Saturday, 31 December 2011

December Dip

Rain, rain, rain will it ever stop?
You'd think I'd be used to it after all these years in Rainy City. 
We gave up the battle to stay dry this afternoon and row - row - rowed our boat down to the Aquatic Centre to swim a mile. 
Finish the year as you mean to start the next one - that's what I say! 
So here's to a great year of swimming and writing in 2012!! 


Saturday, 17 December 2011

A (Student) Poet's Life

I've not dropped off the face of the earth in case you were wondering.
This term I've started studying for an MA in poetry at the Centre for New Writing at Manchester University, so there've been major new demands on my time and a steepish learning curve adjusting to the (part-time) student life...
This semester's module has been Writing Poems with John McAuliffe. I've already met John at Poetry School - as I've said before he's a knowledgeable and inspiring teacher. 
The routine has been one poem a week, come rain or shine, submitted to the group by 12 noon Friday for critiquing. There's been a wealth of articles about poetry to read and digest, and guest workshops and readings by Sean O'Brien, Lavinia Greenlaw, John Glenday and Michael Schmidt. 
There's also been a series of very inspiring presentations by the centre's new professor, Colm Toibin. In one of these he talked at some length about Elizabeth  Bishop and her amazing poem The Moose. Colm is such an engaging speaker, after his talk I just wanted to go away and write - job done, I'd say, for a professor of writing!
So now, from my folder of ten workshopped poems I have to present a portfolio of six - the first draft, the final draft and a short commentary. This will be my assessment for this term's work, so they need to be the best possible as they'll be reviewed by three experienced readers. John also wants us to get them out into the world, so they'll be winging their way to poetry mags by the middle of January.....
But for now, a moment or two to get my breath back and catch up with life, maybe a bit more time for blogging - who knows?!! 

Friday, 11 November 2011

Silver Birch

Our neighbours have given us a Himalayan Birch as a silver wedding present - how lovely is that?! Last year under the weight of all the snow, our beautiful blue Ceanothus which we'd trained into a tree shape, split down the middle. So we'll probably plant the birch in that spot. 
But I like where it's currently standing - in the hall, scraping the ceiling. It gives the place a woodland feel...


When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay.
Ice-storms do that. Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain. They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
(Now am I free to be poetical?)
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer. He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground. He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches. 

Robert Frost

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Silver Windermere

We're in the Lakes at Low Wood for a little silver honeymoon and this is the view of Windermere from our room. We've swum in that very spot!
Pete gave me Penguin's Poems for Love and it's an incredible book which I'll be reading over the next few days - and beyond - up here in Wordsworth Country.
The poems are all truly wonderful, but here are three which take my breath away

Let me put it this way:
if you came to lay

your sleeping head
against my arm or sleeve,

and if my arm went dead,
or if I had to take my leave

at midnight, I should rather
cleave it from the joint or seam

than make a scene
or bring you round.

how does that sound?

Simon Armitage

From time to time our love is like a sail
and when the sail begins to alternate
from tack to tack, it's like a swallowtail
and when the swallow flies it's like a coat;
and if the coat is yours, it has a tear
like a wide mouth and when the mouth begins
to draw the wind, it's like a trumpeter
and when the trumpet blows, it blows like millions. . .
and this, my love, when millions come and go
beyond the need of us, is like a trick;
and when the trick begins, it's like a toe
tip-toeing on a rope, which is like luck;
and when the luck begins, it's like a wedding,
which is like love, which is like everything.

Alice Oswald

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won't slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job's done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be 
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney  


Today's our 25th Wedding Anniversary - 25 0n the 25th.


Thin. Hard. Cool. Of high
altitude. Of dark-eyed miners, coca
mountains scraped blue,
ozone and time. Precious,
but not that precious. Of money
the passing of money, the arts 
of bright-fingered androgyns of love
and circuses. Handsome,
scored, nicked, the bewitching
smile of trickery mixing
with desire. Irretrievable. Irresistible.
Of long thumbs and slow hips

silver is not for wedding rings.

