Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Swim Saving Grace

Guilt weighs down on the duvet over my head. It's 9.27am. I was supposed to get up at 8.30, do some work, two mile lunchtime swim, back & a couple more hours work. Actually, I was supposed to get up at 7am but a red wine night cap, capped that idea- An ongoing theme to this blog, I mean aside from swimming. The excuses.

I've been telling myself 10 more minutes for 50 minutes, unwilling to open my eyes and face the world. I like where I am now, limbo. Not quite awake, not quite asleep, not connected to the rest of the world. Nothing to be done, just blanking out the things I don't want to think about. Until the rush of reality goes to the stomach, then head, eyes flicker. I really have stuff to do, like phone bt. Duvet goes back over the head.

I could just do the pilates DVD, yes that would relieve the guilt hole,compromise the conscience, still give me back some of the time I've wasted doing nothing in bed.

I get up make the jump, make the call. Which ends in a BT breakdown, call centre blues.

This is what I do for a living, and know that they hate talking to me as much as I hate talking to them. This doesn't ease the shame, I'm patronised, and know exactly what will be said about me when the phone goes down. It's like calling myself.

Undone by frustration & humiliation of a job badly executed by myself, all I can think that will put me together again, is to swim.

No pilates in leggings on a old tv for me. I need to swim, taste chlorine, ache my arms, feel my breath. Following instruction from a woman who never changes, won't stop the ridiculous upset about a conversation with a someone I'll never meet in person. Only the swim will do.
Grabbing the first cossie I can find (my lack of rinsing has made all but one of them dangerously nipple skimming) haven't eaten yet, not even a first cup of tea. Can't risk it.

Must swim, long for chlorine and mucky floors, wide lanes. Easy, annonymous lane rage.

Swim fast and furious on a empty stomach. Anger ebbing with every over thrown over arm. At around the 51st length the rational me returns, laugh at myself underwater and a find a plan to the rhythm of my strokes. Then tiny oblivion, not thinking, just swimming as if not quite asleep not quite awake. Trails of thought in an almost reality, a semi conscious state, just like the kind I couldn't leave this morning from under my duvet.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A trip to see the sea sometime in October

My heart is a little bruised, my ego a little torn. When I can't quite remember who I am, there's two things I tend to do more of;
Swim more. 
Drink more. 
It's the forgetting in both these things. The numbing down of conversation in my head. Of things that will never happen. It's drowning out the fantasies. It's flooding. It's finding tiny moments of oblivion. 

So I run to the sea. Like I should. 

To Kent. I didn't want to go to Brighton, my usual haunt for swimming, wanted an adventure, somewhere new. To get out of myself and out of London. Or even the clutches of it. (Brighton is after all, London on Sea). 
I didn't do my research particularly well, landed in a place where I expected buses to run from (because I live in London and that's how buses roll...) just a short jaunt down to the sea. Westonhanger. Or Westernhanger. But the bus stop is down a lane on a blustering road, miles from the sea. And the buses only come once an hour. I have 35 minutes to wait. This isn't London, I mutter to myself, and begin a conversation with myself into my phone. A poor attempt at creating something, words while waiting at a bus stop in Kent. 

No one knows I'm here. I told a few friends I was off to swim, but not specifically where that would be. I get in awe of my own comfort in solitude. I revel in my danger.

Atop a tall bus, I see the sea coming over the top of the hill, briefly. I don't exaggerate that my heart skips a beat. Closer to her. And her expanse. And the she disappears again. 
I can't find the sea when I first get there. Wound through the winding street, lined with charity after charity shop, purposefully twee tea rooms. And betting shops. 

Pop in a shoe shop just in case. A single shop assistant singing 'Search for the hero inside yourself' unashamedly to racks of cut price shoes. 
Go to buy some cigarettes, just to ask directions to the sea. Found myself, talking myself out of swimming. No camel lights, this is Kent. Next best thing. Benson & Hedges. Gold Box. I always want to smoke after I've swum in the sea.
'Er sorry, which way is the sea?'

 'Down the road, right, left'
(I wonder how far Birmingham is from the sea- Yahoo answers, the answers to everything. Barmouth. Barmouth. 3 hours away on a train.) 
Down marine walk. I walk. 
Over a bridge, over a canal. Can see it on the horizon, the lightening of the skyline. That specific kind of lighting in horizon when there's no land anymore, just water. 

Into shingles and pebbles. Long dead fish. Out in to depth. 
Blowing a wind. Hardly a soul. A old style ice cream van. And people parked up in cars. Over looking the sea. Melting ices. Into laps. Watching behind window screens. 
A stony beach with a deep drop down into a sea that no one is swimming in. Its choppy. Very choppy. I think I hear fireing down the way. Read something about a fireing range. See a kayak. In the distance. Close to a red flag. Should stay within distance of him. Put the blame on him. 
And I look at the waves. And no one swimming and I am scared. Currents pull at my toes and just a casual swim becomes a rescue. Discarded clothes on a beach. They look through my wallet. All there is, is my cash card, my only ID. My iphone, and no contact in case of emergency. Just a girl who has never been here before, floating away, bloated away by a quick dip, on the day after the sun went in on our strange indian summer. 
The sea is louder than I remember. In stupidity and youth and naivety of the sea, I would never be afraid of her waves. But watching her throw herself against a man made barrier, into  a certain direction, I let my fear get the better of me and cower on down to the next beach across a pile of rocks. In front of the ice cream van. Just for safety. I can see her current from here. 
But I'm not , not going in. I'm not, not having spent £23.40 on a train, waited 35 minutes for a bus in the middle of no where, not to wet my head. It is, by now the afternoon. 
I'm not worried for the cold. I'm worried at being swept away. 
I take my clothes off. Swim stuff underneath. 
Waves hit me at quite a pace. I take a breath, I dive under salt water, eyes can't see white foam, white salt and everything washes over me. Just for that second. That's always what I am looking for. A small obliteration, a slight smell of danger. As a wave hits you at force. She's not cold, just right, warm even, but it's her force that is the problem today, not the calm cold of Dover Harbour. 
I'm not a thrill seeker, really, I wish I was. I wish I was a surfer but can barley stand up on dry land. I want it all to wash over me. 
But there is just that moment, split second, breath intake, when you don't know if you will come out of the other side of that wave. 
And the sea lifts me up, off the ground, jumps me up. But I can't swim in these waves, I'm worried about the current. And I'm worried that I'm worried about the current. 
I spend 40 minutes..an hour in there, ranting with the sea, my head somewhere else trying to wash away my thoughts. By dunking myself and ducking myself, over and over to exorcise the tap tap tap tap tap. Voices in my head. 
I swim in strokes for no more than 19, 20, strokes, afraid that she will take me off course. Too afraid to swim in her depths. 
A couple sit and watch me for a while on a bench. In front of the ice cream van. (It's popular that, people are driving to it just to get an ice cream on this windy october day). 
I show off a little, flick my mermaid tail, draw breath under water, swim in unseeable depth. They are not really watching me, just gazing as we do, out to the sun line. The horizon. 
They get bored of watching me not drown and leave. Blustering down the promenade. 

