bereavement · Blue therapy · community · Cornwall · Covid-19 · Daphne du Maurier · grief · Jellyfish · mental health · open water swimming · sea swimming · Social Capital · Social prescribing · swimming · well being

48: I’m On My Way

“The moment of crisis had come, and I must face it. My old fears … must be conquered now and thrust aside. If I failed now I should fail forever.”  (Daphne du Maurier, 1938)

Way back in February 2020, in what now feels like a lifetime ago, when most of us were blissfully unaware of what a coronavirus was – or would become – I wrote (in Somewhere Over The Rainbow) that my goal for 2020 was to ‘return to Cornwall’ and to try to complete some of my South Coast swimming journey there. I explained how I had not returned there since my daughter Wendy’s inquest in 2016 because, for me, it had remained associated with despair, sadness, helplessness and death. I had decided that 2020, the year in which Wendy would have been 40 years old, was the right time to go back and face it – and to try to create some newer, happier memories and associations.

After I wrote that blog post everything was turned upside down. All the swimming events that I had entered were cancelled or postponed; we were locked down, unlocked and locked down again; and I found myself swimming alone in a paddling pool in my garden (see I’ll tell you what I want, what I really, really want). In the past 18 months, I have discovered that, for me, the geographical ‘journey’ of swimming was less important than the companionships, connections and community that outdoor swimming provides. I missed meeting up with other swimmers and having those gentle, serendipitous, short conversations that you can have while sitting next to someone, after a swim, gazing at the horizon. And I missed being with my family and with my friends. I found that I wasn’t in a hurry to resume my ‘South Coast Swimming Journey’ (see It Started There). What I really wanted to do was to swim – and chat – with friends, aquaintances and family. 

And so, mostly, that is what I have been doing for the past year. And it has been wonderful. And, every day, I count myself so lucky that I live close to the beach at Clevedon and for the warm and friendly swimming community who also swim there (see Go With The Flow). 

Social Capital

Social Capital (Putnam, 2001) can be loosely described as the ‘various connections that an individual might have that provide them with some kind of resource’ (Robson, 2020). The beneficial aspects of ‘Social Capital’ have been brought into sharper focus over the past couple of years. A lot of the recent research on well-being and loneliness tends to support the claim that individuals with richer social worlds may have better mental well-being and lower stress. One of the impacts of repeated and prolonged ‘lockdowns’, it has been suggested (Jones et al 2021), has been the impact on our health caused by missing out on our interactions with friends, colleagues and even shopkeepers. 

Robson (2020) emphasises the importance of one aspect of Social Capital theory: that of the opportunity to have “weak ties” and fleeting interactions with ‘vague acquaintances’. These types of interaction, he argues, were damaged by repeated lockdowns and he argues that we should attempt to ‘make the most of the chance encounters we do have’ and try to strike up a conversation with someone we might see regularly – on a walk or on the beach – as research suggests (Sandstrom, 2014) that you will feel much better afterwards. 

Open water swimming, I have found, provides a wonderful opportunity to be able to do that. You might turn up at any beach where swimmers meet to swim and instantly have a ‘connection’. The act of a “shared experience”, of doing the same thing at the same time appears to create a social bond that can be independent of any words spoken (Robson, 2020). And I have found that community swimming ‘events’ create opportunities to experience this social network connection on an even greater scale. Hundreds of swimmers, many of whom have never met before – and may never meet again – coming together to embark on a shared experience, laughing together, sharing anxieties together, celebrating together. And discovering together (and separately) a community network that may have a lasting impact on them.

The Polkerris Swim Festival

We’ll cross the Tamar, land to land
The Severn is no stay (from ‘Trelawney’ – the unofficial ‘national anthem’ of Cornwall)

This summer, most of our postponed swimming events began to be confirmed as ‘going ahead’ and one of these, The Polkerris Swim Festival, was the one that would take me back to Cornwall. 

Polkerris Beach is situated in St Austell Bay, in what is known as Daphne du Maurier country. du Maurier made this corner of Cornwall her home and wrote about the area countless times. Above Polkerris, is the village of Menabilly, where du Maurier rented the house that was the inspiration for Manderley in her famous novel, Rebecca

The Polkerris Swim Festival is an annual mass-participation open water sea swimming event organised by Mad Hatter Sports Events, who are based on the neighbouring beach of Charlestown. They have created a wonderful, strong and welcoming swimming community through their weekly social swims at locations around Cornwall and the events that they put on feel like one big local community day out. 

And so, the event at Polkerris Beach proved to be the ideal setting for my ‘return to Cornwall’. I found that being with other people, having fun, and focusing on the swimming helped me to overcome both the anxiety I had about revisiting difficult memories and even- surprisingly – my anxiety about swimming with all the Compass jelly Fish! 

I will concede, that this first foray back into Cornwall, was ‘only just’ in Cornwall – a ‘dipping a toe in the water’ sort of trip – but for me it has marked a ‘start’, a step in the right direction and I now feel able to ‘just get on with it’, travel further and to re-visit and swim at more of the beautiful beaches around the Cornish Coast. 

Tell everybody I’m on my way
New friends and new places to see,
With blue skies ahead, yes, I’m on my way
And there’s nowhere else I’d rather be (Phil Collins, 2003)

Photo Credits:  Beth Oliver

Local details

Sea temperature : 16 degrees Celsius

I swam 3000 metres

I was in the water for 1 hour & 23 minutes

We ate at The Rashleigh Inn, Polkerris

References

Collins, P. (2003) I’m On My Way, from Brother Bear Soundtrack, Universal Music

Hawker, R. (1824) The Song Of The Western Men , traditional

Jones, D., Joplin, K., and Kharicha, K. (2021) Loneliness Beyond Covid-19: Learning the lessons of the pandemic for a less lonely future, Campaign to End Loneliness 

Du Maurier, D. (1938) Rebecca, Victor Gollancz Ltd

Oliver, B. (2017) It Started There, justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver, B. (2020) Somewhere Over The Rainbow, justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver, B. (2020) I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want, justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver, B. (2021) Go With The Flow, justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Putnam, R. (2001) Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Simon and Schuster

Robson, D (2020) The Surprising Ways Little Social Interactions Affect Your Health, New Scientist, 12th August 2020

Sandstrom, G. & Dunn, E. (2014) Social Interactions and Well Being: The Surprising Power of Weak Ties, in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Sage Journals, April 2014.

Blue therapy · Catharthis · Covid-19 · Crying · Devon · grief · mental health · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · Paignton · sea swimming · triathlon · well being

47: I Cried Me A River; I Cried Me A Sea

‘Catharsis’ – the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong or repressed emotions (Oxford English Dictionary)

Last weekend I took part in my first open water swimming event since 2019. I can only imagine that a ‘pre-pandemic’ version of myself had entered the ‘English Riviera Swim’ during a period of high optimism and confidence about my abilities, because, when it was finally confirmed that the event could go ahead this year (after being cancelled and postponed in 2020 due to the coronavirus), I discovered that I had entered myself for the longest distance – the 3 kilometre swim!

