Wednesday, 5 December 2007

noto bene:

With the previous post, no. one is the bottom picture, no. two the next one up....


Dublin last summer.

1)Gloria's entry at Forty Foot (I think - suddenly wondering if this isn't Sea Point)
2)Forty Foot swimming club from the coast.
3)Me swimming at Forty Foot.
4)Beached whales at Forty Foot.
6)Dublin Bay from Forty Foot.
7)Sizing it Up before the Jump.
8)James Joyce museum, Forty Foot. (Closed.)


Now, I don't really know what I'm doing, so these may well come out in a mess...

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Hampstead Ponds

My baptism in these silty springs.

Beautiful Sunday afternoon in Hampstead.

I lasted about a minute and a half, which is good, because they were closing.

I'll be back before November is out. I will, I will, I will.


Monday, 10 September 2007

What Happened After Ireland

We've been back since Aug 15th, nearly a month, and money for Common Ground has not-quite-literally been pouring in. If all 1.5 of you who read this want to give us (them) some sponsorship, we'd be most grateful. If you have already, forgive me.
We're also going to put some pictures up soon. We promise. You've never seen a sexier prospect than me in a wetsuit.

Today I went to Brockwell Lido, in S/W London, and it was happy-making. Not least because I haven't swum since Dublin. Also because it was clean, relatively empty, NOT HEATED, and the sun was setting behind the beeches in the park. It's about 35m long, an odd length, and it took me a full 45 min to get used to it, by which time I was tired and got out. I went there a few times when I was little and I remember it being a bit scummy, but now it’s been renovated, and delightful. The showers are adjustable. Adjustable showers! In a public pool!

Anyway, the water. Choppy, from all the hunky men powering up and down in tiny Speedos. And the kids shouting LIDO! as they divebombed the deep end. Beech leaves falling in the water and one of the lifeguards trying to catch them all in a big net before they swam away. I forgot to take my mascara off and emerged a happy panda.


I’ll be the first one there tomorrow.


Monday, 27 August 2007

The Vital Statistics.

Sorry this has taken longer than I thought - real life takes you over, when you get back to it. Domestic trips to London, Aeschylus and the Importance of the Frontier in American History all take on an unprecedented importance. I do intend to put the photos up now I've got them, as well, but I haven't quite mastered the technology as yet...

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Number of Swims (Total): Twelve.
(Gloria): Ten.
(Jordan): Ten.

Number of Places Swum : Seven.
Those being: Sea Point, Forty Foot, Barnaderg Bay (Letterfrack), Dawros River, Tully Lake, Inish Bofin Beach (South), Inish Bofin Beach (North).

Distance Swum (total) : 4130m.
(Gloria): 590m.
(Jordan): 3540m.

Our Companions, some thanks, and people who made the trip what it was :

JENNY. Green Umbrella Man. Alex. Johanna. Seamus. Boy who chatted Gloria up in a bar. Polish man who gave us a ride. Bernard and the Herring Gull. Leo and Rob, for telling me it wasn't a stupid idea in the first place, and for all their support. James for daring to wet his immaculate coiffeur. Benjamin, Iona, Ben, Patrick, Richard, the middle aged men reading the paper naked on the bank of the Granta. Lindsay. Sue and Angela at Common Ground. And Jenny, again. It's only fair.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Wild Swimming is everywhere at the moment. Or at least, all over the liberal press - the Independent ran an article last week, and the Guardian had a fantastic supplement this weekend, with a rather beautiful photgraph of Jesus Green pool. I was rather sorry that Deakin wasn't mentioned in either; it is, afterall, a year since his death now, and I don't believe that wild swimming could ever have attained such a high profile without Waterlog. I would like to take this opportunity one last time to thank him for being such a huge inspiration to me - I've never been moved quite so profoundly by the words of somebody I never knew.

Reading about other swimmers' "raisons de nager" always interest me, and they're often completely different from my own. I feel perhaps more kinship with the sight-seeing swimmer, who wants to look at spider-crabs and perhaps a seal than with the tough old octogenarian looking after their heart-rated by plunging into icy water, perhaps, but no two people ever expound precsely the same philosophy.

I have had a number of very different types of swim this summer - poignant and playful in the moat, the odd "symbolic dip" in hideous weather on hove beach, long swims at Jesus Green, icy early morning swims at Emmanuel before lectures, gruelling and satisfying missions across Sea Point, frightening and exhilarating at Forty Foot... not all quite what I would ordinarily think of as "my style". If you asked me, I would tell you I prefer to be in the sea, I like to know which point I'm swimming to and that I'd like it to be a good long distance away; I like, ordinarily, to swim around 2k, something that there was never opportunity for when we were travelling, and didn't quite know our surroundings.

In Ireland, I discovered swimming as a form of tourism, not only because we were travelling. There was one idyllic beach on Inish Bofin, for example, that you could only reach by either climbing quite tricky rocks over rocks, or swimming across - I travelled there one way, and back the other. It lent a sense of rather Famous Five-ish danger and excitement to the place. At Sea Point and Forty Foot, the local swimming culture was the most remarkable thing; at Letterfrack, we discovered that swimming was a good way to make friends. Our trip sounded eccentric enough to Alex, afterall, that he decided to join us and find out what all the fuss was about.

People, I think, need water. perhaps more than they know.



Thursday, 16 August 2007

Penultimate Post?

We are back in Brighton after a last swim at Sea Point. The Sun shone, but the wind was high; there was some form of children's sailing class happenning on the far side of the bay - I wish I could tell you what kind of boats they were. I shall send a description to a sailing friend, and ask her to identify them...

