Thursday, 31 December 2009

Last Post (2009)

This afternoon we came back home to Manchester, but not until we'd had our last walk for the year/decade on Tynemouth beach. The tide was rolling in, the sea wild again. Today a solitary surfer had decided to try his luck but didn't look as if his heart was in it. 
We visited a favourite haunt - Tynemouth outdoor pool. 
Built in the 1920's, it fell into disuse/was condemned and filled with sand and rocks during the 90's. When the tide is high the waves crash around it in a spectacular fashion. There are thrills and spills dodging the waves as they threaten from over the railings.
Old swimming pools fascinate me, I love the architectural features -
- but the thought of encountering this inlet while swimming underwater both thrills and terrifies me! 
I've seen Youtube footage of people having fun in the pool during its heyday. It's a shame that it's been pensioned off
as I'm sure there are outdoor swimmers aplenty in the North East who'd happily make full use of this facility and build up their resistance to the cold by swimming here!
I've enjoyed taking photos with my phone recently, but the cost of sending them to my blog has started to tot up. I'm going to get a decent camera in 2010 and improve the picture quality and keep costs down.
I want to give the final word for this year to Seamus Heaney. This poem is one of my absolute favourites. I take permission from it to ignore the impulse to reach for the camera sometimes, and  just enjoy the moment!
Happy New Year!!

And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

Seamus Heaney
from ‘The Spirit Level’.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

St Mary's Island

Another bitterly cold day at Whitley Bay. On the seafront, no beach to be seen, just white horses hurling themselves against the promenade wall. We drive to St Mary's Island to see the lighthouse, now retired from active service, but a well-loved landmark. The causeway is submerged under a boisterous sea. I take some photos which turn out better than I'd thought possible in the spray. I ponder how long a swimmer could survive these conditions. Grace Darling, lighthouse-keeper's daughter and local heroine from Bamburgh, just a few miles up the coast, rowed a boat out in seas like these to save desperate passengers from ships wrecked on the rocky coast. They must have been thrilled to see her! A wild wave crashes against the railings and soaks us, so we save our skins and race to the shelter of the car.  
We make our way down the coast to Tynemouth to check if the surfers are mad enough to brave these elements. It turns out they are not mad after all. Although the sea is less ferocious than at the lighthouse, it's still scary and no surfers are chancing it today. Thank goodness!
A very large ferry is easing out of the Tyne into the open sea and huge waves buffer the front of the ship. If I were the pilot, I'd turn back at this point but s/he is obviously made of sterner stuff than me!
Our final  port of call before heading for home is Spanish Battery, where the Tyne flows into the North Sea. Here's another view of the lighthouses that I wrote about earlier in the week. The sea looks deceptively tame.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Two Lighthouses

From the beach we could see the lighthouses at the mouth of the Tyne, flashing clearly in the background. This picture doesn't do them justice, I just managed to catch one. Seeing them made me remember this poem - I think that these are the actual lighthouses which inspired Julia Darling

Two Lighthouses

I would like us to live like two lighthouses
at the mouth of a river, each with her own lamp.

We could see each other across the water,
which would be dangerous, and uncrossable.

I could watch your shape, your warm shadow,
moving in the upper rooms. We would have jokes.

Jokes that were only ours, signs and secrets,
flares on birthdays, a rocket at Christmas.

Clouds would be cities, we would look for omens,
and learn the impossible language of birds.

We would meet, of course, in cinemas, cafes,
but then, we would return to our towers,

knowing the other was the light on the water,
a beam of alignment. It would never be broken.

Julia Darling
from ‘Apology for Absence’

Surf's Up

We're up in the  North East for a few days. Tynemouth beach was a popular spot when we went down for a late afternoon walk. The air was brisk, the sand crunchy with frost underfoot, but there was a big swell, so those fearless surfers were out there making the most of the choppy sea. I didn't bring the wetsuits up here with us on purpose - I didn't want to torture myself with the question of whether I should or shouldn't swim. My thumbs stung with cold just from taking these photos. I enjoyed simply walking and watching as the sky grew darker and the moon cast a picturebook light off the rolling waves. It made me think of sea illustrations by the artist Hilda Boswell - I loved her books when I was a child.

The beach was dark within half an hour so we retreated to the welcoming lights of Crusoe's Cafe for a hot chocolate.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Christmas Present

Tonight it's raining, the air temperature is rising and the snow will soon be gone if it doesn't freeze over again during the night. So maybe I will go for a lake swim on New Year's Day after all. Cold water doesn't seem as daunting if the air temperature is kinder. 
Here are my lovely swim-related Christmas presents (thank you - thank you!)

I'm looking forward to reading this full history of the Victoria Baths. 
And another treat - an analysis of my swimming style - including a video recording from four different angles - at Tri Central in Manchester. A coach will critique my stroke and offer tips for improvement. Perhaps I will be swimming with the elites in 2010!!