I don't want to get out I'm happy bobbing up and down for maybe an hour. I don't want to get out. But I'm getting the chills and I haven't eaten anything since some sort of late breakfast. Fish and Chips is, of course, what I'm planning. 
She lifts me up and crashes my foot down onto a rock on the bottom of the floor. But I can't feel pain when in her grips, too much salt and angry water. 

I remember reading a excerpt from a book (the Guardian weekend magazine I would imagine) An artist who lost his young wife to a wave. And he writes and he calculates about how long that wave was heading for his wife, that wave that broke her neck, began to break her back. How old that wave was and the energy that it carried. I think, like a bullet, I wonder if there is a wave with my name on. And I think that while swimming off the coast of Kent I probably shouldn't think like that. And the sea has become foreign to me, unknowable, unstoppable. Showing me up for my fables and my fallacies. 

I remember tumbling in warm waters in Australia, more than ten years ago now, no fear of giant waves as twice as tall as me, eating sand, being thrown at the floor, bikini bottoms filled weighed down, nearly lost. Never being afraid. Going in for more, only me and the boys, throwing ourselves into dangerous waters. Not knowing which way was up. I'm not that fearless now. I don't have that arrogance of youth, lack of awareness at my own mortality-stuff that happens to other people, that's just stories I'd shrug off. 

I stagger out, up pebbles and rocks, like a drunk with cold feet. Slowly, wrap myself in a towel, look as I should, out to sea. 
For a while. And wonder. If I just swam and swam and swam and swam. Until I couldn't swim anymore. 
And the panic that would rise up in my throat. This is not simply a wrong turning. A wrong street. A place to go back on yourself. It is only water, which ever way you look. Moving water. The same in each direction. And there is no way back on that decision. No sat nav, iphone turn around. Just you and what lies beneath and above and beyond. A fear, a want, a taste, for that to be the case. But with the support of boat and people with dry feet, and knowledge that there is an end in sight. 

And I come to the question:

Does the physical action of swimming calm me as much as the feel of the sea on my skin. Over my head, all around me. 
I'm running to the sea, like I do, like I think I should. When things end and I need a distraction. 
When I want to cover myself in cold and salty water, wash away. Take a breath. 

I'm actively jealous of those of truly love the sea, who are brought up by the coast, childhood in salt incrusted happiness. Who swim everyday. Without thinking. Whose fingers carry constantly ridged tips. Like the crest of waves. Like they come from the ocean.

The next day I went swimming in a pool without having washed the sea water away from me. Feeling the salt sliding from my skin. Out of the wild, the natural into the munciple swimming pool. Changing it into a fraction of the sea. Just for a moment. 

On Guilt

April. Last entry, April. Seven months ago.  A post which was a promise to update on what happened in between when I hadn't posted for ages before.


Guilt, a sinking feeling, a searching for excuses.

In brief: I got scared. I talked to actual channel swimmers. I got scared. I had someone look at my stroke. (I should probably start trying to kick my legs...) I got scared. I should have gone down to the channel swimmer's season over summer. I got scared.

In length:

I will probably have to give everything up.  Just swim for two years. Live, breath in water. On a costal town. With nothing, no one for company ...but this provoked in me the romantic side, alone by the sea, like a sailor, a runaway, a castaway, a poet. Not the reality in boredom and salt cracked bone ache, in a town whose only soul has been thrown to sea (I'm not specifically referencing Dover).

I continued to watch (through being part of the channel swimmmer's email list) people make it across to the other side. I saw the discussion and preparation and support and camaraderie. I got annoyed by David Walliams.

I got distracted, I got distracted by another project that went well (an obsession about a postcard -there's stuff about here) and wasn't about swimming, and I forgot. Well I didn't forget, it was always there sitting there somewhere nagging me. Dragging at me.

I took the show that was nothing to do with swimming to Edinburgh Fringe Festival, in preparation I researched and I looked and I found out where the pools were near to me. I imagined getting up, early and walking to the pool, walking back, doing the show, staying slim, early nights, eating fruit , being healthy, not smoking.

I stayed up late, I drank too much, I smoked everyday, I mainly ate cheese sandwiches. Or burgers. And I swam once. In the sea. And only because my mum took me.

And when I was in the sea I tried to count my strokes, still swimming in the lengths of pools. Bite against the cold in a calm sea with mountains eiether side.  Swam to far, a little to far. And saw my mother undress with no humiliation on a windswept beach, while a family all clothed, head to foot pretended not to notice her unapologetic flesh.