Carola Luther
from Walking the Animals (Carcanet)

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Sun Goes Down On Salford

Thursday was the last scheduled swim in Salford Docks for this season. Boating, kayaking and other activities will continue, but sadly no more swims till next spring. Boo hoo! 
So, with the fantastic raised temperatures of this Indian Summer, we just had to go and have a final dip before hanging up our wetsuits for the winter. And, having said that, I'm not ruling out the possibility of a swim when we're up in the Lakes at the end of the month. Especially if this weather continues - who knows?
Raised air temperature is a tricky old thing, it lulls you into thinking the water will be balmy too. I considered going in without the wetsuit as it's such a nuisance. However, cowardliness prevailed and I took the plunge, suited up. At 15.3C, it was bracing, definite ice cream headache when I first put my head under, but that soon faded. We did two laps - half a mile -  relishing the sunset and the clean, sweet water. 
And I keep checking the Salford Watersports website, secretly hoping against hope that they'll relent and give us a stay of execution - a couple more chances to enjoy the weather and the water before calling time for 2011.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Twinkle Twinkle Seeing Stars

Who'da thunk it? Two of my favourite things teaming up - Jodrell Bank and Simon Armitage - and right here in Kansas!  
What is she on about, I hear you ask? 
Goostrey's annual arts festival in October and Simon's reading under the stars for only £12 per ticket - still some available - if you're quick! 
Promises to be a sparkling evening.......!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Going Underground

Last Saturday we whizzed into Manchester on the Metro and became tourists for the afternoon, joining a guided stroll through Manchester city centre. Except the main attraction of this tour wasn't the opportunity to appreciate amazing architecture and anecdotes about the city's history. Well, not history experienced at street level, at least. 
This tour, Underground Manchester, examines what's occurring below the city streets - the defunct canals, the re-routed rivers: the Tib, Irk, Cornbrook, the £4 million atomic bunker (sadly, you don't get to visit). It concludes with a wander in the dark through the caverns that provided wartime shelter to Manchester's citizens. 
Our guide turned out to be Ed Glinert, an old friend I've not seen for years. Ed has an incredible memory for quirky local history knowledge (of London as well as Manchester) which makes for a very entertaining couple of hours. 
No swimming allowed in the stagnant stretch of canal under Granada Studios - such a disappointment.....(But if, like me, you like (the thought of) that kind of thing, see what you make of Silent UK ..... what a website...)
Down there in the dark you get a sense of the dire misery of air raids and how hellish life during the war must have been.
And this poem by UA Fanthorpe came to my mind.....the secret life of repressed rivers.....

Rising Damp
‘A river can sometimes be diverted but is a very hard thing to lose altogether.’
                                                                    Paper to the Auctioneers’ Institute, 1907
At our feet they lie low,
The little fervent underground
Rivers of London
Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet
Whose names are disfigured,
Frayed, effaced.
These are the Magogs that chewed the clay
To the basin that London nestles in.
These are the currents that chiselled the city,
That washed the clothes and turned the mills,
Where children drank and salmon swam
And wells were holy.
They have gone under.
Boxed, like the magician’s assistant.
Buried alive in earth.
Forgotten, like the dead.
They return spectrally after heavy rain,
Confounding suburban gardens. They infiltrate
Chronic bronchitis statistics. A silken 
Slur haunts dwellings by shrouded
Watercourses, and is taken
For the footing of the dead.
Being of our world, they will return
(Westbourne, caged at Sloane Square,
will jack from his box),
Will deluge cellars, detonate manholes,
Plant effluent on our faces,
Sink the city.
Effra, Graveney, Falcon, Quaggy,
Wandle, Walbrook, Tyburn, Fleet
It is the other rivers that lie
Lower, that touch us only in dreams
That never surface.We feel their tug
As a dowser’s rod bends to the surface below
Phlegethon, Acheron, Lethe, Styx.
U. A. Fanthorpe