I decided to do the crossing one last time. I would have kicked myself if I hadn't. The water was choppy from the wind, but the tide seemed quite still. It had been a while since my last long swim at Letterfrack, so I didn't push the pace - just tried to keep to a crawl as much as I could, or I thought I'd never get back.

When I know that I have a distance to swim, and it isn't one that I have to keep count of, (no monotonous lengths), I get to let my mind wander. If I hadn't been swimming for about twenty minutes, I would have been worrying about packing, travelling, contacting my friend in the city, moving on. Instead, I thought about Communist China (I'm reading Wild Swans, better late than never). I also realised quite how excited I was about an impending visit from my cousin and her husband who live in upstate New York - I hadn't seen John since their wedding.

It sounds odd, sounds backwards, but for me at least, it was the swimming that kept this trip from being a stressful one.

Tomorrow, we'll let you know how far we swum all in, and do a revue of the whole trip. For now, I'll quote you something I've quoted before :

Who am I to tell you
How to manage
The Swimming?

- Maximus.


Monday, 13 August 2007

...back in the saddle...

"I must go down to the sea again..."

"Go on, then."


Low tide at sea point this evening, after a day spent girding the loins (by doing absolutely nothing).

So we walked, to Forty Foot.

Forty minutes, on foot.

Funny, how these things work out.

People diving, people swimming, young people, old people, skinny people, normal people.

A very pretty polish girl with a fake tan in a thong bikini.

"Oh this is too cold for me".

Fish out of water?

G in first, down the ladder. Then I beat out a few strokes. I feel WEAK, after feeling strong all trip. This was Jenny's first swim at Forty Foot she couldn't quite believe she was doing it - but we'd clocked how tough she was within a second. We have an un-repayable debt to this wonderful woman, but we've given her swim-fever, and we've won a friend.

All our skin felt as if it was burning...

Purple sea on the way home, and purple sunset now.

Tired and hungry, and pleased.




Swimming Culture in Ireland

Jenny and I went back to Seapoint yesterday lunchtime, whilst Jordan de-phlegmed. Sunny Sunday, over 50 people in the little changing shelters, on the rocks and in the water, many of them in their seventies and eighties, as well as a tiny girl in armbands and a pregnant woman who dived as gracefully as the black guillemots which accompanied us out to Inishbofin. Everyone chatting, changing, dipping and comparing, all the time various states of toggage und undress, wetness and basking. It struck me where I had encountered such a leisured water-culture before; the baths in Budapest. True, those were single-sex, but there was the same quiet yet sociable enjoyment of being not only in, but about to be in and having been in, water. I haven't encountered quite the same thing in British lidos, but I rather hope it flourishes in Hampstead Ponds, where I, shamefully, have never swum. People getting in, shivering, saying 'It's lovely, isn't it', and at least half-meaning it. It's the feeling afterwards you're looking for though, and the warmth of pride that comes with the boast to friends that you've done it before and you'll do it again.


Sunday, 12 August 2007

Dublin : The Return.

Sligo. Nightmare. From sleeping under canvas on a rainy Inishbofin, I got a cold. Then in Sligo, IT RAINED. And I felt awful. The beaches were stunning, and we hunted for shells. If I'd been on form, I would have swum and loved it - but cold rainy swims are more my style than Gloria's. She likes to actually enjoy swimming - and prefers not to go in alone, which I understand.

She should be back in Sea Point today with the wonderful Jenny. I'll be grumpy on the sea shore wishing I could get in. And coughing, and reading Aristotle. Oh Yes.

(I'll be better tomorrow, Swimming. And having something interesting to say.)



Saturday, 11 August 2007

Sligo Bus Station. Sligo is wet. We have swum. But not for a while. We are returning to Dub to go Joycean again.


Wednesday, 8 August 2007

On The Road.

Clifden, Co.Galway, Direction : Sligo.

River with the french kids once more before kicking out of Letterfrack, also 800m across the bay for me.

Inishbofin - isle of the white cows - is an island.

Shell beach and rock pooling in the rain, followed by christening my wetsuit, about 13 degrees a mad woman swam a long way and gloria got a little scared and clambered on the rocks.

A caribbean looking beach with a cross-current and a rip-tide but a beautiful little pool behind rocks to climb on and another 400 m me, Gloria made friends with a canadian named colin and we built a fort and played long-jump in the sand. (we can jump about two metres I reckon).

Seriously low on disposable internet funds so by way of a goodbye:

Gloria is afraid of swimming in the sea.
Jordan is afraid of sheep.

Gloria wins.

(and I have come to understand much about Kerouac's prose-style...)



Wednesday, 1 August 2007

connemara - chonamara : Letterfrack.

this post will be needfully short, as I spent most of my internet money on trying to make the "@" key work so I could sign in... sticky shift...

so we're in letterfrack (leiterfraic), Connemara, County galway! Five hour bus journey to get here but worth every moment, as we're now officially in the middle of nowhere, which is where we like to be. Camping in the garden of a big hippy hostel - low security but the best breakfast (scones, porage, buttermilk bread...) you ever did dream of. it's something of a shame that my sleeping bag, and gloria's phone, were stolen yesterday, but we have moved on unscathed, I think!

sorry if this blog becomes preoccupied with food, by the way. i'm swimming and being outdoors a lot, I'm beginning to dream about dinner...