The past 18 months have been challenging, upsetting and difficult for so many of us, in so many ways and on so many levels. Quite apart from all the grieving, isolation, uncertainty and change, for those of us who find our solace in swimming it has been additionally difficult. For much of the pandemic the swimming pools have been closed and there have been restrictions on travel to beaches and other open water venues (see I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want). It has only really been since May this year, that being able to build up to any sort of distance swim – in pool or sea – has been possible. I had managed to complete a couple of 3km swims in the sea as preparation for this event, but I was not feeling confident.

In addition, probably related to the restrictions on our activities, the separation from friends and family, the impact of the on-going roller-coaster of news and the ever changing guidance about the virus, I have spent much of the past year feeling very anxious. I have not been sleeping well; I have found it hard to sit still and relax; I worry about minute details; I can feel my heart thumping and I have found it hard to keep my breathing slow and rhythmic. Generally, (and usually) I find that the sea has the power to soothe these anxieties. In the colder, winter months, when only shorter swims are possible, the ‘shock’ of entering the cold water, instantly erases any painful thoughts and feelings. The cold water quietens the mind, washes away the ‘butterflies’ and leads to a sense of achievement, of overcoming something – and of surviving. In the warmer, summer months, on longer swims I find that the sea can be comforting, enveloping, supportive and soothing (see Go With The Flow). 

The English Riviera

The ‘English Riviera’ – a 22 mile stretch of South Devon coastline – was first referred to as such in Victorian times, when visitors compared it favourably to the French Riviera.  Goodrington Sands, where the swim event took place, is a long sandy beach in Tor Bay.

England is well known for the vagaries of its ‘summer’ weather and the forecast for the weekend did not look good. Nevertheless, the day before our swim, it was warm and sunny and the beach lived up to its ‘Riviera’ reputation as we registered and collected our swim hats. After overnight rain, the morning of the swim dawned calm and sunny as the earlier waves of swimmers entered the water for their shorter distances. 

By the time of the 3k swim, however, the wind had picked up and the tide had turned and was rapidly coming in – and my heart sank as I squinted to try to see the distant yellow buoy, out at sea, that we had to swim to! The course had been altered (for safety reasons!) and instead of 2 laps of a rectangular course, we now had to swim 3 laps of a triangular course. That meant swimming three times out to that ‘far away on the horizon’ yellow buoy – against the incoming tide and against the wind and the waves.

I

It was the hardest, and the longest swim I have yet done. I felt exactly as I had felt on my first ever open water swim (It Started There). I found it really hard to get my breathing under control and to relax into the rhythm of my stroke. My swimming felt like I was trying to move in a dream sequence, where you are desperately trying to move but making no progress. I had to dig deeply into my reserves of resilience to keep swimming, to keep persevering, to keep focused on the next buoy, and then the next buoy … and on and on. I knew I was getting cold and I knew I was getting tired but I did keep going – and eventually, I had rounded that distant buoy for the last time and I could, instead, try to focus on the flags on the beach. When I emerged from the water I found that I was shaking and unsteady on my feet. And once I had crossed the finishing line I burst into tears and found that I could not stop crying. The sobs were just shaken out of me convulsively and uncontrollably – and I found I was unable to stop them for about an hour afterwards. 

Everybody Cries

When your day is long , And the night is yours alone
When you’re sure you’ve had enough
Of this life, well hang on (REM, 1992)

According to scientists (Weiner, 2019) this is, apparently, a not uncommon occurrence – and it has happened to me before (see Hot Stuff), but not in such an intense and uncontrollable way. We tend to associate exercise and achievement with positive emotions like enthusiasm, joy, and euphoria but it can also release negative emotions. There is some evidence (Smith, 2021) that when we exercise at a ‘moderate level’, we focus on positive thoughts, but once we push the intensity levels up, that disappears. Built-up emotions cause tension in our bodies that can be hard to release but high intensity exercise where your body and mind are brought to exhaustion, often ‘opens the flood gates’ and ‘the dam breaks’.

Many of us find it difficult to find a safe space to cry freely. And it can be hard, unless one is trained in this field, to sit, without discomfort and let someone we care about ‘just cry’. But crying is an important safety valve, largely because keeping difficult feelings inside can be bad for our health. Studies (Newhouse, 2021) have linked repressive coping (bottling it up) with a less resilient immune system, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension, as well as with stress, anxiety, and depression. Emotional tears, apparently, release oxytocin and endorphins that help to ease both physical and emotional pain. Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state. I slept very well that night.

Look Forward – Keep Swimming

So, you might ask. That was a really difficult swim and you ended up sobbing for an hour afterwards! Why do you do it? Why would you put yourself through that? Well, all I can say is that the sense of achievement, knowing that you looked your fears in the face and won, finding some inner strength, deep within that helped you keep going when you wanted to give up, just keeping moving forward towards your goal – however slowly – and the relief and pride when you know you have got there – well, you just can’t beat it. 

Keep moving forward. One day at a time. Just Keep Swimming.

Photo Credits:  Iain Bourne & Beth Oliver

Local details

Sea temperature : 14 degrees Celsius

I swam 3000 metres

I was in the water for 1 hour & 37 minutes

We ate at The Boat House, Paignton

C

References

Fitzgerald, E. (1961) Cry Me A River, from the album Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie, Verve Records

Newhouse, L. (2021) Is Crying Good For You? March 2021, Harvard Health Blog www.health.harvard.edu/blog/is-crying-good-for-you-2021030122020

Orioff, J. (2010) The Health Benefits of Tears, Psychology Today, July 2010 https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/emotional-freedom/201007/the-health-benefits-tears

REM  (1992) Everybody Hurts, from the album Automatic for the People, Warner Bros.

Shortsleeve, C. (2016) A Deep Dive Into the touchy-feely side of fitness , furthermore.equinox.com November 2016 https://furthermore.equinox.com/articles/2016/11/crying-during-workout

Smith, B. (2021) Why you might feel sad or anxious after intense exercise and how you can minimise it, January 2021 abc.net.au https://www.abc.net.au/news/science/2021-01-12/exercise-emotion-mindfulness-anxiety-ventilatory-threshold-brain/13041918

Weiner, Z. (2019) Ever Find Yourself in Tears During a Workout? Here’s Why It’s Very Common, wellangood.com, April 2019 https://www.wellandgood.com/crying-during-workout/

Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · Covid-19 · Flow Theory · grief · mental health · Mindful exercise · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · Sea Bathing · sea swimming · Spring · swimming · Tides · well being

46: Go With The Flow

To join high tide; to drift with all the things we let go
Let go with the flow (
The Beautiful South, 2003)

Clevedon, where I swim all year round, is located on the Severn Estuary. This Estuary experiences the third largest tidal range in the world with average tidal rates of 3 – 5 knots. It is possible, given appropriate local knowledge and weather conditions, to ‘ride the tide’ or ‘go with the flow’ without the need to do much actual swimming at all. In fact, a favourite activity among Clevedon swimmers is to swim under the famous Victorian Pier after high tide and be ‘whooshed’ back through with the retreating current, as though you were in an adventure water park. In ‘normal’, non-pandemic times, there are swimming events, here and in other estuaries that take advantage of such tidal assistance to create longer, enjoyable, endurance swims. 