But once I was in the sea. I didn't want to get out, it was only the promise of a proper hot meal that made me leave the salty waters.

People ask me how the swimming is going. I make high pitch dismissal sounds when anyone asks. I lie about it if they pushed me. I look at videos from those 7 months ago, when I was swimming, four at least four (oh OK not really more than four miles). I am envious of my slimmer outline and the confidence in my contours.

At this point I have forgiven myself, let myself swim a mile at a time, no more two mile swims, no more jogs, no more pilates DVD's.  Even a little swim is better than nothing.

I had a lot on. I tell myself insistently.

Instead I buy books about Whales and get distracted by mermaids and kelpies, seahorses and sharks. Thinking isn't doing. And now even they sit by the side of my bed or the bottom my bag weighed down with the guilt. Swim guilt. Project guilt. Fallacy guilt.

I had so much to write, so much to say in the time that has happened in between, but for now I'm going to start with recent memories, recent happenings, in the hope that I can begin to pin back together training, and researching and writing the story of the swim.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Long Time No Write

Troubles with my computer (problems still residing from the milk based spilling incident) have left me lazy about writing the blog. All the words I thought I had to write when without the computer seem to have vanished somewhere else. I was also somewhat distracted by making a performance about swimming the channel, which instead of helping me to make the swim more attainable, seems to have widened the distance between here and France.

So lets start back more than a month ago, when I was working with pens and paper, borrowed computers on borrowed time, talking to myself in a windowless room with four paddling pools and several large bags of salt.

I'm going to try to split up the entries I should have written weeks ago, again so it doesn't become a huge chunk.

Fear puts me in the water

I'd had been concentrating on making a performance about something that I intended to do, something that while I didn't consider easy, I was naive to the commitment I needed. It's a party piece, a performance piece. A ongoing joke.

I had avoided talking to any other channel swimmers, aware that contacting them was another step in making the swim a reality. I was happy playing around in fantasy, swimming in buckets of water and pools of salt to the amusement of other people. At this moment I'm just a girl who is swimming a little bit more than she used too. 

I post an email to the google groups associated with the CS & PF website- http://www.channelswimming.net/

Hi All,
I'm a swimmer who has just started to take the prospect of swimming
the channel seriously. I've looked up timelines, done my research,
started training more seriously but I think I need help! I'm planning
on September 2012, but I realise I might all ready be a bit late in
organising. I'm really looking for tips and training buddies that can
help me to realise the reality of what I want to achieve.

I am also a performer that is using my training as material to write a
show about attempting to swim the channel, including researching the
history of channel swimming-why people do it, and our relationship
with both the sea and swimming. At the moment I'm working with Camden
People's Theatre in London.

I'd be really interested to interview/ meet people that have/ are
swimming the channel both as part of training and as a way of
collecting other people's stories about channel swimming. It would be
probably be the kind of questions that you are often asked-Why do you
do it? What's going through your mind? as well as exploring your
relationship with the sea at the time and the kind of usual tricksy
technical questions.

I'm London based but can easily get to other areas-but any tips, ideas
or training programs or reality checks via email etc.. are most

Thank you in advance!

I get around 30 or so responses, offers of support, offers of help, people telling me their stories, sending me their websites. There are so many stories out there. One man takes me apart, asks me what I mean by training more seriously (two or three times a week...) if I realise that all the boats will probably be booked.  Wondering if I am really that serious. What my baseline is in cold water swimming...(I'm not even sure I know what this means, I last swam in the Serpentine lake in September 2010, I haven't been in cold water since). He apologies if he is being presumptive about my lack of experience, but this is the reality check that I need.

That Saturday 26th February I go and visit Dover with a plan to visit the museum and swim in the sea.

Dover Museum is as it should be, mislabelled displays, dough faced mannequins, one well funded exhibit where all the public funding has gone too. There's a stuffed Polar Bear (after the discovery of a polar skeleton it is thought possible that the species originated in the South East Coast of England, slowly making their way to the colder regions of the Antarctic and respective poles as the land began to break up) and a Lion's Head in full roar (the latter half of the lions body has been missing since a museum open day 1952).  They are both housed in glass, hidden away in corners, atop stairs, I hear a women in her 60's say that she remembers when they were allowed to touch the Polar Bear.

(I would have pictures, but it seems since repairing the mac, I am actually unable to upload pictures from my camera...I'll find a way they'll be coming soon)

I spend a good 40 minutes searching through archived pictures relating to channel swimmers on the computerised search...there are 1000's. Women in the water, women in goose fat, a women laughing as a wave blasts over her, pictures of Captain Webb's Matches, stories of his death at Niagara Falls, previous channel swimmers posing before their tour of water aerobics, people being heaved into boats, being fed in the water. I purchase too many of them, unsure if I am wanting them for artistic or athletic inspiration.

Throughout this little trip in the back of my head is getting in the sea. In February.  What if it's so cold my heart stops. My lungs fill, I don't come up from underneath. In the comfort of a warm tea shop over cake and toasted sandwiches, I tell my long suffering friend (a big supporter of these little exploits) that he can't let me talk myself out of it.

It's a blustering, miserable day, grey to match the edges of the town.  A wind that cuts through layers and flips umbrellas inside up, so they turn to the sky to catch the spits of rain.  We walk to the sea front to try to find the statue of Captain Webb so I can have my picture taken with him, another first step to becoming a channel swimmer.

Rather stupidly I had thought there would be a beach that stretches out to the horizon, a glimpse of the opposing coastline just visible in the distance. An open beach that I was standing on when I imagined how my crossing would begin.

But it is just a defunct harbour flanked either side by ferry ports and dead docks. Like so many British sea side towns in the tail end of winter, teenagers huddle into shelters on the sea front, shielding illicit cigarettes from the salty wind. Once cheery facades of four, five story houses and grand hotels face out toward the sea,  their battle to be upbeat and welcoming lost to the decline in business.  Famous cliffs rise to the left, our shoreline being eaten as the waves draw in.