on the last bus up the windy hill on monday, past many lakes, puddles, inlets and the like, we met an excitable french chap, name of Alex, who is working in a local b&b. he's an engineer from toulouse, and he decided he wanted to swim with us! so, after attempting to differentiate between the various european hippies staying here, and the various european hippies working here, we got the tent up and headed down the hill to the sea loch to meet him. the water wasn't as saltily buoyant as Dublin Bay, but without such strong tides it was much easier to make headway. we played and splashed and tied bits of kelp around each other. language barriers - and automatic barriers between new acquaintances - soon disappear in the water.

yesterday was the day of the Great Bedding Heist, so after climbing Diamond hill, our first tame little peak of the trip, the afternoon was concerned with dealing with the garda, leaving little time for swimming - you'll be pleased to know, however, that we made time for a stout before bed, and that's the really important thing...

which brings me, at the end of this badly-punctuated ramble, to today. This morning, after a broken night (rain noisy in tent) we headed out on a little ramble. we left the footpath and scrambled through bog and over rocks for a mile or so - stop shaking your heads! we know we shouldn't, but there are big paved trails and boardwalks and PEOPLE everywhere, we had to escape... and we came upon a river. Quite shallow, but very strong. yellow from the peat (pete?) in the hills, but clean enough for salmon and freshwater mussels - again G wouldn't let me cook them - so clean enough for us. now, we had, very cleverly, left our towels and swimming gear behind - we thought we were just off for a walk, afterall - so we had to find a secluded spot... we're getting used to this lark! we bathed where it was about waist-deep, getting clean as we could 9hostel showers : cold drip). and swimming against the current - I understood, suddenly, how it feels to be a hamster!

This evening i went for a long swim out across a part of the sea-loch (lough?), with Gloria as my spotter. About 800 metres, warm and smooth to begin with, getting colder and harder as the wind got up...

Right. We're off to the pub. Stay tuned!



Sunday, 29 July 2007

DUBLIN : First Time.

July 28.

Jorney et cetera. Bus-Plane-Bus-Small Bus. Same as journeys always are, but with more pressure to SPEND. Was secretly quite glad we don't have any money - one in the eye for the capitalists...

Arrived at Jenny's (Holly's WONDERFUL ma who is an absolute godsend, a thing of beauty and a joy forever...) in the afternoon. She let us make sandwiches, and took us down to SEA POINT, which is right by her house. Tide out. Paddled. Played in rock-pool. Found ENORMOUS shrimp, which I wanted to cook for dinner. G&J were less certain - apparentlu, Dublin Bay's, like, not completely clean or something. Who knew? Jenny insited G and I get our Togs on (swimwear uniformally known as "togs" here it seems) and Get Out There. Gloria christened her new wetsuit. We waded. We flopped. We splashed. We tried to swim. Cold and calm - fifteen degrees?Tide in-coming. FUlly-dressed man with green umbrella and the bottom of his trousers rolled paddled. Gloria thought he was "looking for poems", I thought he looked like what Vettriano would paint, if Vettriano were any good.

That night, we had Chocolate Malts ad Eddie Rocket's and Gloria laughed and made a note when I said I wished I were blonde, it were the fifties and she were a man.

I make a point of doint my wishing in the conditional tense.

July 29th.

(My notes about today are LONG. I don't have long on the hostel computer. I'm editing as fast as I can...)

Quite a day. Up early after early night. "The sea air makes sleeping incredibly sweet" - Diane Cluck, Monte Carlo. That is my song. "Oh the green wothe botheth": Stephen Daedalus' song, if you recall, and our first swim of the day was under Joyce's tower, now a (closed, it's Sunday) museum in his memory.

FORTY FOOT. (Sandy Cove. Dun Loaghaire - pronounced "Leary". who knows why?)

Rocks, steps with hand rails, used to be gentlemen only, now lets the likes of us in (at swim, two birds?). Joyce's "Scrotum Tightening" water. Gloria prepares for cold with a wetsuit. I prepare by sunbathing before making the descent. GLORIA IS CLEVERER THAN ME. There are a lot of people in, though where the waves grash against the under-water shelf that I believe gives Forty Foot its name, there is a sucking whirlpool.

We get in, Jenny watching so brave faces all round! I strike out towards a flag, but turbulence from the Dun Loaghaire ferry makes turning back advisable; after it has gone down a little, I talk to a local Diving Man about where it might be advisable to jump off a rock. He tells me. I chicken out. Then I see a small boy manage it, and my jaw sets.... Three. Two. One. I am reminded of Gorge Du Verdun, Blue Pool on Welsh Camp, even Mirror Lake, and every other jump in between. There is a wordless moment between jumping and hitting the water. Oh, adrenaline! Jenny took a photo of me in mid-air, which I'll get up as soon as I can : it doesn't look quite as slick as it felt...

Back at SEA POINT. Jenny has lived there since, I think, 1992, but today was the first day she got in! I went in with her while Gloria stayed by the bags, the idea being that we would operate a kind of tag-team. As Jenny got to knee-deep, she announced that she could no longer feel her legs - I have stopped noticing this phenomena, but I becam aware, when she said it, that it was true... I favour a fast entry myself, diving where possible, so I waited to see (I wrote sea!) her safely submerged before heading for the jetty on the other side of the bay-cove-thing. Around halfway across, I became aware of what I was feeling in this incredibly buoyant water. If I stayed on the surface, I could feel the Sun warm on my skin through the cold water! I swam crawl until my triceps hurt, breast-stroke until the burn was gone, then crawl again, and so on. Nearing the jetty, I saw a man in his sixties set out on a surf-board. The people of Dun Loaghaire are incredibly hardy, and their blood appears to be largely sea water : I wasn't the only one swimming these epic lengths accross the bay, but I believe I was the only one finding it difficult! I got out on the jetty and looked back to where I'd come from, attempting to communicate to Gloria, who worries about such things, that I was still alive. I realised at this point that I was overwhelmingly hungry, and the fastest way to lunch was back across the bay...