Saturday, 10 September 2011


Although I've lived in Manchester for almost 34 years - I came here as an eager young student in October 1977 - I'd never visited Jodrell Bank before this summer. Driving through the Cheshire countryside, I'd marvelled at it from a distance, or from the top floor of the carpark at the airport, but until earlier this year I never got up close to the mammoth radio  telescope.
It started to pulse on my radar when I stumbled across a page on the internet about work placements there for school students. This seemed like a fantastic opportunity as Eddie, our son, has become really interested in astronomy and astrophysics, thanks partly to his excellent teachers at Chorlton High School, and partly to Professor Brian Cox and his winning ways on the BBC.
He just missed the closing date to apply this year unfortunately, but we went out to take a look for future reference anyway.
The site has recently opened a new visitors' centre with gardens and cafe and there's such a magical pull to the place we've been back 3 or 4 times with various family visitors over the summer. The telescope itself is awe-inspiring, I don't think that's too strong a description. On a couple of our visits it's been 'parked' for maintenance and painting 
which is impressive enough, but when it's active and moving it actually tingles the hairs on the back of my neck. 
The history of Sir Bernard Lovell's brainchild is brought to life in archive footage from the 50s and 60s which runs on a loop in the discovery centre. These films include a tour of the inside of the telescope - breathtaking camera work as they scale the metal ladders up into the filigree structure supporting the dish. 
The technology, the words and language, the open space and nature, the coffee and cake - there's something for everyone!
Among the poets who've written their impressions of the place is Patric Dickinson
Amazingly, this beautiful poem manages to distil so much into 16 short lines

Jodrell Bank
Who were they, what lonely men
Imposed on the fact of night
The fiction of constellations
And made commensurable
The distances between
Themselves, their loves, and their doubt
Of government and nations?
Who made the dark stable
When the light was not? Now
We receive the blind codes
Of spaces beyond the span
Of our myths, and a long dead star
May only echo how
There are no loves nor gods
Men can invent to explain
How lonely all men are. 

Patric Dickinson 

Friday, 2 September 2011

Remembering Linda

I'm looking forward to a tribute to Linda Chase at the Manchester Literature Festival in October. Her poems old and new will be read by a selection of poets, and her final collection - Not Many Love Poems - will be launched.
I'm glad the Guardian are featuring her for this week's Saturday poem.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Belated Blog Birthday Bulletin

And speaking of birthdays, this blog was two on 20 August!
We were away on holiday at the time, but I didn't want to let the anniversary pass by completely unmarked.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Water Baby

Today our middle daughter is 21. Happy Birthday Evie!!

Eve's always been a keen swimmer, maybe it's because we used to go to the pool several times a week when she was little. Here she is with Jeanette, who looked after her when we were at work. Jeanette was also a big fan of swimming, probably still is. 

In this photo three-year-old Eve is looking very pleased with herself because she's just passed her 25 metre badge! For some reason, a reporter from the local paper happened to be at the pool, so Jeanette dived in and set up a photo opportunity!

Many Happy Returns Eve!! Let the partying commence!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Bathing Belles

Two weeks since I was in the pool, too many other things like decorating the kitchen occupying my time. Anyway, holiday soon, so hopefully I'll be in the sea or outdoor pool every day to get me back in the swim, as it were.
And this new costume - Speedo Claudezine Luxe* - will ease the transition back to water-based activity......There's so much more to a swimsuit than just a scrap of  fabric......

Bathing is a sport
Enjoyed by great and small
In suits of any sort
Though better none at all

Anonymous, 19th Century

*modelled by model, not yours truly 

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Another Place

Where have I been for the last month - zooming round Manchester on the Metro?
Well, today we had a little trip to the coast just north of Liverpool, starting at Southport, home turf of poet Jean Sprackland, whose poem The Birkdale Nightingale is set in the wild dunes outside the town.
Then on to Crosby beach to see Antony Gormley's installation that I've wanted to visit for ages.
Make no mistake (signage emphasises) this is not a swimming beach. Proceed at your own risk

So, suitably cautioned, we advanced, stepping over the usual beach objects...

and the incredibly large...

to the main attractions...

some customised by visitors...