The sea is not how I would have liked her. She is calm and flat, a slight ruffle atop grey depths. In part I am relieved that it is not high waves and churning seaweed that I am diving into. But this calm water is not why I love the sea.

We walk to the end of the pier, fisherman beheading still convulsing catches amongst a flurry of gulls.  The wind persisting the further on we walk. We head toward the end of pier cafe that boasts it's opening hours to be all through winter, even on the weekends. It is shut. I look out to sea through the neck of the harbour, disappointed I haven't a clear view of what lies ahead. I look down to the water to try to hear the weight and pull of the current but really, we're made inland by the harbour walls, and the sea movements are curtailed.

The toilets, are surprisingly, open and I stand for a minute without any clothes on the concrete floor in the toilets on Dover Pier. The cold has already gone to my bones, raising bumps in my skin, making me wish for warmer days. Or a cup of tea. Or a brandy. I am already shivering with not a toe dipped in the water.

Walking back along the pier with all the determination of a girl who has already put her swim suit on, doubts begin to rise. There was a moment before when I first saw the sea that I felt my heart lurch, my stomach contract, just a want to get in the water. That is slowly fading as the water looks thick and still. I'm not going to drown, but my heart might stop. My lungs might fill. My limbs may not work. What I don't want is a crowd to gather and watch me.

(There was a time I got in the sea in Exmoor in October, on my own. Out at sea were some robust older ladies enjoying the water, as I was doing the complicated beach strip, a man came up to me and said 

'You're not really getting in?'
'Yes I'm really getting in' I replied a little awkwardly as I undid my bra from under my swimming costume. 
'What really?' making no attempt to avert his gaze. 
'Yes really'
'Will it be cold, do you think?' 
'Probably, ahh it'll be all right' 
'You'll be freezing' he says pensively looking out to the water
'Welll'  I'm now changed and ready to go
'I'll look after your stuff for you then' he offers
'No, it's fine, I might be in a while' 
I am now stuck between the bravado of going in and the slight worry that this man might run off with my clothes/money/ phone. 
'Really? How long? No , you'll be out quick enough. Are you really going to go in?' 
'Yes, I'm really going to go in' 
'Allright I'll watch, just in case' 
'Honestly, it's fine'
'No, no, I'll watch, just in case'
I now have no choice but to leave my stuff with this man-proving my point but possibly being left with nothing but what I am wearing I stride into the surf, giving a jolly wave to the ladies in the water. They wave back. A headfirst dive into the water and I come up screaming FUCCCKKKKK. It's cold. The old ladies look on disapprovingly. 

I swim for a while, one eye on the man, who stands on the beach, arms folded, both eyes on me. When I think that he is probably not going steal my stuff I stay in for some time. I come out. 

'You were in for a long time' 
'Was I?' 
'Just wanted to make sure you were allright...'
'I'm fine, it's lovely in there...' 
'Looked after your stuff' 
'Yes, thank you' 

I am standing shivering, wrapping a towel around myself.

'Right, well, I'm going to get changed...' I say. 

A pause. I look at him.

'Oh OK' and he wonders off

As I am doing the backward cossie to clothes strip, exposing myself to the back of the beach sand dunes rather than, for some odd reason the sea. I hear a rustling in the sand dunes. The man is still there watching me.)

Back to February 26th 2011...

The long suffering companion in this little outing shivers against the wind off the water (he feels the cold) and looks at me.

'It's fine' I say 'My mum didn't seem bothered I was doing it'

'Well that's all right, then, she's a sensible woman, your mum'

'I told her I was going to get in the sea this weekend and she said just said 'good', nothing else, didn't tell me not too, not that that would stop me but..'

'I ain't getting in if you start drowning'

'What really? What if I get in and don't come up'

'Well, how long are you gonna be in there for?'

'I think it might just be a run in, run out'

'Right, I ain't getting in'

'What if my heart stops because of the cold'

'Could 'appen'

'And you wouldn't get in?'

There is a pause as he realises that should this actually happen, he will, probably,  have to get in. I can see him weighing it up. He looks a little pale. A genuine worry. That he will have to get in.

'I ain't getting in' 

Monday, 21 February 2011

One swim week

Another week without the computer has brought me to a bit of a stand still or a swim still.(obviously I don't actually need a computer to swim) I swam once last week, nearly a week ago, tuesday morning, no goggles. I tried to talk myself out of it, just 100 lengths, you've forgotten your goggles, your really tired, you've got stuff to do. I did the two miles, begrudgingly, my eyes stinging like I would cry blood. I left the pool with them swollen, fine red veins spreading through my whites. That day everything was blurred like I was still underwater. The skin around my eyes stung for two days. No more swimming without googles.  

Aside from this- I've been reading stories about channel swimmers-reading about the fat burning off, the fat moving around to cover your kidneys for protection. This is mainly gleaned from an article about a man that used to be in Neighbours- http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/2160968.stm. Another reality check, another reason to realise that all this is, is me just saying I will do it. There's no proof. 

Distractions from other projects kept me busy last week but every time I went into the studio at Camden People's Theatre, to make some work about swimming the channel- I didn't know what I was doing-felt like I was stealing other people's stories and thunder and seriousness about it. 

This is an extreme sport. You have to bit fit enough. This is no walk in the park. 

Floating in front of me as I think about it. I've got a number for a man who swam the channel last year, signed up to the channel swimmers group online. But here I am standing in a windowless room with a lot of salt and paddling pool with a hole in it. (more about that at starting blocks blog). 