Gloria joined me as I neared the changing beach (and I must describe the changing shelters better later, or perhaps I'll leave that to Gloria, who is better with adjectives than me...), and she remarked on something I have been thinking about : In the sea, you have to play. If you try to be serious with it, it hits you in the face.

Once or twice in my life, I have been more tired and more hungry than I was emerging from the sea today. Alongside this, however, I was pink and exhilarated, and aware that I was stronger than I had thought - or more determined, at least... I discovered that a kilometre is rather further in the sea than the pool, especially when you're trying to swim quickly so nobody worries!

There are many things I haven't talked about, but I have made a note of some of them, and saved them for later... Cormorants and didused lidos in particular!

Tomorrow: Galway, Connemara, and camping!

Until I get to a computer again,



Saturday, 28 July 2007

Here we go...

and in the immortal words of Daffy Duck:

So long, Suckers!



Friday, 27 July 2007

Famous Firsts.

Gloria arrived in Brighton today - hurrah! Waterlogged country no obstacle to our dedication! And other such gung ho exclamations on the part of two over-excited girls.

To celebrate her safe arrival, we did something neither of us had ever quite dared to do before - walked down along the sea-front, past the crazy golf and a precarious looking flat in the arches, into Kemptown... and the nudist beach.

We were the only women there, but it was remarkably un-threatening; it's a certain kind of person that takes of their clothes in public in such patchy weather. I'm not sure it would be me again - novelty is one thing, routine nudity another. G didn't like the look of the waves, and didn't swim. I didn't think they were any bigger than at Tidemills on the seventh, and gave it a shot. The breakers, however, came in at a strange diagonal, and had a very strong pull; as soon as I'd got in and splashed around a little, I thought better of staying in any longer. I didn't want to try and fight them when I was tired.

I am trying to get my head around John Berger's line, "To be nude is never to be naked". The nude is aware that they are watched; at once vulnerable and powerful? There is a dishonesty, I think, in the intimacy of the nude. I think they should be called "nakedist" beaches.

Later on, we went out on a trip-launch fundraising expedition! In about an hour and a half, and two of my local boozers, we made about £35 (just under) for the cause. A special shout out to Lewie and Patrick for their generosity.

One final thought:

WE'REGOINGTOMORROWWE'REGOINGTOMORROWWE'REGOINGTOMORROW! And, In the immortal words of dear Thomas, "I'm so pumped!"



Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Water, Water everywhere, and not a drop to swim in

Still working at Radley College, there are floods all around. Walking down to the pub last night the air smelled of river - as though one were likely to slip down a bank at any moment. Ironically, it may be water that causes problems to the start of my journey. At the moment it seems impossible to get from Radley to my home before going to Jordan's.

I am thinking about the fields near Burford I visited with my parents two weeks ago - an oxbow bend in the river which Roger Deakin writes gleefully about in Waterlog. It was the most gorgeous hot afternoon, and we had a great walk through geraniums, cows, sheep, meadowsweet, swans and peacock butterflies. But the bend was fenced off. One of the fat pollard willows by the place where the bend comes in so far it nearly forms a circle has a sign on it saying 'Private Land - Go Back To The Path'. I was torn between obeying the landowner and giving in to the fast pull of the water. Now I think of those fields covered with water, the willows planted in them seemingly with no roots, mushroom-like, and all the prints on the footpath erased.


Monday, 23 July 2007

Check It Out.

Swimming costume, x3 : Check.
River shoes : Check.
Tent : Check.
Bedding roll : Check.
Sleeping bag : Check.
Billy Cans : Check.
Camp stove : Check.
Campingaz : Check.
Fleece : Check.
Bizarre lightweight zip-at-the-knee trousers : Check.
"Delicious" dehydrated food, for emergencies : Check.
Walking shoes : Check.
Walking Socks : Check.
Canvas trainers : Check.
Backpack : Check.
Plane tickets : Check.


- Wetsuit.
- Day pack.
- Towels, clothes &c.
- Currency. Travellers cheques?

Parents leave the country 5 am Wednesday. Anything involving the use of a car must be organised by then. Slightly concerned that Gloria, rained in to Oxford, may have trouble making it down to Brighton on Thursday. website refusing to register Common Ground. I shall have to collect money the old-fashioned way... should be having a "dig deep now folks" type launch party at The Roundhill on Friday night. Wrap party probably to be held in Cambridge next term. You come, you drink, you give us your shrapnel, we give it to charity. Everyone's a winner!

(Panic stations being manned - advice welcome at this point...)



Wednesday, 18 July 2007

The Grumpiest Woman In Ireland.

Today, I tried to book a campsite at Rosses Point, Co. Sligo. My attempts went like this:

Voice: Hello Greenacre Camping, how can I help you?

Me: Hello. I was wondering if it would be possible to book a pitch for the 8th of August.

Mrs Starkadder: I don't take advance bookings.

Me: So would it be best to phone you when we're planning to arrive, to see...

Mrs. Starkadder: 'Swhat everybody else does.

Me: Right. Are you likely to have availability in early august.

Mrs. Starkadder: Depends on the weather. No way of telling.

Me: Okay. Thanks very much for your time.

Mrs. Starkadder: That's alright, dear.

It was the "that's alright dear" at the end that threw me most of all. She had been so very grumpy, so monotonous, so, to borrow Lindsay's phrase, "monumentally un-bothered" up to that point. And then...? I really can't wait to meet her, you know. She sounds wonderful!