‘Going with the flow’ can be a wonderfully relaxing way to enjoy the sea during the warmer summer months. It is important, however, to point out, that you would not want to find yourself trying to swim ‘against the flow’. You would not win that contest – especially at Clevedon. 

The tide is turning Oh, oh, oh, the tide is turning (Roger Waters, 1987)

Flow Theory is not the same as ‘floating’ or ‘going with the flow’. Psychologists (Csikszentmihalyi, 1975) describe ‘Flow Theory’ as when a person undertaking an activity claims to be ‘in the zone’: the mental state achieved when so fully immersed in and absorbed by an enjoyable activity that one loses sense of time. 

The impact of the ‘flow state’ on mental health and well-being has been studied in relation to all sorts of activities (most recently, gardening (Chalmin-Pui et al, 2021) but what I really love about it is that it employs the language of water – and, for me, of the sea and of swimming. Csikszentmihalyi (1975), who introduced the concept, called it ‘a state of flow’, because during his research, people tended to describe their intense experiences using metaphors of being carried along by a current, like the sea or a river that flows, such that time became irrelevant. Participants also described experiencing ‘waves of joy’ from the pleasure they took from the activity they were engaged in.

What differentiates a ‘state of flow’ from ‘daydreaming’ or ‘floating’ is that to achieve a flow state one must be fully immersed in a structured activity that offers a balance between the ‘perceived’ challenges of the task and ones ‘perceived’ skills. The task should be sufficiently challenging that there will be no ‘extraneous thoughts’ (Smolej Fritz & Avsec, 2007) or distractions, but not so challenging as to cause stress or anxiety. According to Csikszentmihalyi (1975:36), individuals who experience flow are so intensively involved in an activity, that nothing else matters. In relation to swimming, Griffiths (2018) has suggested that a state of flow is experienced when ‘your effort is producing a performance that’s a little better than usual, and it makes you feel greatYou feel as if everything is working in harmony … it all happens as it should do. The water is soft and light, and every stroke pushes you further forward than it usually does’.

There’s hope in the air
There’s hope in the water (
Marling, 2010)

In the colder, winter months that are just coming to an end, it is not really possible (in my experience) to achieve a state of flow during a swim in the sea. When the sea is cold, only quite short swims are possible, and it is inadvisable, for safety reasons,  to lose all sense of the time. In the winter, you need to remain fully focused on what you are doing, what is happening to your body and where the tide is taking you. 

While a cold water winter swim can lead to a sense of achievement, of overcoming something – and of surviving, it is the warmer temperatures that offer the possibility of longer, more mindful swims. In the warmer, summer months the sea can be comforting, enveloping, supportive, healing and soothing. And, now, as the water and the weather begin to warm up I am beginning to feel optimistic of better times ahead – of events actually going ahead, of swims in other places, of actually getting back to that South Coast Swim challenge I started in 2017 (see It Started There). 

This has been a long and difficult winter for most of us. We have been separated from family and friends and from many of the social activities that help to get us through those dark, depressing months. Now though, it feels as though we are gradually – and despite a few ‘false dawns’ – finally beginning to move out of winter – and out of ‘lockdown’. There is a tangible sense of optimism in the air. 

The sea at Clevedon, while still cold, has now reached double figures (just) and the days are getting longer; the sun is getting stronger. For the past month I have been challenging myself by gradually swimming a little bit further and staying in the sea for a little bit longer. I have found myself beginning to dare to look forward to those longer swims along the coast and to losing myself in the flow.

I find myself starting to hope!

And in case you might want to try to achieve a state of flow in your swimming, Simon Griffiths offers 9 tips on how to ‘increase your chances’ here

References

The Beautiful South (2003) ‘Let Go With The Flow’, on the album Gaze, Mercury Records

Chalmin-Pui, L., Griffiths, A., Roe,J., Heaton, T. and Cameron, R. (2021) Why Garden? Attitudes and the Perceived Health Benefits of Home Gardening, in Cities, volume 112, May 2021

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1975) Beyond Boredom and Anxiety. San Francisco: Jossey Bass

Csikszentmihalyi, M.(1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row

Griffiths, S. (2018) Nine Ways To Find Your Swimming Flow, outdoorswimmer.com

Marling, L. (2010) Hope In The Air’, from the album I Speak Because I Can, Virgin.

Oliver, B (2017) It Started There, justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Smolej Fritz, B. & Avsec, A. (2007) ‘The experience of flow and subjective well-being of music students’ in Horizons of Psychology, 16, 2, 5-17  

Waters, R. (1987) The tide is turning from the album Radio K.A.O.S, EMI

Blue therapy · cold water · Covid-19 · Mallorca · mental health · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · Outdoors · Sea Bathing · sea swimming · Social History · swimming · Waterbiography · well being · winter · winter swimming · Women

45: The Lady’s Bathing Place

“… thought of the future upsets me intolerably. So I had to turn and look back at certain aspects of the past, and only then did I recover my calm”.  (George Sand, 1837)

In 1841, the French writer, George Sand, wrote a novel, about the winter of 1839, that she had spent in Mallorca with her, then, partner Frédéric Chopin. In the novel, Sand is not entirely complimentary about the island and she was particularly disappointed, it seems, with the weather. Like many others, who normally visit the Mediterranean for their summer holidays, Sand had failed to take account of the fact that Mallorcan winters can be surprisingly cold and stormy. 

I have also shivered through many a Mallorcan winter, where our home is constructed in a way better designed to keep out the heat of the longer and sunnier summers, than withstand the cold of winter. I invariably wear many more layers of clothing indoors – and in bed – than I do back home in my British centrally heated house. What a shame, then, for Sand, that she did not discover the new (back then) fashion for ‘sea-bathing’ to help her to overcome the gloom of winter. 

Winter sea-bathing was believed to have therapeutic health benefits even then. However, we have so much more evidence, now, as to how swimming outdoors, in winter, can help to boost ones mood and overcome anxiety. Researchers (Huttunen et al, (2004), for example, found that tension, fatigue and memory problems were significantly reduced in people who practised outdoor winter swimming for four months – between November and February. The researchers also reported how cold water swimming induces a stress reaction, activating the sympathetic nervous system and increasing the secretion of hormones that influence mood.

Sand was also a travel writer, and – even if she didn’t get into the water – exploring some of the ‘hidden’ beaches around the Mallorcan coast could have provided her with rich material to write about and parts of the island to discover – as it has done for me. 