Are you really going to do it?-In the group meeting at Camden People's Theatre on Friday-someone asked how important it was that I actually tried to do it. Determination clicked in. Very. I have to do it-even though it's churning my stomach. And seems so far away. It isn't. 

So I started trying to imagine what it would really be like, what, instead of indulging myself in the glamour and reaction of saying to people-my party, does it really mean to be standing on the shore of Dover.

I also started scaring myself with lists of people that have died swimming The Channel. I'm just telling myself ghost stories. Stolen bits from other people's accounts. 

Sometime in September 2012, around 4 or 5 in the morning

So this is where I am now. I'm standing on the beach with my toes in wet sand looking out to sea. It's dark, early in the morning, there's no sun on the horizon.  I'm shivering underneath layers of vaseline, and I've not even started to make my way ungracefully across the pebbles to the water's edge. To dip my toe in. Behind me people wrapped up warm against a september wind,  whoop and shout encouraging things, glad to be part of it, but not be me.  Up in front the boat anchored out to water. Bobbing on a wave.  The swim cap feels too tight on my head. My goggles feel too small. And I know I'm going to let myself drown. Down. There's a whisper from the side, gaggle of proper swimmers. Knowing. Prepared. Muscalar. Easy to succseed. I'm not the only one that is going in tonight.  I'm swimming in footsteps. 

And I'm stepping in to water, wasted money, false promises, false bravado. I wish I was doing it alone. I wish it really was like that Victoria Wood sketch, where she runs into the sea, alone, never to be seen again, with just a bag of sandwiches. And it's funny, and it's sad because her parents don't really notice, they say that she's like that, always going off on her own. And I'd find this easier, if people weren't watching me. If it was just me and her. Me and the sea. I wish it was less staged, more off the cuff, on the spur, a call from her to me. Like Reggie Perring (the leonard rossiter one, not the Martin Clunes one). That I could just let her envelope me. Like Ted May. The first man to die swimming the channel. Through a point to prove. A score settled. 

And yet there is something terribly romantic about being lost at sea. We lost her to a wave. A wave crashed over her. She was taken by the sea. You are lost at sea, never quite dead, never quite alive, part of the myths, part of ghosts and monsters and legends and legless women. Taken by the sea. Sleeping with the fishes. Your soul is hers, forever swimming, aching for air, somewhere in euphoria.  But your body is scratched in salt and thrown up some where on the coast for a dog walker to find, or a child to see. Swollon and battered, bloated and bleached.  A lot the channel swimmers literature writes in challenges, in fights between the swimmer and the sea. I've seen the pictures, the films, I know about the girl a year younger than me that was lost beneath the waves. A women is no match for the sea. When I was younger I used to whisper to my then boyfriend with all the dramatic solemnity of teenager with no thoughts of the future. 

'I've always known I'll die drowning...' 

For the first time in my life I'm scared of her. I've always been cautious,  knew when to test the water, and when to push her too far. But now she feels like competion not a compatriot. A sea stand off. I can feel her jeering at me, go further, go colder, be braver. Test your depths. 

And I try to imagine how I'd feel out in depth. That's what I want, just horizons. 

Back to the pool it is then. 

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Anyone for Jogging? Slowly creeping panic...

BMI: 26. 9 (overweight but not obese-happy days)
Fat Percentage: 34 % (should be around 30%)
Water: 48.4 % (should be at 50%)

Left Bicep: 31.6 cm
Right Bicep: 32 cm
Back: 105. 9 cm (I think I am back on track with measuring...)

It's been suggested I put on my BMI and my house mate has acquired a weighing scale so snazzy that it works out your BMI, water percentage and body fat percentage (I've no idea how-it appears to be just some scales to me) I came out slightly better than I anticipated, although that may be because I may have added an inch or so to my height. I should also start measuring my lung capacity. I might do that by timing how long it takes to blow up a paddling pool.

Songs: For the previous two swims, no song. Although for jogging it quite frequently is a song by my friend The Lone Taxidermist http://www.myspace.com/taxidermistsmanchester who sings a song that goes 'Wobble bum in poo pants. I love to jog' (yet to be added to her page)


As part of 'the training' I have decided to attempt to jog as a an alternative to swimming- because Gertrude Edele did, because it is completely out of my comfort zone and because I seem to be surrounded by people that are training for the London Marathon.  What follows is a bit of a cheat as it was written when I first started trying to jog at the end of last year...I probably have more to say...

They say (someone said, sometime, somewhere) that you are either a runner or a swimmer. Swimming for me makes me sleek and graceful. Running is humiliation, uncomfortable. 

But in beginning to read more about the female swimmers that first attempted The Channel, I know I should start running. Pounding the pavement for all too see. 

I have a complex history with running, team sports and exercise in general. Swimming is the only sport I have ever been good at, apart from one brief moment in a game of netball when I was B team captin and fell to my knees while scoring a pointless but dramatic goal. 

I wanted to be good at football, as a feminist stance even at 8 years old (my mother's daughter) but I was essentially to lazy and too afraid of not being that good. 

Sportsday, Leavesden Green Junior School, I was perhaps in the infants at the time. I used to be able to run. Run like the wind. Run through the playground. Into British Bulldog. Away from the boys with sloppy kisses and into the arms of the boys I wanted to kiss. 

So I had a good chance of winning, eager, eager to beat Kim Dibble, eager to show off to my older brother and his friends. 

Mr Petherick raised the start gun (now this might not have been a gun, but memory adds shades and explanations where necessary, so for this sake of this, it was a start gun)

The gun went off and I ran, ran as fast my legs would take me, knowing my brother would be proud of me, not feeling any beat of the feet behind me. Shouts cheering for me. I was winning by metres, by miles, out ahead, the star of the day. When I turned, and no one else had left the startline. They were shouting me to stop. A false start. A false start in an infants 100 metre race. 

And from that moment on running was no longer my thing. But for training purposes to keep up fitness levels that I didn't know I needed, I should take up jogging. 