Then on, for a prize-winning ice cream at Parkgate, Wirral, former seaside town where the tide went out

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Railway Is Coming To Cranford!!

Oops, sorry! I mean the Metro is coming to Chorlton! I must've got carried away with excitement! Hooray!
End of June we've been told, and then the city centre will be only 5 minutes away on public transport. Today test trams went tooting along the tracks! 
Looks like we'll soon be in business!

Monday, 20 June 2011

Great Swim Junkie

Saturday was the Great North Swim, iconic swimming event, as it's billed, back in Windermere after last year's cancellation due to blue-green algae in the lake. 
The whole day is so memorable, starting with Park and Sail from Bowness up to Ambleside and the first sightings from the boat of the course at Low Wood marina

Then the one-mile walk from Ambleside to Low Wood, with glimpses of the swimmers through the trees

then onto the lawn in front of the hotel - normally so sedate and quiet but today unrecognisable - thronged with swimmers in wetsuits and spectators 

We were in the white wave at 4pm. This time I felt better prepared psychologically and physically but my time was the longest yet 1:7:39 - only a few seconds more than Salford but I'd hoped to manage the swim in under an hour. 
Everyone we spoke to said they'd found it relatively hard. Even the elites' times were also a bit longer than usual. There was quite a swell and the water was fairly choppy in the first half. Then on the return leg, to me it felt like swimming in treacle, hard work. But the main thing is I enjoyed it. 
And at the end, it's like being a child getting off a rollercoaster, after all the nerves and excitement, the immediate reaction is - again, again!
So now we're weighing up the Great Scottish Swim at Strathclyde on September 24th. Not just a mile, this time 2K down the middle of the loch. Hmmm, now there's a thought...

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Horizontal Buoys

The training continues - last Saturday morning, one circuit of the dock - 400m, 14.5C. This morning, two circuits, 800m, 13.8C. I'm acclimatising but it was very blooming cold - and I didn't wear socks! 
And choppy - at one point the great big buoys that mark the corners of the course were flat on the surface of the water, the wind was so strong. But by then the swimming seemed to get easier, I was bouncing along doing breaststroke, ducking my head under each wave - I got a great rhythm going!
So apart from pool swimming during the week -  2K now in under an hour - I'll be in the dock for three circuits next Saturday morning, then four the week after. Hopefully the temperature might start to rise......  The following Saturday - 18 June - is the real thing in Windermere, but I feel ready for it now. The buzz after Saturday morning swims seems to power me through the rest of the day......
Waiting at traffic lights for a tram to pass on the way home afterwards, I had to snap this lovely little iron grille in the dock wall

Friday, 27 May 2011

Chorlton Arts Festival

I love this exhibit, under the metal bridge across to Chorlton Meadows and the Mersey. Last time - two years ago? - it was just four bricks in the water 

Sunday, 15 May 2011

We Are The Champions!

Blowing my alias...what the hell...blame the adrenalin high!! 
Self with warthog, gazelle and Eve's young man. Strange item between my legs is woolly hat. Too doolally still to put it on head. 
What an afternoon! Traffic diversions (because of Manchester 10K ) so long-winded I thought we wouldn't get there in time. But we did.....
I was third last to come in at the end of the day, so I had a personal escort of kayakers - who were all totally lovely and encouraging - thank you so much guys and gals

Thrilled, but too worn out to say much this evening, so here are some pictures

next time, my goal is to build up the front crawl

from the canal into Ontario Basin and the final section

always time for a chat. This guy will be kayaking again at the Windermere swim in a month's time

Dock 9, Huron Basin, the starting area - just about dismantled

Imperial  War Museum and The Lowry

Media City

view to a bridge

the BBC's new home

What a wonderful day despite grim weather and low temperatures. My time: 01:06:51. One month now to train towards shaving off some minutes at Windermere.