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound,
like a rumour without any echo,  of History, really beginning” (Derek Walcott, 2007)

The Ladies Bathing Place

Sea bathing started to become popular in the 1700s (see my earlier blog: Sink Or Swim) but at that time swimming dresses or outfits had not yet been invented. Men, at the time, mostly bathed nude and women wore a simple ‘shift’ (a bit like a nightie), that when wet, tended to reveal the shape of their body beneath. Women, at that time, therefore, tended to be ‘siphoned off to separate parts of the beach’ (Landreth, 2017: 29) because the ‘sights on offer’ presented ‘moral dangers’

By the 1860s all sorts of by-laws were in place in coastal resorts to keep men’s and women’s bathing places apart (Landreth, 2017:35) and so women were given their own places to bathe. Around the coast of Britain and Ireland, therefore, can be found many historical and geographical references to “The Ladies Bathing Place” and “Ladies Cove“. In Clevedon, a mile along the coast from the, nowadays, more popular Pier Beach, we also have a Ladye Bay, most likely so called for the same reasons.

Ladye Bay, Clevedon

Eventually, of course, the introduction of bathing machines, which preserved a woman’s modesty, led to men and women swimming on the same beaches. Later, in the nineteenth century as the ‘fashion’ for holidays at the seaside took hold, families wanted to bathe together – and families meant cash for the burgeoning resorts. By 1899, the first resorts were announcing their conversion to ‘mixed bathing’ and by 1901, legal segregation by gender had ended on British beaches.

El Rentador de la Senyora

Around the coast of Mallorca, I have identified at least 3 coves (or calas in Mallorquin) recorded on the map as being bathing places for ‘Senyoras’. And one of these is close to where we have our Spanish home. 

El Rentador de la Senyora (the ladies’ bathing place) is reported to be (disfrutalaplaya.com) the place where la Senyora de Son Veri (a nearby rustic finca) used to bathe. The surname of Veri is one of the oldest and most historic on the island of Mallorca, appearing in records since 1230, so this would have been a ‘senyora’ of some status, and makes this (for me) an important and privileged swimming find. 

Nowadays, it is mostly used for bathing by the residents of the villages of Son Verí and the new development of Son Verí Nou. In the summer months, especially on a Sunday, many local families can be found here, picnicking, sunbathing, swimming and chatting. In the winter months, however, as I pointed out in my previous blog post, no one but me seems to think swimming is ‘a thing’ – and I generally have it all to myself. 

The stretch of coastline near here offers several beautiful, calm, rocky, places, to swim in the colder, winter months. It is possible to swim parallel to the shore making it easy to get out if one has underestimated the strength of the wind or the temperature of the water. There are also plenty of sheltered places among the rocks on the shore to sit, out of the wind, and to warm up after a swim.

Winters In Mallorca

To be honest, it was not until I took up outdoor swimming all year round, at home in the UK, that it occurred to me that I might, also, swim through the winter in Mallorca. The winters there can be surprisingly cold and windy and the island is particularly prone to storms in January and February. The sea, while never below about 10 degrees Celsius, is not the warm water experienced during the summer months, and the outdoor swimming pools are unheated. I used to long for somewhere to swim during those cold months, and – amazing as it now seems to me – it never occurred to me that I was surrounded by such opportunities. 

I eventually started swimming through the winter, in Mallorca, in 2018, and just as at home in the UK, making that step opened up to me a whole different perspective on the island. I began to discover ‘hidden’ locations, undiscovered footpaths and local history that I had never been aware of before. Just as at home in England, I embarked on a ‘swimming journey’ – this one to gradually explore – and swim in – all the coves and beaches around the island’s coast. 

Sadly, just as my ‘South Coast of England’ (see It Started There) journey has had to be put on hold, so has my Mallorcan one. Currently, in the UK, opportunities for exploring anywhere are severely curtailed and our horizons feel more limited. I have found one way to cope with the frustration and disappointment of all this uncertainty is to ‘re-visit’ parts of my ‘Mallorca Swimming Journey’ by writing about them in this blog. The Mallorcan economy relies heavily on its overseas visitors and it has been particularly badly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and the limitations on overseas travel. When the world is once again safe and well enough, to allow overseas travel, I hope you might also be inspired to explore, to enjoy – and to swim in – some of these beautiful places. *

This promised land

And in the end, even without the added bonus of winter sea swimming, George Sand managed to also appreciate the beauty of the island, as she wrote to her friend, in the winter of 1838:

“The nature, the trees, the sky, the sea … surpass all my dreams: this is the promised land!” (Sand, 1838)

References

*at the time of writing, under current UK COVID-19 restrictions, it is illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes. Always check the relevant government advice before planning to travel. For travel between the UK and Spain check here  https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/spain

Huttunen, P. et al, (2004) Winter swimming improves general well-being, in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health Volume 63, Issue 2, pp.140-144

Landreth, J. (2017) Swell: A Waterbiography, Bloomsbury

Oliver, B. (2017) It Started There, on justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver, B. (2019) Sink Or Swim , on justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver, B. (2020) Life Is A Roller Coaster, on justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Sand, G. (1837) Lettres d’un voyageur, available as Penguin Classics (1988)

Sand, G. (1838) Letter to Carlotta Marliani on November 14, 1838. as quoted on literarytraveler.com

Sand, G. (1841) A Winter in Mallorca, available as Classic Collection Carolina (2003)

Walcott, D. (2007) “The Sea Is History” from Selected Poems by Derek Walcott. Macmillan

bereavement · Blue therapy · cold water · Covid-19 · grief · Mallorca · mental health · New Year Goals · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · retirement · sea swimming · swimming · Tides · well being · winter

44: Life Is A Roller Coaster

And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’. (
Bob Dylan, 1964)

You may have noticed that I have been a bit quiet on the blog front recently. For various reasons, mostly to do with the unusual and unpredictable circumstances we are living through, I seem to have lost my writing mojo. I have attempted to start a new blog post here many times – but, each time, have got no further than a few incoherent jottings. Each time I began to feel optimistic about plans for the future, the news would turn dark again and I have had to scrap what I had planned to write.

Over the past year, it has felt as though we have been on an emotional and physical roller coaster – or caught up in a game of Snakes and Ladders. Just as I began to think we were ‘winning’ and I could start re-planning my swimming adventures – and writing about them – circumstances would throw us back to a place where we didn’t want to be. All of this has been making me feel very anxious and sad.

“To me, the sea is like a person, like a child that I’ve known a long time. It sounds crazy, I know, but when I swim in the sea, I talk to it. I never feel alone when I’m out there.” (attributed to Gertrude Ederle, the First Woman to Swim the English Channel in 1926) 

Under ‘normal’ circumstances, when I feel anxious or sad, I would go and swim in the sea somewhere. As I have written here on other occasions, a swim in the sea unfailingly lifts my mood and re-sets my equilibrium.  However, in the past year, access to the sea has not always been possible or straightforward. Not only has this affected my mood, but I have found that it has also impacted on my inspiration for something to write about. 

On This Day

And then this week, by coincidence, my Facebook feed offered me a ‘memory,’ of where I had been swimming ‘on this day’, one year ago. I realised that the present – and the foreseeable future – are too tumultuous and unpredictable. But what I can write about is swims I have done in the past. Those are a given. They are solid and tangible. And they remind me of the good times – and those are important to hold on to. 

