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

 

 

 

 

 

 

bereavement · Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · grief · Happiness · mental health · open water swimming · ordnance survey maps · outdoor swimming · Outdoors · sea swimming · Singing · Spring · swimming · well being · winter

38: Somewhere over the rainbow ..

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Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream,
Really do come true  (Judy Garland, 1939)

Since I mentioned my tentative plan, that I aim to achieve a personal goal in 2020, (see my previous blog: Little By Little), I have been struggling with ‘imposter syndrome’ due to feedback, suggesting, that some of my followers mistake me for an endurance athlete!

I would like to confirm that – I am not!

And, for the record, I am not planning on swimming the Channel; I am not aiming to complete an ice mile; I will not be attempting a 4-way swim between Ladye Bay and Clevedon Pier – or anything else that requires months of endurance training or risks me losing bits of my tongue in the way that Ross Edgley did (Hunt, 2018)!

I confess to now feeling a bit inadequate in the face of those expectations. However, to me, my goal is no less difficult to face, and since I allowed myself to believe I might do it, my nights have become disturbed again with upsetting dreams and I have found myself, in those long wakeful nights, imagining all sorts of logistical reasons why I ‘can’t’ do it.

Simply put, my plan is (or was), in this year when my daughter Wendy would have turned 40, to try to overcome my traumatic memories of her final weeks, her death and the ensuing inquiry and to try to complete some of my South Coast swimming journey by returning to Cornwall – where she died.

While for many, Cornwall is a ‘happy place’ of sunny seaside memories, quaint seaside villages and breathtakingly rugged scenery, for me it is associated with despair, sadness, helplessness and death. I have not been back there since the inquest in August 2016 – and until a few month ago, had no intention of doing so.

I gradually came to realise though, that if I were to complete this swimming journey I have embarked on (see It Started There), I would, at some point, have to ‘tackle’ Cornwall. I vaguely thought that I would ‘leave it to last’ – to some unspecified date in ‘the future’.  It was the realisation that it would be Wendy’s 40th birthday this year (along with a couple of other things that I will leave for another blog) that led me to think – ‘maybe this year’. Maybe this year is the right time to try to create some newer, happier memories and associations and to find that solace and joy in the sea that I have found elsewhere.

Wendy loved Cornwall. Maybe I need to learn to love it again too.

“I want to see the sunshine after the rain, I want to see bluebirds flying over the mountains again” (Elkie Brooks, 1977)

As and when (and if) this plan becomes ‘do-able’ I will write more about it. However, for now, even just thinking about it, and having written these few words, my palms are sweating, my chest is heaving and I am starting to feel panicky and afraid.

I can sing a rainbow

As readers of my blog (Sing, sing a song) will recall, a favourite distraction technique of mine, when I am feeling anxious and afraid, is to sing! Having been living through some stormy days and nights recently – both metaphorically and meteorologically – I felt that it was time to revisit that strategy.

Following some recent comments from fellow swimmers about my swimsuits and hats I have been reflecting on the ‘colours’ of swimming. I concluded that we can all do with a bit more colour in our lives, at this time of year, while we wait patiently for the winter to end. So here is a selection from my swimming rainbow:

Red and yellow and pink and green, orange and purple and blue, I can (swim) a rainbow too (Peggy Lee, 1955)

The winter can seem long and monochromatic. We get to February and we are all desperate for signs of Spring – and for the water to warm up and for colours to return to our surroundings – and our wardrobes. Unfortunately there is still, in cold water swimming terms, a long way to go before it gets better. I do still feel the joy and the buzz of the cold water – but I have to confess that it would be nice to have a bit of warmth and sunshine to get dressed in afterwards.

I have noticed, however, that when you swim outdoors all year round, there is an awful lot more colour around you than you might think – even during the darkest months. You just need to get outdoors more to see it, to celebrate it and to embrace it.

Red (and pink)

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When you swim in the winter, in cold water, you emerge from the sea glowing with a deep red, cold water tan. I confess to not fully understanding the physiological reasons for this, but when you emerge from the water you not only look glowingly healthy – you also feel sparklingly a-glow and alive. We cold water swimmers also call it the ‘afterglow’.

Yellow & Purple 

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Actually, I could sing the whole rainbow with my hats! Most outdoor swimmers will confess to having a ‘surplus to requirements’ stash of swimming hats. Nearly every event that I have entered, since I started this swimming adventure has provided me with, yet another, new hat. I also (I’m not alone in this) find it hard to resist buying myself the occasional new hat when one particularly takes my fancy!