We now have accomodation in Galway, Connemara/Ben Lettery, Inish Bofin, and maybe Sligo. Depending on the weather. It's coming together at last!

This afternoon, I'm off to a "Deep Water Resistance" class. Full of lumoy middle aged women and Tom Jones music. But hats off to the lumpy middle aged women, 'cos it's an intense workout, weighted belts, underwater dunbells and things. I'm going because I haven't really swum very FAR at any point this season, and this is the quickest way I could think of to build strength... (It's also quite good fun. But I never said that.)


Sunday, 15 July 2007

Tree Swimming.

Alright. Maybe this post isn't about swimming at all, and maybe you won't forgive me for that. We'll see.

Yesterday, Patrick and I walked from Ditchling Beacon, which is a fifteen minute drive from my house (we'd walk, but crossing the A27 is terrifying), to Lewes. The weather was grey when we set off, but the Sun soon burnt through - mother nature, I think, wanted to laugh at us as our faces turned pink and we tried not to drop the cumbersome jumpers tied around our waists. The paths were soft and inviting, if a little over-populated, at times, by cows (who, irrationally, frighten me ar close proximity), but at times we skipped off the beaten track to wade through meadows - my exposed shins didn't thank me, but my senses did. Cowslips (Cow slips?) smell sweet close to, the moss, crass and clover beneath the taller scrub was very soft and, this best of all, we saw a young stag, skipping out from behind a coppice, bounding through waves of grass and leaving a path we could follow...

About half an hour into our journey, we reached Black Cap, the small woods at the crest of a hill that were planted, or rather re-planted, to commemorate the queen's coronation in 1953. This site is the reason I decided to share the story. I have just started reading Wildwood, Roger Deakin's posthumous Book About Trees. The trees at Black Cap called to be climbed; I recognised oaks and fruit trees, but beyond that I recognised only foot-holds, and possible seats. When I swim, particularly in the sea, I feel very much that I am in my element. A part of my natural habitat certainly, though of course I could not live in water alone. The trees, for me, were a challenge. I could climb any of them quite ably if there were branches that I could put my feet on, and push upwards from there - I was rather less confident when it cam to trusting to my arms. A passage early on in Wildwood, perhaps even in the introduction, came back to me, though, as I climbed and particularly as I watched Patrick climbing, swinging easily into higher and higher branches, grinning (and terrifying me), and looking very much as though his ancestors had never really descended. There is a school of thought, Deakin writes, that makes Wood the fifth element.

I think perhaps it makes more sense to think not of wood as an element, so much as of woods. Woods last longer. We don't really know where they came from, but they have offered us shelter and disguise, fuel and food for longer than we've been writing things down to remember them. As if they needed further proof of their belonging to the very fabric of the world, they contain all four of the other elements: they grow thanks to earth and water; when burned, the produce Fire (One), Ash (Earth - Two), Steam (Water - Three) and Smoke (Wind - Four). Quite what this means I don't know, except that I was sorry that it had been so many years since I had climbed a tree - the last one I was up was on another continent entirely.

We ran into another tree, later on, when I saw a lot of damsons lying on the path just before we descended into Lewes. I looked up, and saw the Tree On Which They Grow. Patrick swang up it without hesitation. Even the under-ripe ones were sweet.

Thank you for bearing with me...


Friday, 13 July 2007

not drowning but waving...

Hove beach again yesterday, this time with James. Overcast, windy, high waves breaking before they reached the shore, coming in slant-wise along the beach. If you swam parallel to the land, the huge waves would slap you forcefully over the head, and those breakers that reached the shallows had enough power to knock yuo over and suck you back a little way if you timed it wrong. It reminded me of being much too young for the ten-foot waves at Beeritz - frightened and enthralled.

Getting changed on a beach inhabited by other members of the general public is always funny. More so when the wind is high...



Saturday, 7 July 2007


Sitting at a computer in a post-party daze, typing with polished nails, I feel a million miles from the wild events of this afternoon - July Seventh, Two Thousand And Seven. Quite a date; my mother's birthday, and the first sunny day in living memory, it seems.

Watching the women's Wimbledon final, I felt disgusted at myself, vegetating, eating bacon sandwiches and endless hobnobs. I think ma understood this on some level; it was she, at any rate, who suggested that we went out to Tidemills beach, near Newhaven. The four of us scoured the house, eventually finding four swimming costumes and four pairs of those little rubber shoes that stop the pebbles hurting your feet. Off we went.

The sun shone, yes, but the wind was high - likewise the waves. In the end, I was the only one actually to brave the water, although the coastline, decorated with wild cabbages and the ruins of a mill-turned hospital, has enough diversions without the hypnotic crashing of the waves.

The shoes were certainly helpful when crossing the beach, which is very steep, and gives way underfoot, but they became something of a distraction when waterlogged (I assure you yu're imagining the pun...) and I repeatedly felt they were going to slip off. For as long as I forgot my family watching on the bank, fighting against and playing in the waves was an absolute joy - it took my strongest crawl to get nowhere in particular, but that felt safe enough. Better, anyway, than the dreadful tug of a strong out-going tide. Playing, this time, was Verb Of The Day. I let the waves rise behind me and jumped against them, so the water slapped my back, and then rode in on them, as though body-boarding, and then fought to swim as far as I could parallel to the beach, then fought harder to swim black, then ran out and wandered along ankle-deep, then ran in again.

Oddly, when I was aware of my parent's eyes on me, I felt more vulnerable; it occurred to me that they couldn't feel, from their positions on the beach, how in control I was, and the waves looked quite high.