And one day, when all this is over, I will resume writing about ‘new’ adventures. Just as the tides turn in and out, without fail, those times will return. 

The Tide Is Turning – but you and I now
We can be alright
Just hold on to what we know is true
You and I now
Though it’s cold inside

Feel the tide turning  (
Mumford & Sons, 2009)

January 10th 2020

On January 10th 2020 I swam in the cool, but clear, waters off the South Easterly coast of Mallorca. This is a part of the island that I know well as we have a home there (which we are currently unable to visit!).  It is also a place firmly associated with poignant family memories and I generally experience a strong sense of grief when we first arrive back there. And, just as with here in the UK, I have found that swimming in the sea, all year round, offers me a soothing, therapeutic way of managing those emotions. 

However, winter swimming has yet to ‘take off’ in Mallorca, in the way that it has in the UK. I can generally guarantee that, between October and June, in the coves where I choose to swim, I will be completely alone. Personal safety, therefore, becomes one of my primary concerns and, in those coldest winter months, I generally only swim in one or two familiar places, close to home, where I can predict how the weather, the tide and the wind will impact on the conditions and my ability to get in and out of the sea safely.

I wrote in my diary that day that it was a ‘miserable grey day’ and that the weather conditions made me think I would not manage to swim. However, as I have often done here in the UK, I was feeling so down and desperate that “I made a spur of the moment decision to just go, rather than sit around planning’. This ‘tactic’ has served me very well over the winters that I have been swimming outdoors. I never regret it. I have never regretted a swim. 

And right now, that maxim feels like a metaphor for the current times we are living through – don’t waste your time planning or looking ahead for the ‘perfect’ time that might not come; just experience the moment, your surroundings, the people you are with – now. Maybe you can’t swim. But you can put on a coat and go for a walk in the rain; you can phone that friend you’ve been thinking about; you can observe the changes the seasons bring to your local surroundings; and, as one of my former colleagues at the university where I used to work often said: “shut up and write!”. Do it now!

Ses Olles

But back to January 10th 2020 – as it turns out, according to my diary, the sea was lovely and calm and it was ‘very peaceful down there‘. On that day, as on so many others, I had the sea to myself. It was very overcast but it didn’t rain. Both the sea temperature and the air were 12 degrees Celsius and I swam across to the other side of the cove and back (about 600 metres) and “I felt so much better afterwards, more positive than yesterday and first thing this morning”.

This part of the Mallorcan coast is associated with a history of pirates and smuggling. It is very rocky, which contributes to the very clear water and the abundant communities of sea life.  Mallorca boasts to own one of the richest sea beds of the Mediterranean and this part of the coast is one of the designated protected areas.

It is also famous for the stone of its cliffs. The stone here was carved out and transported to Palma de Mallorca (the capital) and used to build the imposing cathedral known as La Seu. After the liberation of Mallorca from the Moors in 1230, King Jaume I laid the first stone of the catherdral, which then took 400 years to complete. The evidence of where the stone was carved out of the rocks is still visible today. 

I began this Just Keep Swimming Blog, in 2017, with the intention of writing about my open water swimming journey along the South Coast of England, in memory of my daughter, Wendy. However, I have also completed many other lovely, adventurous swims in seas that are not part of that coast, and, until now, I haven’t really written about these. I have come to realise that, this enforced hiatus in my ‘planned’ swimming journey, has given me an opportunity to do something different; to revisit and to share some of those other experiences.

And so that is what I will do! Hooray! I think I might have re-found my mojo!

References

Dylan, B. (1964) The Times They Are a-Changin’, from the album, The Times They Are a-Changin, Columbia

Ederle, G. (1926) The First Woman to Brave the English Channel

Mumford & Sons (2009) Feel The Tide (Turning), from the album, Sigh No More, Eastcote Studios Ltd.

Discover the Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca

Marine reserves on Mallorca

Beachcombing · Clevedon · community · Covid-19 · Happiness · mental health · Mindful exercise · Oceans · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · Outdoors · retirement · sea swimming · Tides · Walking · well being · Wild Flowers

43: Lost and Found

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“For whatever we lose (like a you or a me), it’s always ourselves we find in the sea” (E.E.Cummings, 1958)

According to the NHS website, research suggests that there are 5 steps –  5 Ways to Wellbeing – that we can take to help improve our mental health and wellbeing, feel more positive and get the most out of life. These are Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning, Connect with Others and be Generous and Kind. During the months of ‘lockdown’ when our ‘normal’ activities have been restricted, it has been important, to me, to find alternative ways to achieve this.

In common with so many others, during these months of restriction on our movement and activities, I have been exploring (and learning) much closer to home than I probably would have done, had these unusual circumstances not been forced upon us. I have not been alone, over the past 4 months, in discovering local footpaths, woodland trails and stretches of coast line that I never knew were there. This has been a revelation to me: a gift of treasures found on my doorstep.

This activity has also led me to discovering (and re-discovering) a range of other precious and interesting local ‘treasures’.

Companionship

I was lost and found
                                                       Saw my world spin round   (Echo & The Bunny Men,1987))

I have continued to restrict my swimming to my local beach (although, as the restrictions in England continue to be ‘eased’ I think it will not be long before I resume my journey of swimming along the South Coast). Meeting up again with swimming friends has been a joy only surpassed by getting back into the sea again. It has been wonderful to, once again, be able to plan, swim and discuss afterwards, a range of local routes, challenges  and distances in differing sea and weather conditions. I missed that – and the laughter.

I missed the laughter – and I have found it again.

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photo credit: Beth Oliver

I do, however, continue to find close, meaningful conversation difficult, while seated 2 metres from the other person. My ageing ears, the wind, the sound of the sea and the proximity of other people’s shouted conversations going on around me, result in me, very often, simply nodding and smiling politely – and hoping that my response is not inappropriate to the words that have just been offered to me!

So instead of sitting down for a ‘good old chinwag’ after a swim, I have, instead found myself studying my surroundings more closely, in the way that I did (and still do) on my walks.

Wild Flowers

I wrote previously (in I’ll Tell You What I Want What I Really Really Want) how, in the absence of the ability to swim, I took up walking, and how on these walks I discovered – and learned the names of – the wealth of wild flowers that bloom almost on my doorstep.

“I believe, that under ‘normal’ circumstances, I would never have noticed most of them, let alone have bothered to find out their names”. 

I have continued this habit, of closely inspecting anything that blooms, when I go to the beach, or walk along the coast paths – and I have not been unrewarded. Everywhere I go there are new plants and flowers waiting for me to acquaint myself with them and to learn their names. I can’t wait to travel even further a-field to discover what floral delights lie in store for me along our South Coast.

 

Pebble Of The Day

The beach where I swim, at Clevedon, is a pebble beach, and, previously, while deep in conversation or post-swim debrief, I tended to take these for granted. However, during ‘lockdown’ my attention was drawn to pictures of #Pebble Of The Day on my Twitter feed. These were often pebbles whose features gave them the appearance of having a face. As a result, I started to look more closely at the pebbles on my local beach, and – having started – I cannot help but see a crowd of little faces looking back at me every time I visit.