This year, as part of my motivation strategy for swimming through the winter, I have been ‘changing my outfit’ as each new month begins. Not only do I change my swimsuit (oh yes! I should say. I have a lot of those too), and some aspect of my ‘after swim’ wardrobe, but each month I have been wearing a different swimming hat. This month, February, I can be found wearing my purple Nancy Farmer ‘Swimflakes’ hat. And for March, I am planning on sporting my yellow Clevedon Pier hat (also by Nancy Farmer).

Green

As I mentioned above, I also seem to have accrued a collection of swimsuits. Again, as part of my ‘swim through the winter’ strategy, I have been sporting a different one each month.  To celebrate my first swim of February, a swimming friend took this lovely photo of me entering the waves. As well as perfectly capturing the joy of a winter swim, I am rather proud of the way I managed to colour co-ordinate my February outfit with the nearby Clevedon Pier.

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Blue

When you are stuck indoors, snuggled inside your winter woolies, it can feel as though the winter is long, dark, grey, cold, wet and windy. However, I have found, that if you try to get outside every day, to swim, you realise that winter can contain some of the brightest and the bluest days we could hope to find. I have even found, that on some of those days recently, there has been warmth in that sun! And that really lifts my spirits.

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I have written before about Green Therapy and Blue Therapy (see The Happy Club) and how both are really important for well-being, especially in the winter, when much of our surroundings can seem pretty grey.

Now research from Plymouth University (Martin et al, 2020) has found that, weekly visits to ‘natural spaces’ not only help with our physical and mental wellbeing, but also help us to feel ‘psychologically connected’ with those spaces. Those who make ‘weekly nature visits’, they found, are also more likely to behave in ways which promote environmental health, such as recycling and conservation activities.

“reconnecting with nature” they conclude, “could be key to achieving synergistic improvements to human and planetary health”.

Clearly then, for both physical and mental wellbeing and for the health of the planet it is necessary to get outside as much as possible all year round. And open water swimming offers the perfect way to do this. As Nichols (2015) has said, being in or near open water can reduce cortisol levels in our brains, reduce stress and “reconnect you to the place, to yourself and to those you’re with – and make you happy”.

Blue is the colour of the sky
In the morning when we rise (Donovan, 1965)

Every day, throughout 2010, Spencer Finch observed the changing tone and colour of the sea at Folkestone. This resulted in a palette of 100 variants of sea colour which he turned into a permanent ‘colour-wheel’. This is installed on the Promenade, at Folkestone, so that passers-by are able to ‘colour-match’ the sea, each day, with the colours on the wheel.

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I think this is a lovely idea. I am not as creative as Spencer Finch, but I have been taking a photograph of the sea, every day that I swim, as a record, not only of the changing sea conditions and tides, but also of the colour of the sea and the sky. Many people think that the sea at Clevedon is ‘brown’. I’m not denying that sometimes it can be, but it can also be all of those shades on Finch’s wheel.

Orange

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I do so love a map. It is such a pleasure to unfold a map and to see the extent of the possibilities of coves and footpaths that our coastline has to offer. To me, this is so much more pleasurable than studying a locality on a tablet or on a phone. It is not dis-similar to the pleasure I get from holding, feeling, smelling and flicking through a real book – rather than an e-book. One of the joys of embarking on my swimming journey of the South Coast is that I get to buy more maps!

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I am guessing that you can’t have failed to notice, that, tucked away there, I have bought myself a selection of maps that cover the South Coast of Cornwall. In my previous blog, I wrote about the importance of ‘little by little’ – of taking ‘one achievable step at a time’. I had to remind myself of this when the enormity (for me) of what I hope to achieve in 2020 threatened to overwhelm me and I found myself ‘over-thinking’ it and creating obstacles that don’t need to exist. Break it down into smaller steps, I had to tell myself. Take it one step at a time.

And so my first step was to buy those lovely maps!

My second step was to enter a swimming event in Cornwall – but more about that another time!