Beneath a pair of ill fitting, ill advised red glittery winklepickers I finally find my running shoes, purchased four years ago in a town out of this City. The first steps in the attempt to match a then boyfriend of a new found running passion. I wore them once to run in. Humiliations and regret with every step. 

The theory of running, the principle of running of it, I agree and enjoy. Heart beating faster, drowning out the voices that bounce around the head. Sweat down the back of the neck. Satisfaction on completion. 

In physical exertion; walking, lifting, swimming, I can carry on past the point of no return. But running just makes me want to give up.  I'm happy to fail, let shame and humiliation fill my bones. 

What makes a runner? And what makes a swimmer? Both lone occupations a step away from team sports and group feeling. Both require a certain amount of happiness in being in your own head, fine to listen to the voice that talks, there's no ball to distract you, no point to score, a stretch of water, a stretch of road. Or an ability to zone out. Forget the voices, go all Zen. 

The rytham in swimming allows me to think methodically about situations and fantasies. Dream up new events. Get angry at things that haven't happened. The idea of running appeals to me because it obliteration. Its running away, it is not laps. 

Barely able to run for a minute it is obliteration, but it is not running away. Red faced, I can feel my bottom half two feet behind me. 

I ran on Tuesday, an excuse for not swimming, but I didn't sleep that night. A conversation with a friend at the weekend put fear into my logistics, my bed sweaty with panic about the reality of the swim, here's the time frame I am looking (stolen from the channel crossing website http://www.channelswimming.net/ ) at my reality rising...I'm looking at, at least £5000

A Guide to the successful booking procedure 
1.      Select the year and tidal period you want to book.
  Check with the pilots to see which pilots have places free. 
         Confirm the reservation with the pilot for the tidal period you want. 

2.      The pilot will then hold the position (if it is available) for a short period  
         and e-mail you the booking request.  

3.      AGREE TREMS and confirm your acceptance of the position offered .

4.      The pilot will confirm the reservation and send you instructions and a 
         contract for the position.    

5.      Sign and return your pilots contract with your deposit or booking 
          fee to Finalise your booking.

 5.     Let the CS&PF office know you have everything sorted with the pilot 
         and your swim position is booked. 

6.      The pilot will also tell the office when the booking is finalised and 
         the contract and deposit has been received. 

Note the deadline for paying the pilots deposits or any deposit balance  
is usually 31st December in the year before you swim. 
This is the deadline - earlier payment will give you peace of mind and 
conformation of your booking. 
After the 1st January the pilots can re-book any places not confirmed with 
a signed contract and a full deposit. Should you cancel your place after 
you have confirmed and paid any fees these fees paid are non returnable. 
Make sure you are definitely prepared to commit yourself to booking the
 place before finalising it. Please note the pilots deposits are non
 returnable and required to confirm the place bookings. 
NOTE - When the office has conformation of your pilots booking we will 
then send you the CS&PF application and medical forms. 
These are sent out from the end of December in the year before you swim. 
Both these forms must be completed in the year of your swim.  
(That's after 1st January) and before the deadlines below.
1st MAY for application - MID MAY for medicals.
31st MAY for everything to be completed. 
Ratified 6 and 2 hour swims latest is 14 days before your swim tide period starts. 

Surprise Swim

A hangover that hasn't branched out of it's warm fuzz of alcohol greets me on Saturday morning. Because I can feel the previous nights wine working it's way into my day and rendering it pointless, I get up early determined to do something. I speak to a friend, she's going swimming in the lido at London Fields.

I hesitate. Saturday swimming, bound to be worst than the sunday swimmers, but the weather is a little miserable, and the pool is 50 meters and it is out door. I rush to get my swimming stuff, before last night's lethargy kicks in.

I haven't swam out doors since Charlton Lido (above) closed its doors on the last day of August last year. I fell in love with Charlton Lido. More often than not I would get the whole 50 meter pool to myself save from bored the lifeguard with their hood up against the rain or the wind or both. Like swimming in a JG Ballard short story (a description stolen from my friend), high rise buildings surround it,  prison like changing rooms flank it. At the tail end of the mornings I sometimes bumped into a group of older men, who surprised to see me there would curtail their language, call me a lady, while checking with their eyes that I definitely was.  I got spoilt by it, beginning to think of it as my own pool. Similar to how you might get frustrated when you have a lane to yourself for a while, or your own double seat on a train, and then other people start getting in or on, and you know it's perfectably reasonable, but it's your lane, your seat or in this case, my pool. It's not heated, just basic, the old glamour it was built on washed away. So the first dive in could be heart stoppingly awakening. Perfect when training was still a joke.  I still, now, long for the expanse of Charlton Lido, when the indoor pools are busy and the air warm, the water boiling with bodies. 

I think their refurbing it, making it into a proper dive pool, probably for the olympics (the pictures online that shows it filled with people in it's popularity make me seethe with jealousy. About a pool). It wasn't even supposed to be open last year and I have feeling I won't be seeing it in the same way again. I wish it would stay the same way. If I can't swim the channel because channel swimming gets banned (more about that at a later date), this would be my choice to re-enact the swim. In fact this would be choice anyway after the channel is done.  It is my ideal swim venue outside the sea. 

So onto London Fields Lido, last night's wine beginning to prick my eyes. I'm not here for training, more  of a social swim, but I get here early in the hope I can get 10 uninterrupted lengths in. I think it might be nice to enjoy the water without the pressure of training.