For that reason, and because this family has had enough troubles to last it some time, thank you very much, I am making them a promise. Not only am I coming back from Ireland alive and in one unharmed piece, I promise that I'm not going to swim in any water that I haven't asked those in the know about; I won't swim off a beach if it simply doesn't LOOK like it has a rip-tide. I will not swim in the mercury-infused lakes that have oddly started to haunt Gloria. I will challenge myself; sometimes try to swim further than I have before, swim in places that I never dreamed existed, but I will not, I reiterate, WILL NOT, put myself in any real danger. This trip is supposed, afterall, to be a celebration of a great LIFE.

On your next birthday, ma, you'll be in that water too. I bet you.



Monday, 2 July 2007

Blogging from Brno

Last weekend was the occasion of the marriage of a friend of my mother's - I tagged along to Brno for the ride. I'd never been to a wedding abroad before (well, not one I hadn't crashed) and I'm fond of the Czech Republic.

To my joy, we found ourselves in a hotel not in Brno itself but in Brno Bystrc - the suburb to the north-west, by a large reservoir surrounded by yacht clubs, small beer halls and wooded hills. We arrived on Friday night, and on Saturday morning I went for a little exploratory walk, which led me to the huge hydroelectric dam and the river below it, flowing down to the city. It was full of fish, and I watched them for a long while. They beckoned me with their tails. They said 'Algal bloom? Pah! If we can swim it, so can you!' I then hastened away, a 12-hr boozy Czech wedding to attend. Sunday, understandably, was a day of fragility, and we decided to take a boat trip. As we glided up the lake, I saw my first bobbing head. Jokes had been made at the wedding about who would be silly enough to swim in the lake, but it seems the Czechs (and particularly the Naturist Czechs, of which more later) had got there before me. By the time we reached the ruined castle upriver, I was desperate to swim.

I got down there about half past five. It was decently hotter than the UK is at the moment, probably about 30 C. Near the hotel was a lovely park full of birches, pines, and eccentric wood sculptures, some more Henry Moore (smooth humanesque forms), others more Claes Oldenburg (a large matchstick, around 10ft high). There were lots of little steps leading down into the lake. Old and young sunned themselves and swam, and fishing men (always men) stood idly, hanging their coats on the wood sculptures, not expecting to catch anything. The grass was scrubby and dry, the water warm and green. It reminded me of the time I nearly swam on Port Meadow, near Oxford, in last summer's high heat. There was, indeed, a lot of algae. I reminded myself to drink that essential can of Coke.

The strange thing about lakes is that unless you make a firm commitment to swim to the other side, or to the other headland, or something, there's nowhere to go. So I just went up and down a few times, then went out, then up and down again, then out, and so on. I felt incredibly content. Going nowhere in the best sense. Even with strong breaststroke, nothing came discernibly closer. A common tern skimmed the water for fish, contrasting with the chunky 1970s oblong houses descending the hillside behind. Czech Country and Western songs floated across the water from the hotel.


Thursday, 28 June 2007

Down by the ocean, it was so dismal...

Miss Smith, it seems, was not on Hove beach this morning. Yes, the sky was grey. Yes, the wind was up. Yes, the rennovated modernist architecture above the Peace Statue was austere. The sea, however, was a joy. The waves were playful. The tide was high, and I think out-going; it was harder to swim in than out - unless you rode a wave... We ran into the water as soon as we changed. "Dip" was very much the appropriate verb; unaccustomed muscles buffeted and braced by that incredible and incomprehensible power. A power that is timeless. Ocean is older than land, and it doesn't age, and it's never the same twice. You have to be right in one single moment when you swim in the sea - it's like being given a carte blanche; you regain the right to Play.

Recovered with various elaborate (and allegedly vegan) cakes in the Sanctuary.

It's good to be home.



Saturday, 23 June 2007

I never did tell you about the time...

...we had all the trouble with the porters. It happenned some weeks ago now.

Benjamin, Iona and I met Gloria at Emmanuel porters' lodge at 8.45, a.m. As we three "aliens" waited, we were questioned by Angry Porter (the only angry porter I have encountered there, in all fairness): were we members of the college? Did we have permission to be there from a fellow? Were we aware that it was Quiet Period? No, No, Yes. When Gloria arrived, she turned on the charm. I have a lot of respect for Angry Porter, because Gloria's charm is very hard to resisit, but there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY we were going to be allowed to use that swimming pool. No sirree!

So, Gloria whispered to us to go and hide.

Which we duly did - but, foolishly, in the fellows' garden, near the pool; we should have kept a greater distance... Sometimes, the porters just give G the key, and tell her to lock up and bring it back when she's done. I thought that would happen now. I hadn't reckoned on the true Grump of Angry Porter, who ESCORTED HER ALL THE WAY TO THE POOL.

Iona, Benz and I hid behind a bush.

We kept very still.

Angry Porter got closer...

We won, in the end.

It was cold.

Term is over. I am swimming in the Granta once more, very early tomorrow morning, then I shall be back on Brighton beach...

Bring on the sunburnt beach-whales that signal summer in the south east!



Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Jesus Green.

Finally. I was there on the first day of the season last year, but this time didn't make it until the water, blue and beautiful of course, had reached a positively welcoming nineteen degrees. Leaves on the bottom. Diving in and making patterns. Lengths so long you lose count and don't care anyway, because you're just there to think, and feel, and not, for once, to compete. Patrick came too. We read books poolside afterwards. We're going back today.

You look at the water and you think of Hopkins. It's unavoidable.

Glory be to God for dappled things.



