Sunday, 30 August 2009

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside

Three cheers for the Panama Swimming Club, Whitley Bay! Hip, hip, hooray! They swim in the North Sea every Sunday at 11am, come rain, hail or shine. No wetsuits allowed! The only thing that keeps them out is dangerous water conditions. Ten brave souls were there this morning (sea temperature 14C) - I salute you. We marvelled at them when we were walking our dog at the water's edge. I considered putting on my costume and joining them, but in the event I was too chicken. Maybe I will get my nerve together and join them for their piece de resistance - the New Year's Day swim in January 2010.

Whitley Bay is the first beach I ever knew, the first sea where I paddled - or plodged as it was called in the family. My extended family - grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins - met here each August Bank Holiday throughout my childhood. We would spend the afternoon on the beach and in the sea, followed by an hour or two on the rides at the Spanish City, then back to my aunt's for tea. Happy days! Who'd have imagined that years later I would meet and marry a man from here and continue my alliance with this beautiful place.

This afternoon, two of our kids had a surf lesson on Tynemouth beach and I shoehorned myself into the wetsuit for more outdoor swimming practice. Unfortunately for the surfers, the waves weren't massive, but the sea was lovely for fish like me. It's the first time I've worn my wetsuit in the sea. It makes a big difference - the difference between 'no, I'll not bother, it's too cold,' and 'actually, this is wonderful!'

Front crawl is now emerging as my natural choice of stroke when I'm in the wetsuit. The sea was clear and I kept my eyes open, practising the skill of reining in my imagination. I freaked out when I saw a lobster and a crab lurking on the rippled sand beneath me. Calm down! It was only seaweed, but it doesn't take much to trigger the adrenalin. Today washed away the unpleasantness at Boundary. I left the water four times, but I had to keep returning as I hadn't had enough - the magical pull of the sea.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Hook, line and sink her

I began Thursday at the Aquatic centre with 20 x 50m lengths, again mainly front crawl. To start, I felt weary and not equal to the task, but by 11 lengths I was in the zone, as they say, and everything became looser, easier. I decided not to do a mile, to save myself for the evening swim at Boundary lake. Two weeks ago I only completed half the course at Boundary. As I'd been off colour and medicating myself with Lemsips in the previous week, it shouldn't have been a surprise, but I was disappointed.

We arrived at the lake later than usual, so the regular triathlon crowd had already started to thin out. As we headed out to the first buoy, we realised glumly how luxurious the weeds had grown in the fortnight since our last visit. It was a case of mind over matter as the weight of the straggly plants swathed my arms with each stroke, grabbed at my legs with every kick. The heaviness hung in the air. We didn't admit it till we were safely out, but the place reeked like a swamp. My technique had definitely improved, but the greenery wouldn't let up, this was unnerving and demoralising.

I arrived at the first buoy after the others and we chatted briefly before setting off on the middle leg of the course. As I kicked away, something held me and I guessed it was weeds from around the buoy's anchor ropes. The pull was at my left wrist and I chopped my right hand down the length of my sleeve to brush off whatever was clinging onto me. Something bobbly hung on, and a surge of adrenalin revved up my urge to flee. I called the others to wait. By now I could see that a fishing hook had snagged my wetsuit, the fine wire piercing the neoprene in two places like a tiny vampire bite, snaring me with the finest nylon line. Remarkably, it hadn't broken my skin. I felt compelled to thrash the thing off, but I resisted this preservation instinct. I held my arms out on the buoy and my companions set about attempting to free me. My immediate thought was to bite the line but I dismissed the idea. Without even putting it to my mouth, I knew that this line meant business. Working like microsurgeons, my swimming buddies painstakingly fed the hook back through the twin punctures and pulled the determined thread with it.

We completed the course, but we won't be going back. Salford Quays have never really appealed to me, but I'm expecting to be pleasantly surprised when we take the plunge there next Thursday.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Breaking the silence

When I was little I liked watching Stingray on our black and white TV - I just loved the storylines that featured Marina. For one thing because she was a girl, and incredibly glamorous, for another because of the way she seemed to float through the water - jerky, but strangely graceful, all at once!
I hadn't realised why she was silent, until recently I read this passage on about Marina and her people:

..........Marina was a native of the undersea city of Pacifica, the daughter of its ruler Aphony. Pacifica was menaced by the evil Titan. Marina, along with the rest of the inhabitants, had been sworn to silence by the villain, on pain of being destroyed if they spoke, and so they used gestures to communicate instead...........

The explanation for Marina's silence struck a chord with me, and set me thinking about my process around creative writing. I love writing and yet.....sometimes it's as if I believe I'll be destroyed if I voice my thoughts this way. Or rather, my impulse is to destroy what I've written before anyone has a chance to read it. This started to change a couple of years ago when I began writing poetry. This blog is another opportunity for me to confront that impulse. I won't be menaced by that evil Titan any longer.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Standing on the end of the diving board

On Saturday I visited Manchester Aquatic Centre for the first time. What a lovely pool! I don't know why I haven't been before. It is light, airy and with everyone intent on their training, it felt like a university library during exam season, or early morning mass in a cathedral. I slipped into the water and joined the congregation. Now that I've stepped up to swimming a mile, my goal was 32x50m lengths. I immediately felt overwhelmed. This is exactly how I am with writing. I will make up a thousand reasons why I can't sit down and just get on with it, yet when I force myself onto the chair, I am fine.

At 50 metres, the lengths in the pool seemed wonderfully/scarily long. I started with breaststroke to calm myself down, and I cut in a few lengths of crawl which left me gasping but ok. After 11 lengths, we were asked to transfer to the diving pool, while the main pool was split into two for the family session at 9am. Very deep water makes me panicky and excited at the same time. I feel anxious with that volume of water under me. I did a width (25m) of breast stroke and forced my eyes open to the blue tiles on the bottom. What spooks me when I look down? For one thing, the grille in the stripes on the floor of the pool. There was something silvery in the cracks, probably part of the filtration equipment, but it gave me the heeby jeebies. When I put my head under, I scrunched my eyes shut and forced the scare to subside.

I decided to bite the bullet and to continue the swim with crawl. I swam one width. Then another, and another. Then another, and another and another. My breathing calmed down, I opened my eyes. One width I breathed to the left, the next to the right, the next bilaterally! I started to revel in the fact that I was doing it, that I could do it, that I was freestyling and I wasn't even out of breath! My eyes were wide open and I delighted in the scare! My final width, and I chose breast stroke. I powered forward like spurts of air from a bellows. By the end, I swam about 400m breaststroke and an amazing 1200m front crawl.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Thought for the Day

The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one's trousers to the seat of one's chair.
Kingsley Amis


Thursday, 20 August 2009

Going the (extra) mile

Today for the first time I swam a whole mile! 64 lengths, not the usual 40. Many of them front crawl, which I'm now finding easier. It's like a switch flicked in my head, and instead of the customary panicking and huffing and puffing whenever I change from breaststroke to crawl, I launched into a rhythm and surprised myself as I enjoyed the variety. It will be different when I'm in the lake, but this morning I began to think that I might manage the Great North Swim in less than an hour.

And while I was counting lengths, steaming along with my new found confidence as a freestyle swimmer, I made the decision to set up this blog. Regular practice has expanded my swimming confidence and technique, so I'll apply the same theory to my writing. All the experts say that's the way to do it and I'm willing to believe them. We'll see.