I get in and can't help myself. I try the medium lane at first thinking that smoking and the drinking will slow my swim down.  Medium is too slow for me. I feel the headache leaving, my body thanking me, a smile on my lips underwater. What gives me pleasure about the lido is that you cannot see the end when you are swimming, you see the feet in front of you, the leaves on the floor,  sometimes coins and murky plasters, so it feels like a distance, a real swim not just a few paddles between pushing off. And the wind whips off your protruding body parts colder than the water you are swimming in (London Fields is heated, unlike Charlton).  My hangover drifts away. I reluctantly go and have a splash around with the friend that I am meeting, knowing that 10 lengths I have swam is not enough, that it feels like starting something that I haven't finished. And that I am serious swimmer.

We chat a little, and she shows me her strokes. But swimming is no longer social for me. We are going for lunch before she has to go off for a job, which means that we are on time limit. I manage a further 15 more lengths and although it is not a planned pool trip, I am reluctant to get out of the pool. It feels like unfinished business. Words unsaid.

What I have learnt is that the lido isn't that busy on Saturday at this time of year (oh it will get so, London Fields, has a Time Out coolness when it comes to the summer, queues of people waiting hours to get in, picnics and quiffs atop gentle breast stroke). So although I usually do my upmost to avoid a Saturday swim, here is a 50 meter option. I work out later that I did just under a mile after 25 lengths, but a note to myself. I am not a social swimmer.

The changing rooms line the side of the pool with gaps under them.  For a joke, as a gift, I have sandwich bagged up my friend a mini hot cross bun, I push it slowly under the gap of what I think is her changing room door.  A man say's:

'ER-It's not me!'

I apologise and take my hotcross bun back. Quite slowly.

3 Mile Swim and Chips

Oh the song to my previous post was- 'Fight for This Love' By Cheryl Cole.
I have no idea why.

As I am working backwards from last week, I got distracted by my arm and back measurements, I am with a sense of dread, going to start documenting my BMI. 

This was Wednesday 2nd February...

I spend an afternoon taking my clothes off in a windowless room under Warren Street in front of a camera. This is for work in progress performance that I am doing as part of Starting Blocks, not unfortunately as seedy as it seems-there is more about it here http://cptstartingblocks.wordpress.com/
Yes, another blog, more specifically about performance and rehearsal including the blogs from artists working on subjects such as Getting into Space, Fear, The Moon and The Temperance Hospital and Mary Wolstonecraft.

It seems rather odd to spend an afternoon in my swimming costume not in water to then put my clothes back on to take them off to get into the water. I seem to be spending perhaps 40% of my time in a costume.

I am wary of the wednesday swim, I have hit commuter exercise rush hour before at these times and its like a swim conga- a packed pool with no chance of speed. I am going to another pool than the one I have been going to, one closer to home, but smaller and older- a beautiful beach frieze to brighten up the tiles at one end. There is queue to pay and I notice that I will be sharing the pool with the local swimming club throughout the evening, I feel dread.

I think that I might not even do 100 lengths. I must do two miles. I must. That's 140 in this pool. I'm still beating myself up for not doing three on Sunday Morning, but now, tonight is not the time for beating personal bests.

The two right hand lanes are a flurry of red swim caps, youths in the peak of fitness swimming at full pelt,  the coach's shouts reverberate around the hight of the building and rush of water echoes everywhere. But the lanes for public swimming are not busy. A few lone stragglers confused by the noise of the swim club. I get in the fast lane and push off...

Perhaps it is because this pool is shorter, perhaps because the water is colder, the push off glide is more pleasurable here, it feels, as it should do,  a little like flying. The rushing youths to the right of me causes the pool to heave and move with their exertion. The water is far from the smooth wide pool that I'm used too, but choppy and loud, and as my googles steam over I can just about imagine I am in the sea.

The chant of the coach's call makes me swim faster and harder (an of eager school girl wanting to impress still hiding somewhere in the 29 year old), I take pleasure in his barks. Though if I stop for just a second, I cannot understand his instructions.

'10 in the water-four on the back 3 times the two'.

Before, there was a stillness after I emerged from the water, now there is noise and thrashing all around. I don't have time to get inside my head, with the waves from the youths, I concentrate on my stroke.

Despite all of this I'm not having a good swim. I'm counting lengths in 10's to make it easier for myself, but I am pushing as hard as I can. Then someone gets in the fast lane and starts doing breast stroke. At a slow pace.

Perhaps it is the pace I have been swimming at, perhaps it's the noise, or the testosterone leaked from the promise of youth on my right, but today, I do not have the patience for slow swimmers. I do the swim version of the commuter huff and tutt. I usually try politeness first until pushed. But not today, I flounce my way ahead of the (amateur-I think in my head) swimmer, just as he reaches the end. Get out of the fast lane I think.

At 100 I get out to go for a wee (never in the pool, never and not just because I am afraid of that myth of the purple dye that follows you around), knowing that sometimes that little break helps me push to the last 40 lengths. As I get back in I see that my 'amateur' swimmer is a young lad, probably 14 or 15, eyes blinking with chlorine, all ready probably intimidated by his fish like peers in the lane next door. I chastise myself but I'm still pleased he switches with panic to the appropriate 'medium' lane when I get back in.

I get to 140. 2 miles. I pause. I'll do 10 more lengths.
150. I'll do 10 more.

I haven't eaten since 2pm. I should get out.
160. Only 50 lengths to 3 miles.

I'll do 10 more. 170.
I might as well stay in.

If I do 3 miles, I'll treat myself to chips.
And a glass of wine.
And a cigarette.
And I will be able to tell people. I swam 3 miles.

180. 30 lengths to go. I've made up my mind.
And now all I can think about is the swimming.
My arms moving my legs kicking. Getting to the other side.

The kids have changed to the adult club, it' quieter. I have the lane to myself.
190.  My arms hurt, my shoulders ache.
If I was out of the water I'd be shaking.
20 more, I'm not getting out now.