“Someday I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me”. (Judy Garland, 1939)

 

Photo Credits:  Susie Hampshire (Green) and Beth Oliver (Red)

Coldest Swim so far this month: February 7th at Clevedon Lake. Water temp 5 degrees celsius! Air temp 4 degree celsius. Distance swum 400 metres. Time in the water 7 minutes

References

Brooks, E. (1977) Sunshine After The Rain, from the album Two Days Away, A&M Records

Donovan, (1965) Colours, from the album What’s Bin Did And What’s Bin Hid, Hickory Records

Finch, S. (2010) Creative Folkestone  http://www.creativefolkestone.co.uk

Garland, J. (1939) Somewhere Over The Rainbow, from the album Over The Rainbow, Decca Records

Hunt, E. (2018) Chunks of my tongue came off … you could see the tastebuds, in The Guardian, November 5th 2018

Lee, P. (1955) I Can Sing A Rainbow, Decca Records

Martin et al (2020) Nature contact, nature connectedness and associations with health, wellbeing and pro-environmental behaviours in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Volume 68, April 2020, 101389

Nichols, W. J. (2015)  Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do, Back Bay Books.

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

Oliver, B. (2018) The Happy Club justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver, B. (2018) Sing, Sing A Song justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

Oliver, B. (2020) Little By Little justkeepswimmingbillie.wordpress.com

ageing · bereavement · Blue therapy · Clevedon · Climate Change · cold water · community · grief · Jellyfish · Lyme Regis · mental health · New Year · New Year Goals · Oceans · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · Plastic Pollution · retirement · sea swimming · Singing · swimming · Turtles · well being · winter

37: Little By Little

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It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me (Nina Simone, 1965)

And so, here we are, already half way through January! A new year. A new decade.

Have you set yourself any new goals for the coming decade? Will you be putting a toe in the water and taking up open water swimming? If so, perhaps January is not the best time to start (unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere).

I have always thought that January is a bit of an arbitrary time to be setting ‘new’ goals and resolutions. After all there are so many other points in the year when we can, more suitably, celebrate ‘new’ beginnings: the first day of Spring, for example, or the first day of a new academic year, or on our birthday. Or, following that well known philosophy about today being the first day of the rest of your life – why not today – or tomorrow?

As Pot-Zapier (2020) suggests “There are 11 other months in the year, and you can decide to make a change in any of them”.

This coming year we have 366 days available  – that’s one more than last year – and we can use any or all of them to set ourselves a goal. And if, on one day, you don’t manage to achieve much progress, you can just start again the next day. One step at a time.

Little by little by little by little by little   (Dusty Springfield, 1966)

Baudelaire (1855) advised us that “Nothing can be done except little by little”, so your goals and plans don’t need to be big, life changing ones. I have always found that the best progress is achieved when I set little, achievable goals that can gradually be built on. For example, it was back in April 2016 that I set myself the goal of ‘mastering this open water sea swimming thing’, and September 2017 when I decided that I would take the next 5 years to swim, little by little, the length of the South Coast of England (see It Started There).  I am still on both of those journeys, and each year (not necessarily starting in January) I have set myself a new ‘sub-set’ of goals which help to keep me motivated and learning. I haven’t always made the progress I thought I might make, but looking back, progress has definitely been made.

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The Temperature’s Rising (Ethel Waters, 1933)

According to data recently released (McGrath, 2020), last year – 2019 – was the second warmest in a record dating back to 1850 and 2020 “is likely to continue this warming trend”. Furthermore, the last 10 years have been confirmed as the “warmest decade on record”. It was also reported, recently (Webster, 2020a), that, last year – 2019 – the world’s oceans reached their highest temperature since modern records began, with the record being broken for the third year running.

Now, if one of your goals for this year, was (or is going to be) to take up open-water swimming, then you might view these data as rather encouraging! However, it is now accepted that these “marine heatwaves” threaten the sustainability of marine life .   Greenpeace (2020)  have found that turtles are having to travel almost twice as far to find food as their prey (jellyfish) move north due to the warming of the oceans. The extra energy they expend finding new feeding grounds results in them laying fewer eggs, thus contributing to the decline of turtles – and an increase in jelly fish!

Now, from my perspective, an increase in the numbers of jellyfish in our waters is not such good news for open water swimmers (as I described in my blog I Won’t Back Down)!

Little By Little

As little by little we gave you everything you ever dreamed of
Little by little the wheels of your life have slowly fallen off
Little by little you have to give it all 
And all the time just ask yourself why you’re really here? (Oasis, 2010)

So, while you are waiting for the seasons to turn and/or to get started on your 2020 swimming goals, you might consider doing some little by little things to help the oceans.

