Friday, 27 November 2009

Not Drowning But Waving

Woo hoo!!! Big news in our house - we are already signed up and in there! After the popularity of this year's event and the rising profile of open water swimming in the UK, I don't think it will be long until it's fully booked.

The picture is of me and our son on a training splash in Windermere in July. Behind us is the Low Wood Hotel - swim HQ. I like our synchronized wave and the speed limit sign with a 10 in the background. 2010 here we come! 

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Knitted Poem

Yesterday, for one afternoon only, the Victoria Baths played host to the Knitted Poem. What on earth is that, I hear you ask! 
To mark its centenary, the Poetry Society commissioned more than a thousand volunteers from all over the world to knit squares featuring individual letters. These were sewn together to form a poem whose identity was a closely guarded secret. In October the poem's title was revealed - In My Craft Or Sullen Art by Dylan Thomas. The giant woolly masterpiece (13mx9m) was star of the show for National Poetry Day on October 8 in London. This weekend the poem was on tour in Manchester.
It was displayed in the Second Class Males pool where it could be viewed on the ground and from the gallery above. We went along to gaze in wonder and sneak a peep at the baths - to see how the restoration is coming along before the building goes into hibernation till the weather warms up in April.

In My Craft or Sullen Art

In my craft or sullen art
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers lie abed
With all their griefs in their arms,
I labour by singing light
Not for ambition or bread
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spindrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise or wages
Nor heed my craft or art. 
Dylan Thomas

Click on this link for some poetry and knitting fun!

Friday, 20 November 2009

Victoria Baths - Manchester's Water Palace

Another swimless week. My cold flared up again and now I have earache. Unlike the waterlogged UK, my dry spell will continue for a bit longer, I think. Anyway, swotting up on women Channel swimmers has been a fascinating swimming substitute! 

In an earlier post I mentioned the Victoria Baths, where Sunny Lowry used to swim

This amazing amenity was opened in 1906. It was a hub in the local community, with a first class mens' gala pool

second class men's pool, ladies' pool

as well as Turkish baths

and bathing and laundry facilities. 
Despite desperate efforts, it was shut down in 1993. 

In 2003, the Victoria Baths' fortune changed - they featured in a reality TV show: Restoration. Out of a selection of deserving but doomed buildings, Manchester's Water Palace stole the hearts of TV viewers, who voted to give it a new lease of life. It received a grant of £3million which was the cash injection needed to get it on the road to recovery. 
The plan is that the gala pool and Turkish baths should re-open to the public. Other areas of the building will be available for exhibitions and functions. 

There isn't a happy ending yet. The actual total needed for the whole project is £20million, so there's still a way to go and the baths aren't useable, although they're open regularly for the public to come and see for themselves the progress as it happens. 

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Forces To Be Reckoned With

I've been back in the archives today and found these pictures. I think they speak for themselves.

Annette Kellermann

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Channel Icons - The Sequel

Ever the obsessive, I've been unable to leave the mystery of which UK woman was the first to swim the Channel. Here are my latest research findings:
1.   1927 - 7 October  - Mercedes Gleitze - 15h 15m
2.   1927 - 13 October  - Ivy Gill - 15h 09m
3.   1928 - 10 August - Ivy Hawke - 19h 16m
4.   1928 - 24 August - Hilda Winifred Sharp - 14h 58m
5.   1933 - 28/29 August - Ethel 'Sunny' Lowry - 15h 41m

Monday, 16 November 2009

Channel Icons

Here's another Channel mermaid - Ethel 'Sunny' Lowry (1911-2008) - who swam the Channel in 1933 when she was 22 years old. It was her third go, having been thwarted by storms and tides on her first two attempts. She swam from Cap Gris Nez in France to St. Margaret's Bay, Dover and completed in 15 hours 41 minutes. Born and raised in Manchester, she was a cousin of the artist LS Lowry. She swam at the Victoria Baths in Manchester and was an ardent champion of the baths which were closed in 1993. In 2003 they featured on the BBC TV programme 'Restoration'. From a selection of buildings facing dereliction, the baths were voted by the British public to be most deserving of a £3 million grant to set them on the road to restoration and recovery. More about them later.  
But here's a little mystery which I can't seem to solve. As a Mancunian, I like the fact that Sunny made her mark on the Channel, for women and for Manchester. She is frequently referred to as the first British woman to swim the Channel. Yet where does the woman in this photograph fit in the English Channel picture? 
She is Mercedes Gleitze (1900-1981), a London typist. She is also referred to as the first English woman to swim the channel. On her eighth attempt, she swam from Cap Gris Nez to St Margaret's Bay on 7 October 1927 - six years before Sunny's attempt - and completed in 15 hours 15 minutes. Shortly afterwards, another woman - Mona McLennan - made the crossing, but it later emerged that Mona's swim was a hoax. Then the legitimacy of Mercedes' record was also called into question. She was greatly upset by the slur and made an attempt to clear up any doubts with a 'vindication swim' on 21 October. She wore a Rolex 'Oyster' watch around her neck. It kept time beautifully, and Rolex used Mercedes' endorsement to publicise their name, but unfortunately for Mercedes, the sea conditions were so brutal that her attempt failed. Her successful crossing is listed in the records of the Cross Channel Association, so I'm puzzled as to how all the pieces of Sunny's and Mercedes' stories fit together. Great women, great swimmers, both of them, whatever the details may be.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Back in the Swim

After a break of over two weeks - the longest break from swimming I've had this year - I got back in the pool and swam a mile yesterday. I've had a cold bug for the last fortnight which wiped me out, so I'd decided to give myself plenty of time to recover before getting back to it.

I certainly haven't missed the early morning starts as the weather has been depressingly cold and wet, but by yesterday I felt ready for a gentle afternoon reintroduction to the water. I wasn't as out of practice as I'd feared. My goal was 40 lengths which felt manageable, so I did another 10, then reasoned it would be a pity not to do another 14, to make a neat and tidy mile. Easy peasy! I find that swimming in blocks of 10x25m breaks the task into bite-sized chunks and also seems to free my mind up to muse about other things. I've been thinking about channel swimmers and how they occupy their minds during their marathon swims - real psychological stamina!

While on shore leave I've been reading The Great Swim by Gavin Mortimer. It's about the early twentieth century race to be the first woman to swim the Channel. It's amazing to read what those gals achieved in the days before sophisticated weather forecasts, purpose-built swimwear and goggles etc etc. And all the while risking social disapproval by cutting their hair short and revealing their knees in outrageous woollen bathing costumes! What fantastic, determined young women! Here's Gertrude Ederle (first woman to swim Channel - August 6, 1926 - 14 hours 30 minutes):