And now I can't imagine getting out of the water, I can't stop my arms from moving, I'm afraid of what will happen when I do. There's no ranting in my head, just the goal of the next few lengths and the rhythm of the water, and my breathing and my moving. It's a kind of even out of pain. And I know it's only a small step in the grand scheme. 3 miles in a pool is not the channel.

But it is my challenge, that only I know about. All though a fantasy aside imagines the lifeguard looking at me wondering when I'm going to get out.

205 lengths.

I think about Gertrude Edele, getting out of the water after she became the first women to swim the channel, legs giving way to firm ground, a fish out of water.
I remember something, somewhere from a book, about breaking the moment (the pain barrier) and a kind of euphoric quality taking over. (Possibly 'Skippy Dies'?-not really about swimming as such-a boy who swims is in it)

207 lengths.
I wonder if I could go on? I feel like I could go on.
208 lengths.
To 4 miles.
209 lengths.
210 lengths.

I feel there should be a fanfare, a cheer. Instead the coach keeps shouting at the adult swim clubbers. And I drag myself out of the pool. I'm sure he smiles at me. I'm sure he is congratulating my achievement. 

One hour and 50 minutes.

I feel surprisingly full of energy. Proud, as if it is written on my face. All I want now is chips. And a cigarette. And a beer? Or a wine? I've got wine open.
I walk to the chip shop, it's closed. I'm not being distracted by soggy chicken shop chips, or kebab shop chips filled with grease. I want thick potatoe cut, chip shop chips. I get on a bus to a chip shop that I know, where then men are so nice that I once cried into my paper cone on the way home after a particularly bad day. It has a yellow sign at the end of the street, telling me its still open.

I have sausage and chips, open. A child's portion, with so much vinegar it wears away the paper, and I have to bite back telling the man that I deserve these, that I just swam three miles.

Always chips after you swim in the sea, to match the salt in your mouth. It's like a cream tea after a long walk.  Even if I've eaten before, I can't go to the seaside without having chips.  The chlorine on my lips doesn't taste as good as the salt in my mouth, and I wish for the out door water.  As I'm walking home, grease on lips,  chips in hand I work out (it takes me quite a long time considering it's a fairly simple sum) that if I could swim 3 miles every day for 7 days, than I could do the channel in a week (technically).

At the moment, swimming two miles is my standard, it's an achievable target and 100 lengths just isn't enough anymore. What I'd like to do is build it up so 3 miles is my standard, that this is what I can swim easily.

By the time I'm home, the food is gone and I shower,  pour a glass of wine to savour over my last cigarette.  As I spark up my stomach seems to complain, and my throat seems sore. It feels like is seeping through my blood stream. This is unusual. Like my body is rebelling. I put it out without finishing it. Pour the wine away. I'm so tired that I can barley get into bed.

The next day, I wake up and I am so tired I want to cry. So here is to making three miles my normal.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

There is use crying over spilt milk...

Not directly linked to channel swimming and what seems suspiciously like an excuse-I tipped milk on my laptop last monday and alas it has been taken away for a holiday and a new keyboard so blogging on an actual computer has become difficult. It was back to the note book...I'm trying update as and when I can in chronological order so this little excerpt is from way back last sunday when I updated the blog but didn't get around to writing about Sunday swim...

Sunday Swim 30th January

9am on a sunday feels like 7am on a Monday. The sound of heating turning on wakes before I have time to enjoy those precious few extra moments in bed. Despite the fact that I regularly work weekends I still have an odd resentment to Sunday mornings...A brief talk myself out of it chat is had, quickly hushed by body getting out of bed before the talk can win.

By the time I'm on the train and walking through the high street I remember that I actually quite like Sunday mornings; they feel like unexplored terrain, first footsteps in the snow. To the right of me a church  door opens to the sound of choral singing which makes me feel strangely uplifted (not usually being one for religious intervention). A man walking down the street, last dregs of the night before or early morning milk buying from not having slept starts walking next to me.


'You know you, you've got nice eyes'

I am behooded, bedraggled and quite surprised. I have to bite back saying-

'But I'm going swimmming!' instead I say

'It's too early for that...' He tells me to have a nice day and already the morning seems to have started with a dream like quality.

Sunday is a tester. Every serious swimmer must know that you don't touch the pool on a Sunday. Families, children, bored teenagers. I haven't been swimming on a sunday since I could swim a length underwater, straight off. Since I would squeeze my puppy fat chest together to try and attract the boys dive bombing the pool.  When I'm paying (£3.55- 55p more expensive because it is a premium time) the women tells me its 27 not 29.

I ask her what this means, only realising as I say it, that she is talking about temperature.

'It means it's cold, you'll have to swim faster.'

'Oh I can do that.'  I say with all the confidence of a person that has been promising to swim the channel but with no actual physical evidence of doing it. Again I have to bite back 'Pah 27-I have to learn to swim in 14' -it remains a private story I tell myself.  I'm going to try to swim 3 miles today (depending on the busyness of the pool)

Despite the semi-religious signs and good will of the people that I have met along my way to swim-I swim a bad swim.  Slowly, like powering through treacle, I'm not sure I'll make 100 lengths -let alone the 190 I have to make it to three miles.

I can't stop myself from thinking about swimming, the ache, the difficulty. Where as my head usually runs around itself distracting my arms from the weight of the water, not today.

My second wind varies on each swim, sometimes at the 50 length mark more often around 70-when the end is in sight. I struggle to two miles, for once wishing I had one of those water proof mp3 players to take my mind from the water.  I am frustrated that I cannot do the 3 miles. But I let myself go, listen to my joints and removed myself from the water. I feel a pang of jealousy at the young man I have been sharing the lane with as he carries on, no aches in his bones,

On the up side the water is empty of what I expected to be sunday swimmers and I have discovered swimming on a sunday is not a bad session, it certainly beats women only...as long as my body starts to agree with what should be a day of rest.

Coming soon

3 mile swim and chips
Surprise Swim