Friday, 15 June 2007

A summer day in Suffolk

Saturday was the day of Roger Deakin’s memorial at his house in Suffolk. ‘Memorial’ seems the only appropriate word – it was a day of remembrance, the day itself seeming to stand as a testament to someone who loved the place where we were all gathered. It was one of those days one wishes for, sunny, but not too hot, with cloud interruptions and a breeze. Crossing into Suffolk from Cambridgeshire twice signalled that we were moving into a special, removed space and time. We walked through the long grass, oxslips and buttercups in the fields around the house searching for the elusive wood which Roger planted. Before too many guests arrived, we had a swim in the moat. It was shorter than I had imagined, but wider, with a warm top layer which, when disturbed, gave way to greeny cold. Our temperature gauge was the Granta the day before – the moat was warmer, fractionally.

It’s a strange thing going to such an event in honour of someone you never met. By the end of the hour and a half of songs, poems and recollections, we felt we knew Roger Deakin better, and felt all the sadder at his absence. One could only hope for such a good friend, and friends to remember us.

Terence Blacker ended the event with a rendition of ‘The Swimming Song’ on the banjo – almost eerily appropriate considering my discovery of the song only a few days before, and also because it’s one of Jordan’s favourite songs.

When we had a few moments’ silence, the birds kept on singing and singing all around the big striped circus tent where we sat. When filled with singing, every moment is marked and unique - the music makes each point in time truly exist.

Friday, 8 June 2007

get the skinny...

A sunny afternoon.

Gloria, Ricky and I went out to Granchester Meadows.

We sand White Stripes songs all the way out there.

While swimming, we saw a naked man emerging at the Newnham Riverbank Club.

We took our gear off.

N.B: It's quite difficult to get a swimming costume BACK ON under water.

Nuff said.


This summer I went swimming
This summer I might have drowned
But I held my breath and I kicked my feet and I moved my arms around
I moved my arms around

Loudon Wainwright III, 'The Swimming Song'

The Lee Swim

As I conduct some swimming research for Ireland, I note that the famous Lee Swim in Cork takes place on 28th of July, the day Jordan and I land.... in Dublin.
This is a shame, but I think neither of us would be fit enough to do this 2000 metre dash.

Also, I've been to Cork. I've seen the Lee. In the words of The Reverend Ian Paisley, Never, Never, Never!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Through the Looking Glass.

It was a beautiful night last night. After a failed attempt at hiring a punt from Scudamore's (which, it seems, shut earlier than advertised), some college friends, Benjamin, Adam and I had a late-night picnic in the gardens of Sidney Sussex college. Several "good ideas" later on, Ahmed, Ali and the girls went to bed. Benz, Adam and I decided to test the Sidney punt, Lazy Dayz.

From Magdalene bridge to Queens' lock, the journey was serene; Adam whistled itchycoo park, I recited snatches of jabberwocky, Benjamin punted remarkably smoothly on such a rickety contraption. The river was like a looking glass -King's chapel apparently built twice, end-to-end, so clear was its reflection. Adam took us back from Queens' to Jesus lock; he turned the boat, and then I began to learn - staggeringly, and appallingly unsuccessfully - how to punt.

I did, eventually, shunt Lazy Dayz into a mooring. Then the fun began.

The key to the padlock that moored the punt had, it seemed, gone missing. "Pass me the torch", said Benjamin, last man on the boat, "and I'll see if the key's still on board somewhere." I leant down with the feeble flashlight; Benjamin, reaching up, toppled sideways, has hat coming over his eyes and convincing him, as he was submerged, that he was drowning. He climbed out of the water without too much trouble, but the punt and pole had slid away from us.

I saw my chance.

"Don't worry Benjamin. You can't swim in your clothes."

Stripped to underwear. Climbed over railing. Shallow dive, steered the punt back towards its pitch, and chased the pole. They're heavier than they look you know, those things.

The water was the warmest I have known this season. Infinitely softer, being the Cam, than Emmanuel pool and it felt like three times the temperature of our early-season sixteen degrees in the Granta.

Wasn't even shivvering particularly on emerging - rather wish I'd taken the plunge sooner, could have had a good long swim... the punt probably didn't need me to rescue it, but an excuse is an excuse. And Adam took pictures of the whole proceeding, which shall be published for the common enjoyment as soon as they're in my possession.




Wednesday, 30 May 2007

A Dry Spell.

Exams. Must avoid sneezing in them. Jesus Green pool is open. I have not been in yet.

Which makes me do This:


Over in a week.



Monday, 21 May 2007

Diane Cluck.

And the three lonely things poking up from the water
are her nipples and her nose as she floats on her back
And the sand is deserted except for me standing
I stand as the landmark to keep her on track
So the ocean wont pull her away

-'Monte Carlo', Diane Cluck.

In the water yesterday I sang this at Gloria because it was true.

And she says she didn't get any presents...


My Birthday

The sun was (almost) out. The college gardens were beautiful. Present: Jordan and Iona. Presents: none. Even though it was my birthday. My 22nd. Back in the eleven times table and feeling groovy.

The water was, for the second time this year, like cool balm. Breaststroke, backstroke, whirled marbly clouds, lying completely still and calm on my back trying to remember King Lear. Failing. Throwing and catching Charles Olson quotations across the pool with Jordan. 'An epic that refutes epic!'

Tell you? Hah! How should I tell you
how to manage the swimming?

And ineffable wet bliss moments. And Jordan in Snoopy pyjamas. And Iona being a beautiful diver. And then apple tart and arguments.

So.... Ireland.

Saturday, 12 May 2007


I must swim tomorrow. I have had a Slight Cold - little more than the odd sneeze, but with so much work to do just now, getting ill is not viable. I am rather bored of terra firma.