Try it! You won’t be disappointed.

Strangers On The Shore

I have always, wherever I swim, completed a #2minutebeachclean before I go home. This campaign, started by the 2 Minute Foundation, is devoted to cleaning up our planet 2 minutes at a time and to raise awareness of the amount of plastic pollution in our seas.

Recently, amongst my usual haul of plastic bottle tops, cotton buds and other debris (including, worryingly an increasing number of disposable face masks) I came across (on separate occasions) these two little figures. I have no idea how long they might have been lost at sea but my research identified the little cowboy as being from a 1958 packet of Sugar Puffs and the US ‘Little People’ pilot from a 2013, American edition of a Fisher Price set.

I discovered that, in 1997 (Cacciottolo, 2014), a container filled with millions of Lego pieces fell into the sea off Cornwall and that these bits of plastic continue to wash up on Cornish beaches today – particularly after a storm. The project Lego Lost At Sea was established to track the Lego pieces, wherever they turn up in the world and it has grown into a project that tracks the provenance of all the little plastic toys that turn up during beach cleans – and the figures from cereal packets (such as my cowboy) quite often feature in their discoveries.

It’s like a reward for picking up the rubbish” says Tracy Williams co-ordinator of the project. “However, plastic in the sea is not going to just decompose and go away it’s a deadly poison for birds and other aquatic life”.  Williams documents the project – and her finds – on her Twitter account and her book Adrift: The Curious Tale of the Lego Lost at Sea, is scheduled for publication in May 2021.

Don’t be a Tosser

They say there’s wreckage washing up
All along the coast (Knopfler, 2006)

I have never – as I know others have – ever found any money or other valuables when I have been cleaning the beach or studying the pebbles. My ‘treasure’ has (so far) always been limited to plastic figures and smiling stones.

However, this week, on Clevedon Beach, soon after I had completed a swim, a young person combing the beach, found an old hand grenade lying amongst the pebbles!

Thinking it was a rock he had found, he threw it to see if it would break up and reveal a fossil – only to discover that it was a “live hand grenade” (Newton-Browne, 2020). Fortunately, nothing ‘went off’ and the Bomb Disposal Unit came and “transferred it to a safe location where it was destroyed”. Who knows for how many years that little explosive bundle has been rolling around in the sea and on to our shore?

Unexploded bombs are not the only hazard when ‘combing’ our beaches. There are plenty of other dangers amongst the litter left behind by humans and we need to stay safe.  The advice is: Wear gloves. Don’t go around picking up strange objects. If you see something that you think might be dangerous, keep clear and inform the coastguard (mcsuk.org).

And most importantly, whoever you are, and wherever you are: Don’t Be A Tosser! Dispose of your rubbish and your waste responsibly. Leave only footprints.
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“To myself I seem to have been only like a child playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in, now and then, finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell … whilst the great ocean of truth lay undiscovered before me” (Isaac Newton, 1726)

References
Cacciottolo, M. (2014) The Cornish beaches where Lego keeps washing up, BBC News 21st July 2013
Cummings, E.E. (1958) Maggie and Milly and Molly and May’, in The Complete Poems: 1904-1962, Liveright Publishing.
Echo & The Bunny Men (1987))  Lost And Found , from the album Echo & The Bunnymen (Expanded & Remastered), Warner Classics
Knopfler, M & Harris, E. (2006) Beachcombing, from the album All The Road Running, Mercury Records
Marine Conservation Society, Beach Clean Volunteer Guide 
Newton, I. (1726) Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton, by  Brewster, D. 1855) Volume II. Ch. 27) page 407
Newton-Browne, L. (2020)  Live grenade exploded after beach discovery, North Somerset Times, 15th July 2020
Oliver, B. (2020) I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really, Want justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

 

 

bereavement · Blue therapy · Dorset · grief · Hive Beach · Jurassic Coast · National Trust · Oceans · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · sea swimming · swimming · triathlon · Walking · Waterlog · well being

42: Here, there and everywhere

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I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day
In everything that’s light and gay
I’ll always think of you that way
I’ll find you in the morning’ sun
And when the night is new
I’ll be looking at the moon
                                                         But I’ll be seeing you   (Iggy Pop & Francois Hardy, 1997)

 

It’s been a little while since I have felt able to write anything in my blog. It’s quite hard to write about swimming when you haven’t been swimming! However, the good news is that, here we are – three months into the UK’s response to the Coronavirus Pandemic – and I am able to swim in the sea again (Yay!). And what a joy it has been to feel the cool splash of the waves and to be surrounded by the supportive caress  of the salt water once again! I was pleased to find that I hadn’t lost my acclimatisation to the temperature of the water – in fact, it felt surprisingly warm compared to the cold water of my paddling pool –  and I am now working on building up my swimming stamina and strength again, with ever longer swims.

I am eternally grateful that I live within a 20 minute drive of the sea – and that I am once again allowed to make that short drive. I won’t ever take that for granted.

The less good news is, that Public Health and Government guidance mean that it is still inadvisable – and not really practicable – for me to travel further afield or to resume my swimming journey along the English South Coast. And the disappointing news, alongside that, is that almost all of the outdoor swimming events, cycling events and triathlons that we had entered, as a family, this year, have been cancelled or postponed until next year.

Life is a path lit only by the light of those I’ve loved
By the light of those I love  (Tom Waits (2002) 

Readers of this blog will know that one of the ways we have coped with the grief and loss of Wendy is by entering swimming and cycling and running and triathlon events together, as a family, celebrating and supporting each other, and keeping Wendy’s memory at the centre of it all.  Although she never knew it, it was Wendy that led us into taking up these activities in the first place, and, as I wrote in my first ever blog post (It Started There), it was because of her that I discovered my love of open water sea swimming.

Had it not been postponed, this month, we should have all be enjoying a family break together in West Bay, Dorset and supporting my eldest daughter who was due to take part in a Triathlon there. That area, and the beaches and the walks along that stretch of the coast is a special part of the world for us as a family. We know it well and (in normal circumstances) visit it often.

However, in the absence of being able to travel there, and swim there, this June, I decided to draw on some ‘retrospective’ swims and to re-visit it ‘in my minds eye’.

Hive Beach, East Bay, West Bay and Eype

Until This spot is known, you know not Dorset (Howarth, 1926) 

I first wrote about a couple of very different swims there in one of my first blog posts (Watch Out For Those Waves). In that post, I described how important that stretch of coast is to my family and why we return there. Those two swims in 2017 were both very different: one in a rough and stormy sea, in a triathlon, wearing a wetsuit and the other in calm, fresh, blue sea, swimming alone wearing only a swimsuit. But both helped to consolidate my developing love of sea swimming and it’s power to both excite and challenge and to soothe and reassure.

