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.