  1. Turn it down Apparently, more than 700,000 microfibres – thinner than a human hair – can be flushed into a drain from a single wash cycle and huge numbers of them end up in the ocean. However, researchers at Leeds University found that a 30-minute cycle at 25C produces half as many microfibres as an 85-minute cycle at 40C.  Setting your washing machine to a cool, short cycle “can halve the amount of tiny plastic fibres shed by clothing“. (Webster, 2020b)
  2. Pick it up  – The 2 Minute Foundation is a registered charity that is devoted to cleaning up our planet 2 minutes at a time. They believe that simple, achievable acts can add up to make a great difference. The #2minutebeachclean and  #2minutelitterpick campaigns aim to empower, educate, inspire individuals and groups to make simple changes that will contribute to the planet’s wellbeing –  as well as their own.
  3. Make a Pledge – Greenpeace have released a short animated film Turtle Journey that tells the  story of a turtle family travelling home through an ocean under growing pressure from climate change, plastic pollution, oil drilling and overfishing. The film ends with a call to action, urging viewers to sign their petition calling for a global ocean treaty. #ProtectTheOceans

Which Way You Going’ Billy   (Poppy Family,1969 )

Little by little the seasons are changing and, where I live, we are now achieving over 8 hours of daylight. The sea temperature, in Clevedon, where I regularly swim, has been hovering at around 7 degrees celsius for a few weeks now. Statistically it may continue to drop a bit more as we go through February, but before long, hopefully, it will gradually, start to get warmer.

I am now half way through the Polar Bear Challenge that I embarked on in November and feel confident that I will be able to complete it successfully. Between November 1st and January 17th I have swum 12,880 metres in cold water – but better still, I have loved every one of those metres as I have experienced the thrill that cold water swimming delivers. I haven’t pushed myself to swim further or to stay in longer than I know I am capable of. Instead, I have Just Kept Swimming. Little and often has been my mantra (while accepting that ‘little’ is a subjective term in this context!).

I won’t deny that I have started to make plans for what (and where) I want to achieve and swim in 2020. For me, and this personal journey I have been on, part of my plan feels quite momentous, significant – and therefore daunting – and I don’t yet feel ready to share it more publicly.

So, if you want to know, I’m afraid you will just have to keep following this blog over the coming year.  Now, there’s a goal for you!

Oh … and by the way … Happy New Year!

 

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Photo Credits:  Gal Almoznino and Beth Oliver

References

Baudelaire, C. (1855) The Essence of Laughter: And Other Essays, Journals, and Letters” translated by Quennell, P. (1956) Meridian Books

Greenpeace (2020) Turtles Under Threat: Ocean warming forces leather-back turtles to travel further for food, greenpeace.org.uk

Liverpool, L. (2020) Wallace & Gromit’s creators make new animation to try to save the seas, New Scientist, 15th January 2020

McGrath, M. (2020) Climate change: Last decade confirmed as warmest on record, bb.co.uk, 15th January 2020

Oasis (2002) Little By Little, from the album Heathen Chemistry,  Sony Music Entertainment.

Oliver, B (2017) It Started There, from Just Keep Swimming Billie, September 3rd 2017

Oliver, B. (2017) Stormy Waters, from Just Keep Swimming Billie, September 8th 2017

Oliver, B. (2019) I Won’t Back Down, from Just Keep Swimming Billie, October 16th 2019

Pot-Zapier, J. (2020) Why You Shouldn’t Bother Making a Resolution In January fastcompany.com

Poppy Family (1969 )  Which Way You Goin’ Billy,  from the album Which Way You Goin’ Billy,  Decca Records

Simone, N. (1965) Feeling Good from the album I put A Spell On You, Phillips Records

Springfield, D. (1966) Little by Little, from the album You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me, Phillips Records

Waters, E. (1933) Heat Wave, from the movie As Thousands Cheer, written by Irving Berlin

Webster, B. (2020a) Warming oceans ‘warn of looming climate disaster’, thetimes.co.uk, 14th January 2020.

Webster, B. (2020b) Cool, Short Washes Can Halve Microfibre Pollution, thetimes.co.uk, 14th January 202

 

 

bereavement · Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · grief · Happiness · New Year · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · retirement · sea swimming · swimming · Walking · well being · Winter Solstice

36: Seasons In The Sun

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We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun (Terry Jacks, 1974)

This is never a time of year that I enjoy very much. As we approach the darkest days of the year, I always have to work hard to fight the sadness and the tiredness that seems to envelope me. This year, December has been a doubly sad month for me, and this blog is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend, who died this week.

My friend Belinda was always pure joy to be around. No one who met her could leave her without a smile on their face. She has been a kind and supportive friend to me for many years and through many of the ups and downs and trials and tribulations that life throws at you. And never more so, than in these last few recent years, since my daughter Wendy died. She loved my children from when they were very young, and they, in return, loved her. She was an enthusiastic and supportive reader of this blog and she followed with interest – and was inspired by – all my swims.