I have swum there many times since then, in summer and in winter, in wetsuit and without and I love the way that the waves rush towards you, beckoning you and pulling you in – and then throw you back out again after your swim. The seabed shelves quite steeply, which can make getting in and out of the water quite difficult but once you are past the larger waves and out into the deep water it is beautiful, clear and not so ‘bumpy’. Swimming there epitomises, for me, the majesty of sea swimming, of feeling alone and yet supported in the vastness of the ocean. I don’t think I have ever had a swim there when I have not cried tears of emotion at the beauty and the splendour of the sea. And yet I have never, ever, felt unsafe swimming there.

Roger Deakin (1999:173) describes this area as ‘a traditional stronghold of sea-swimming’West Bay, in Bridport, is where, in the early 20th Century, in the absence of a swimming pool, the local children learned to swim in the harbour and it is here that the Bridport Swimming Club used to hold local sea swimming races. And it is in the same spot that the sea swim part of the annual ‘Beyond Events‘ Triathlon takes place.

Between West Bay and Hive Beach is the more difficult to access Eype Beach that is backed by the imposing Golden Cap, the highest cliff on the south coast of England (191m above sea level). The Coast Path walk along there is spectacular and the sight of the cliffs from the sea adds to the majestic nature of swimming there.

The cliffs with slopes and flats abound,
All facing the warm south;
And quietly you may lie down
In Summer at Eype’s mouth (Bartlett, F. 1863) 

Sadly, I won’t be returning to these beaches until they, and the people who live there, are ready to welcome us back, and I hope (unless you live there, or within a short journey of there) that you won’t either. The other thing to note is that the cliffs which back the beach along this stretch of coast can be unstable and subject to landslides and you should avoid sitting underneath them – and never attempt to climb them.

Here, there and everywhere

The other reason I wanted to write about this part of Dorset again, now, is because this June it will be 5 years since my daughter, Wendy, died. Every year, on the anniversary of her death, I would normally visit one of these beaches, swim there and then sit and think about her and remember the energetic, artistic and compassionate young woman that she was. All three of my daughters have very happy memories and associations with that particular part of Dorset. They spent many happy summers there playing in the sea with their grand parents who lived nearby. For Wendy, it had been a place she would return to when she was struggling with her thoughts and her moods and she felt the need to ‘get away’. It is somewhere where, for all of us, memories are happy and uncomplicated and for me it holds particularly precious, poignant, private and personal memories and associations. It is somewhere where, normally, I go, every year, to remember Wendy.

I have come to realise, though, that we tend to go to these ‘special places’ for the sake of ritual, for reflection, for remembrance, while the truth is that the person we seek is not there. In reality, they live on in your heart and in the heart of your family whenever you are together – and that could be here, there or anywhere.

The separation from all my children and grandchildren during this pandemic has been very hard to bear. I long to be able to hold and hug them again. Sadly, we can’t yet touch or hug each other, but at least we are now able to meet up together, locally and outdoors, and spend some time together.  We may have to find a new and different way to mark and commemorate the loss of Wendy from our lives, but we can do that together, as a family. And that is something to celebrate.

Life is a path lit only by the light of those I love  (Tom Waits, 2002) 

 

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Wendy Oliver (25th September 1980 – 22nd June 2015)

I’ll find you in the morning’ sun
And when the night is new
   (Iggy Pop & Francois Hardy, 1997)

 

Photo Credits: Beth Oliver & Iain Bourne

References

Bartlett, F. (1863) Symondsbury, a poem, as published in Dorset Life (October 2012)

The Beatles, (1966) Here, there and everywhere from the album Revolver, EMI

Deakin, R. (1999) Waterlog: A Swimmers Journey Through Britain, London:Vintage

Iggy Pop & Francois Hardy (1997)  I’ll be seeing you from the album Jazz à Saint-Germain, Virgin

Howarth, R.W.B. (1926) On Dorset, a poem by R. W. B. Howarth as seen on burtonbradstock.org.uk

Oliver, B. (2017) It Started There,  justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver B. (2017) Watch Out For Those Waves, justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Waits, T. (2002) “Jayne’s Blue Wish” from the album Big Bad Love, Nonsuch Records

 

 

 

cold water · community · Cornwall · Covid-19 · Forest Bathing · Green Therapy · grief · mental health · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · Outdoors · Sea Bathing · sea swimming · Spring · swimming · Walking · well being · Wild Flowers

41: I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want

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“And I miss you, like the deserts miss the rain”  (Everything But The Girl, 1994)

I am a bit delayed in writing this blog. I have found it hard to settle down to writing anything lately. The worries and concerns, sudden changes and restrictions that have been forced upon all of our lives, by the current COVID-19 pandemic, have disrupted my days and my nights and have thrown me into a different pattern of life as I try to adapt to a ‘new normal’. It has felt, at times, not dissimilar to the early stages of grief, when I couldn’t settle to anything, had to keep moving, was afraid to be still.

And I have had to adapt to a life without swimming.

If you have been following this blog you will know how important swimming – especially swimming outdoors, in the sea – has become to me: how it soothes my grief, keeps me well, connects me to nature, gives me a purpose to keep going each day and has introduced me to a new and welcoming community.

In common with many others, I haven’t been able to swim in the sea (or a swimming pool) for nearly 6 weeks. And I miss it. I miss the sound, the smell and the taste of the sea. I miss the way it envelopes me in its vastness, carries me with it and washes away my worries and concerns.  I miss everything about it!

When will I see you again?
When will we share precious moments? (The Three Degrees, 1973)

I also miss seeing and hugging and talking face to face with my children and grandchildren, my brothers and sisters and my friends. And I miss those gentle, serendipitous, short conversations that you have while sitting next to someone, gazing at the horizon, or when walking beside them, looking at the surrounding scenery. Conversations that can begin with chatting about something quite inconsequential and yet can, in a short space of time, move on to sharing something quite deep and personal.

At the moment, all my conversations seem to be ‘timetabled’ and are ‘up close and personal’ with a face (or faces) staring at me from a screen  –  or they are stilted, ‘shouty’, self conscious exchanges in the street, from a distance of two metres. I don’t know about you, but I find it difficult to talk about anything meaningful in those circumstances. I feel forced into superficial joviality and positivity.

Forest Bathing

In the absence of the ability to go swimming – or Sea Bathing – I have taken up Forest Bathing. Shinrin-Yoku (Li, 2018) is the practice of spending time in the woods, reconnecting with nature to achieve better health, happiness and a sense of calm.  There have been many studies evidencing the healing properties of ‘green therapy’ and forest bathing. It has also been shown to boost your immune system, which we could all do with right now (Li, 2018:82).

In the UK, during the ‘lockdown’, we have been ‘allowed’ to go outside to exercise locally, each day. Not living close enough to be able to walk to the sea, I have been walking in the fields and woods near my home instead, and discovering places and paths I never knew existed.

I see trees of green, red roses too, I see them bloom, for me and you and I think to myself what a wonderful world (Louis Armstrong, 1968)

To begin with my walks were planned with the purpose – in my mind – of ‘finding water’! And I am very fortunate, in that respect, because I have found many beautiful streams and ponds in my local woods and farm land. And I won’t deny, that the thought more than crossed my mind, in those early days of lockdown,  as to whether any of them were ‘swimmable’ (I decided that they weren’t!)