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Midwinter Blues

When icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail,
When Blood is nipped and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl,
Tu-whit, tu-who: a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
William Shakespeare

I'll write about swimming again soon, but it's just too cold at the moment.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

More Billy Collins

Laureate Carol Ann Duffy praises Billy Collins when she describes him as one of her favourite poets. I enjoy his take on life and his suggestions for how to go about reading poetry

Introduction to Poetry
I ask them to take a poem
and hold it to the light
like a color slide
or press an ear against its hive.
I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,
or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.
I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Billy Collins
from 'The Apple that Astonished Paris'

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Sumer Is Icumen In

Yesterday was the shortest day. Now the lazy, hazy summer is just around 
the corner. Hurrah! 
Today everywhere is buried under a few inches of snow. We let our eight 
hens have the run of the garden as they can't peck and dig through ice.
When the snow turned to sleet, then rain, the hens put me in mind of this poem by Billy Collins 

The Student
My poetry instruction book,
which I bought at an outdoor stall along the river,

contains many rules
about what to avoid and what to follow.

More than two people in a poem
is a crowd, is one.

Mention the clothes you are wearing
as you compose, is another.

Avoid the word vortex,
the word velvety, and the word cicada.

When at a loss for an ending,
have some brown hens standing in the rain.

Never admit that you revise.
And - always keep your poem in one season.

I try to be mindful,
but in these last days of summer

whenever I look up from my page
and see a burn-mark of yellow leaves,

I think of the icy winds
that will soon be knifing through my jacket.

Billy Collins
from 'The Trouble with Poetry' .

Monday, 21 December 2009

A Little Mermaid

Here's Nancy in the top pool at Center Parcs modelling her Christmas present from us - a glamorous flowery swimming hat. She looks so absolutely gorgeous I simply must have one too! 

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Winter Wonderland

Our last night here for this year - a crescent moon, clear skies, a magical swim, followed by a snowy walk home, marvelling at the local winter wild life 

Christmas Cousins

The kids expressed an interest in diving into my blog. While I was swimming I worked out a way to do it using my phone. All my best ideas surface when I'm swimming!
The Kids United
Gabe, Geno, Becca (Honorary Cousin), Maeve, Eddie, Eve, Nancy, Nell, Immy, Malachy, Jem.

Woodland Retreat

It's become something of a tradition in our family to descend upon Center Parcs for a festive get-together the weekend before Christmas. This year we are also celebrating my godmother's eightieth birthday, so here we are, in our forest dwellings, gathered from as far afield as Australia and various points in the UK. Yesterday our eldest daughter flew in from the United States to complete the party, getting away just before the east coast snow storms really took hold. 
Swimming for pleasure is most definitely the order of the day! On Friday night we floated around under a starry sky in this pool at the spa -

Later this morning I will clock up a few laps in the lane swimming pool, then tonight we will be riding the wild water rapids when it's dark and frosty and the crowds have thinned out.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Devil's Swimming Pool

Being a cautious type, I am terrified, yet strangely drawn by these photos. They depict what must be one of the scariest swimming spots on earth. It's perched on the edge of one of the natural wonders of the world - the Victoria Falls / Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Mist that Thunders) - on the Zambezi river between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Lodged above the 108 meter cascade, it's a naturally formed hole in the riverbed, entered by jumping from the Zambian bank. At this point the river is 1,708 meters wide. Apparently it's very safe in the dry season, with a wide lip which controls the current and keeps these thrill-seekers from plunging to oblivion. Nature's unpredictability would make this a swim too far for me.....

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Flying the Flag

Chris at Lazy Swimmer drew my attention to Australian women swimmers at the turn of the last century. I had to include the photo of this feisty pair on my blog. They are Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie, the first women to represent Australia at swimming in the 1912  Stockholm Olympics. Initially they were refused permission to attend, but after some wrangling they were allowed to take part - on condition they paid their own expenses. They organised their odyssey to Europe and went on to win gold and silver medals for their country. 
Mina's love of swimming was obviously a family affair - her father Henry Alexander Wylie was a champion swimmer himself and established Sydney's well-loved ocean pool - Wylie's Baths - in 1907.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Last Swim

Tonight was the penultimate poetry class before the holiday and our teacher introduced this poem by Michael Laskey. He was in Manchester at the weekend giving a poetry reading and running a writing workshop. I wasn't able to attend, but I will seek out more of his poems as I love the powerful simplicity of his writing.

The Last Swim

September, October ... one thing 
you don't know at the time is when 
you've had your last swim: the weather 
may hold, may keep nudging you in.

Only afterwards, sometimes days on, 
it dawns on you that you've done: 
just the thought of undressing outdoors, 
exposing bare skin, makes you wince.

And that's best, to have gone on swimming 
easily to the end: your crawl 
full of itself, and the future 
no further than your folded towel.
Michael Laskey
From The Tightrope Wedding, 1999
Photo of Hampstead Heath swimming pond by tonyhall used under a Creative Commons License