Wednesday, 9 May 2007

I did the double today - an hour of Parkside Pool and twenty minutes at Emmanuel. I think something should be said about indoor swimming arrangements in Cambridge. Parkside is, as public swimming pools go, rather nice (though Jordan disagrees, her preferred adjective being, I believe, 'scummy'). It is always clean, and has Slow, Medium and Fast lanes (and I would just like to point out here that it isn't the speed, but the quality of the swimming which counts). I like the fact that it is public, and thus All Sorts of people swim there (Even people who aren't Cambridge students! How novel!), or don't swim there, as in the case of a Larger Lady last week who just stood at the shallow end of the slow lane, looking rather upset.

Ah, Parkside, full of the complex politics of overtaking, variable speeds and styles and accidental thigh-stroking. I have been going once a week with the superfit Chris, who does breaststroke like he's trying to outrun a torpedo, since October. Until about February, 7am means DARK. In deepest winter, 8am is still struggling. Swimming in what feels like the middle of the night, in a box of light and water and wood and splash, is not unpleasant, but does feel very artificial and therefore rather Wrong, and I am glad for the coming of British Summer Time and the edging of our tilt towards the sun.

It is, however, becoming something of a social hub. Today saw three friends, two acquaintances and one ex-supervisor. This is too much. There is something galling about being lapped by someone you love: even more galling is to be lapped by someone who taught you everything you know about French versification. It's also quite warm, giving people license to swim incredibly fast (there were some butterflyers this morning - something I very much frown upon.). Water should be COLD. It should be something to fight against, and then conquer, enjoying it softly yielding etc etc, but never quite yielding, always with some trick up its sleeve. You understand me.

To this end: Emmanuel. Pool opening times have been extended, and Eddy and I plopped in just after three, in light rain. Lucy, attendant beneath umbrella, read us Petrachian sonnets in the original. Roger Deakin writes well in 'Waterlog' about how every swimming experience is different, even down to the yield and texture of the water on different days. This was certainly the case today. Tickled by drizzle, the water felt less solid to get into, and looser. After a length of us whooping with cold, it was sure, steady breaststroke and backstroke for a good quarter of an hour. I cannot breaststroke in Parkside - it's boring - but in Emma pool you can see the waves your arms create breaking over and over into the pattern of back and forth peaks and troughs you set in motion when you jumped in. Steady beats in that unsteady surface. Arms smoothing. I became almost hypnotised.

Realising we were frighteningly warm, we got out and headed home for tea and baklava.

As I write, it is 6pm, the rain is pouring down and I'm rather tempted to go in again.

(Jordan has a cold, but will be fully operational, I trust, tomorrow).


Tuesday, 8 May 2007

We have booked our flights.

They are not wet or cold

We hope

We fly July the 28th!


Sunday, 6 May 2007

In Honour Bound...

I have a friend who is tied to the code of the A.F.N, or "All F***ing Night". The principle is simple: he will receive a message stating a place, followed by those three portentous letters. He must then make his way to the specified endroite by as close as possible to noon on the next day; there follows twelve hours of drinking. Yesterday, he jumped ship mid-afternoon, and headed from Cambridge to, I think, Camden. I have yet to hear from him.

I, likewise, seem to be honour bound. I must drop everything when one of my friends (and the only people for me are the mad ones, quoth Kerouac) sends me one simple word: "swim?". So it is that at quarter to seven on a warm but distinctly overcast evening in early May I am heading to meet Blackbenz, Blair and Braude, to submerge myself in the Granta.

It is a Sunday, afterall. What better time for worship?

Aqua Vitae. Uisce Beathe.




Tuesday, 1 May 2007


"Aaaaaahhhh. Aaaagh. AAAAAGH!"


"wowowowowowow!" (possibly "owowowowow!")

"my... balls are... walnuts."

(Things people shout when jumping into Emmanuel College pool.)

* * *

Made it down early this morning! Gloria, Eddie, Lucy, Ben and I.

Lucy's ill so she went inside and came back with tea for when we got out.

First time I've been in in the mornings - 8.45 isn't a time I normally register - but am feeling rather wonderful about the day now.



Monday, 30 April 2007

The Emmanuel Ice Duck Is Broken

First day of Emmanuel College Pool being open. Built in 1855, it has claims to being the oldest outdoor pool in the UK. Pictures here.

Broke it at 4.30pm. There was no ice, but there should have been. Swimming in glorious cold burning turquoise water under an almost lavender sky on the last day of April. 'IT'S AAAAAPPPRRRIIIIIL!' I shouted up at the sky. Jordan intent on Underwater, Ottering and diving. I got cramp in my foot for the first time ever. It was that kind of an exciting swim. I went off to buy a bikini top. It is in this spirit of serious frivolity that we proceed.


Saturday, 21 April 2007

New Season...

Back in Cambridge, and a first trip to Granchester meadows today. Into the Granta, of course... two brave friends to thank for such an early swim. We turned a vivid pink, but happily not blue. The swans I saw nesting last year are not in the same place. Or perhaps it is too early for them? Also, Gloria accosted me in a supermarket. We must book those flights.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Uisce: Water of life.

Uisce. The water of life. Anglicised "Whiskey". The same word in Scottish gaelic, Irish gaelic and also some English parts.

Training has begun, in dank indoor pools for the most part. I've been in the sea once or twice. Around here, the beach smells of beer cans and dunkin' donuts - ten for a pound on the pier...

Out at Tidemills beach, Seaford, there is a man selling coffee from a stall. Good coffee, but he only works on sunny days.

The lido isn't open yet...