As the days passed, however, I began to notice more and more flowers and I realised that I could remember the names of only a very few of them.  And so, I have found a different way to connect with the sounds, colours, sights and smells of nature. I have become an aficionado of wild flowers!  And what a wealth of flowers there are! I find new ones every day. I cannot believe how many different ones there are. I never, under ‘normal’ circumstances, would have noticed most of them, let alone have bothered to find out their names.

And it is not just the flowers, and the trickling water and the trees – but the birdsong this spring has also been spectacular.  In the words of Emma Mitchell (2019:10) “I feel as though I’m swimming in the small details I see, so deeply do I become immersed in my surroundings”.

I have been reading Mitchell’s lovely book ‘The Wild Remedy‘ in which she discusses the healing impact of a daily walk among the plants and trees, on her depression. I love her use of language and the way she describes the sensory impact of nature on her mood. She often uses ‘swimming’ words to describe her immersion in her surroundings. It resonates with me and the way that I am trying to use forest bathing as a way to ‘get through’ this difficult time.

“I feel as though I want to swim in the wood’s bright new foliage, dive down into the gently mouldering layers of last year’s leaves …  and up into the glades where the green-gold spring sunlight pours down on the wild garlic …. I allow myself to drink in the joy of this wood … I know this is a place that can heal” (Mitchell 2019: 123)

Isn’t It Ironic

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
Life has a funny, funny way of helping you out …
And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think? (Alanis Morissette, 1995)

An interesting thing (to me) about these difficult circumstances that we are living through, is how, being faced with the restrictions on who we can see and what we can do, we become much clearer about who and what is truly important to us.

As I explained in my February blog (Somewhere Over The Rainbow ) my ‘big goal’ for 2020 was to try to overcome my traumatic memories and to try to complete some of my South Coast swimming journey in Cornwall. In my mind, had we not all been told to stay at home, I would, about now, have quietly started creeping in; tentatively, crossing the Devon border and ‘dipping my toes’ into the sea of Cornwall.

And I’ll Tell You What I Want, What I Really, Really Want  – I now find that, having spent the past 5 years not wanting to ever set foot in Cornwall again –  now that Cornwall is ‘closed to visitors’ (Calder, 2020), and we are told to Stay at Home –  I find that I want nothing, more badly, than to go to Cornwall and swim! Isn’t it ironic?

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The fact that I can’t go there makes me want to run there, leap in, explore as much of the coast as I can, walk the coast path, find the wild flowers – and just swim and swim and swim.  And I want to go there with my family.  And I want to splash and laugh and play with them, just as we used to when my children were young. I want to remember those days and I want to create some new, even happier memories and associations – and I want to remember Wendy, and her laughter,  in all of that.

And one day, when all this is over, that is what we will do.

“We wait, knowing that when this is over, A lot of us – not all perhaps – but most, 
Will be slightly different people, And our world, though diminished,
Will be much bigger, its beauty revealed afresh”  (Alexander McCall-Smith, 2020)

For now, though, please Stay Safe – Stay At Home 

References

Armstrong, L. (1968) What A Wonderful World, ABC Label

Calder, S. (2020) Coronavirus: Visit Cornwall Tells Tourists To Stay Away, in The Independent, 20th March 2020

Everything But The Girl (1994) Missing, from the album Amplified Heart, Atlantic Records

Li, Q. (2018) Shinrin-Yoku: The Art Of Forest Bathing, Penguin/Random House

McCall Smith, A. (2020) A Poem For Troubled Times,in The Scotsman, April 1st 2020

Mitchell, E. (2019) The Wild Remedy, Michael O’Mara Books

Morissette, A (1995) Ironic, from the album Jagged Little Pill, Maverick

Oliver, B. (2020) Somewhere Over The Rainbow, from JustKeepSwimmingBillie.wordpress.com

Spice Girls (1996) Wannabe, from the album Spice, Virgin

The Three Degrees (1973) When Will I see You Again, from the album, The Unforgettable Music of The Three Degrees,  Philadelphia International Records

 

 

 

Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · Covid-19 · grief · mental health · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · sea swimming · swimming · Walking · well being

40: These boots are made for walkin’

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Are you ready, boots? Well, start walkin’ (Nancy Sinatra, 1966)

Sadly, I am currently having to replace “just keep swimming Billie” with “just keep walking Billie” –  and like so many others, I am having to adapt to this strange new world in ways that I am finding quite difficult.

I haven’t been swimming since Monday 23rd March 2020 at 09.14 when I did a 550m circuit of Clevedon Marine Lake. The water temperature was 7.5c and air temperature was 8c.

Later that day our lives changed, and that was the end of any ‘unnecessary travel’ to swim and the end of any planned swimming goals I had made for this year.

However, I am pleased to say that I did complete my Gold Polar Bear, winter swimming challenge (see I Won’t Back Down) and I have received my badge, medal and certificate – and that will have to do for now.

One day I will be back in the water. Until then, stay safe. Look to the future ….

We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand
We’ll walk hand in hand, some day
Oh, deep in my heart
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day

We Shall Overcome (Pete Seeger, 1967)

 

References

Oliver, B. (2019) I Won’t Back Down, wordpress.com

Seeger, P. (1967) We Shall Overcome, live in Berlin

Sinatra, N. (1966) These Boots Are Made For Walkin, Reprise Label

 

Blue therapy · cold water · Covid-19 · grief · mental health · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · sea swimming · well being

39: For the times they are a-changin’

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And don’t speak too soon
For the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who
That it’s namin’. (Bob Dylan, 1964)

I hope, that in time, normal service will be resumed. However, it currently feels inappropriate, to me, to publish the blog post I had been planning for this month.

My over-riding thoughts at the moment are with those whose lives and livelihoods are at risk.  I have also found that the state of emergency the world currently finds itself in is triggering, in me, some very unwelcome emotions and memories.

At the moment, each day seems to bring more bad news and more change to what we once thought of as our ‘normal’ day to day lives. Making plans – even for tomorrow – feels problematic. It seems that all any of us can do, at the moment, is to take each day as it comes – one step at a time.

If you have been following this blog you will know that the way I choose to manage my fear, my grief, my anxiety and many other negative emotions, is to “just keep swimming” and I promise you that I am trying to continue to do this for as long as I am able.

“Thank goodness for the sea” is something I find myself saying each day at the moment. I am not sure how I will survive this current crisis if I could not get to the sea for a swim. In Spain, where I would be now if this crisis had not occurred, people are not allowed to go to the beach, not allowed to swim, not allowed to go for a bike ride or a walk along the coast. Spare a thought for them too – and keep hoping that it will not be like that for us.

Be safe people. Love your loved ones. Get outside if you can. Look for the light.

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That’s how the light gets in (Leonard Cohen, 1992)

References

Dylan, B. (1964) For The Times They Are A-Changin, from the album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, Columbia Records

Cohen, L. (1992) Anthem, from the album The Future, Columbia Records