freestyling and enjoying it. Six - no - three months ago I couldn't have predicted that. I'm swimming three, sometimes four times each week, and missing it on the days when I don't get to a pool. I've lost six pounds in weight and feel stronger and healthier. So what, if it takes me 12 or 15 laps to get settled in the water. Perhaps the next bit of progress will be to see that number decrease as time goes on.

We're having a bit of a swimfest weekend. Last night we watched 'The Swimmer' starring Burt Lancaster. Made in the late 60's, it's strange and compelling, quite political in its way, awkward, but maybe it's meant to be. It's based on a short story by John Cheever and like all good short stories, it leaves you with questions rather than answers. And speaking of short stories, I've received my copy of the latest Mslexia, announcing their short story competition. 2,200 words by January. I've been percolating an idea for some time now - guess what - it involves swimming! Now, maybe this deadline will give me the incentive to develop it.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Nantwich Brine Pool

After not swimming at Hathersage last weekend, I checked around to see if any other outdoor pools are still open. I discovered that Nantwich Brine Pool isn't due to hibernate till 4 October, so I resolved that by hook or by crook we'd sneak a swim there before it shuts. I earmarked today for the jaunt. I've not been before, but internet reports were full of praise. Its name both intrigues and repels me. It's too visceral - I associate brine with preparing onions for pickling, and I don't like to mix up that image with swimming, but find I can't stop myself.

The journey took over an hour as the satnav led us on a mystery tour through Cheshire countryside, instead of straight down the M6. As we pulled up in the car park, I had the familiar sinking feeling I always get when I reach an unknown swimming spot. A mixture of nervous anticipation and dread, probably a leftover from school swimming lessons at Rowntrees pool in York. More of that another day. It lingered on in the changing rooms, despite the cheery gang of girls who were dressing after their swimming lesson in the adjacent indoor pool.

Autumn has arrived and there's a chill in the air. The sky was overcast so I didn't hang about on the edge. The steps down were broad and tiled, the water silky and warm. I eased myself in with breaststroke and accustomed myself to the surroundings. The dread was still there, but counting lengths helped focus my mind and convert anxiety into enjoyment. I could smell smoke from coal fires faintly and I started to relax and revel in the pure pleasure of being outdoors and swimming - in October! The emptiness of the pool let me concentrate on my stroke, in time I broke through the gasping to an easy one - two - three bilateral freestyle which felt like it could go on forever. The water was mild and the saltiness pushed me higher than usual. I stopped after 54 x 30m lengths as Troy was waiting. When I got home I found this piece in Roger Deakin's book which perfectly sums up Nantwich today:

'When swimmers talk of fast or slow water, this is the sort of thing they mean. The absence of wavelets, or other bathers, means you can breathe and move in perfect rhythm, so the music takes over. Mind and body go off somewhere together in unselfconscious bliss, and the lengths seem to swim themselves. The blood sings, the water yields; you are in a state of grace, and every breath gets deeper and more satisfying. You hunker down and bury yourself in the water as though you have lived in it all your life, as though you were born to it, and thoughts come lightly and easily as you swing up and down in the blue.'

Bliss indeed.