“My soul is full of longing
for the secret of the sea,
and the heart of the great ocean
sends a thrilling pulse through me.”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1850)

In spite of the physical and sensory disabilities that she lived with since surviving a serious road accident in her twenties, she enthusiastically (and loudly) embraced every opportunity that life offered.  She turned up every year to cheer us as we plunged into the icy waters of the Clevedon Marine Lake on New Years Day and she joined us, enthusiastically, each year, on all the walks we did in memory of Wendy.

She loved to swim, but hadn’t swum in the UK sea for many years and so I was so pleased when she asked me, in 2018, to #sharetheswimlove with her so that she could experience what I so clearly enjoyed. The sea at Clevedon is not the easiest to get into, with its sloping and pebbly beach but we managed it on a couple of occasions over the past few years and I treasure her joy and wonderment as one of the special moments we shared. While moving on land could be difficult and painful, swimming in the sea – as it does for so many of us – made her feel free, flexible, mobile and youthful again.

I have wonderful video footage of those swims, which unfortunately I cannot share with you as Belinda had an inimitable style of expressing both her pleasure and her dis-pleasure with a string of expletives! Suffice to say, that in amongst those colourful words are “wonderful”, “fantastic”, “fabulous” and “thank you”.

Some of the last words she spoke to me were “keep swimming”. And I will.

Belinda, you were wonderful, fantastic and fabulous. Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for swimming with me.

Belinda Sully

25/03/1953 – 20/12//2019

Soft as the voice of an angel breathing a lesson unheard
Hope with a gentle persuasion whispers a comforting word
Wait till the darkness is over wait till the tempest is done
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow after the darkness is gone

And when the dark midnight is over watch for the breaking of day – Jim Reeves (1958)

References

Jacks, T. (1974) Seasons In The Sun, from the album Seasons In The Sun, Bell Records
Longfellow, H. (1850) The Secret Of The Sea, from The Seaside and the Fireside , Metcalf & Company
Reeves, J. (1958) Whispering Hope, from the album God Be With You,  RCA.

 

 

 

 

Blue therapy · Clevedon · cold water · community · Happiness · Jellyfish · mental health · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · Sea Bathing · sea swimming · Social History · Social prescribing · swimming · well being · winter

35: Don’t Go Chasing Polar Bears

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Don’t go chasing polar bears
Into the great unknown
Some big friendly polar bear
Might want to take you home (Paul McCartney, 1980)

And so it has begun!  Winter that is.  And also the winter swimming Polar Bear Challenge that I have entered (see my previous blog I Won’t Back Down).

And I am off to a good start! All my swims this month have been further than the required 250 metres, so November is already ‘in the bag’ and I’m well on my way to completing the total winter distance – and that is before December has even begun. So that’s all good!

And I’m certainly not alone. There are loads of fellow swimmers, in Clevedon, who are also undertaking one or other of the different levels of Polar Bear Challenges – and from the evidence of my social media feeds, there are many more doing it around the country. It has become a supportive, encouraging and friendly sub-set of Polar Bear Outdoor Swimmers, all gleefully reporting how cold the water has become!

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Its Growing

Like a snowball rolling down the side of a snow covered hill, it’s growing
Everyday it grows a little more than it was the day before.  (The Temptations, 1965)

It has been noted, that there has been a huge increase in the numbers of swimmers, across the country, taking up winter swimming. Some recent days at the Marine Lake, in Clevedon, have resembled the height of summer with the numbers of swimmers in the water!

According to data in a recent Swim England (2019) report, some “2.1 million people” (and that is just in England) “prefer to swim outdoors in open water” and an additional “2.25 million enjoy swimming in both open water and outdoor pools”.

Cowie (2019) reports that research from the latest Active Lives Survey revealed that more than 4.1 million people swam in lakes, lochs, rivers and seas between November 2017 and 2018 and that there was ‘a massive increase’  in the number of people who ‘regularly went open water swimming‘.

According to Cowie (2019) this confirms ‘anecdotal evidence’ of the ‘increasing numbers of winter swimmers inspired by increased media coverage of the mental as well as physical benefits of swimming outdoors”.

Swim England (2019) have calculated that swimming is helping to save the health and social care system more than £357 million a year and they are calling on the Government and healthcare professionals to ‘help people live longer, better, happier lives’ through more social prescribing of swimming (see The Happy Club).

Nothing New

Nothing new, it’s the same old thing
You got me singing the blues again (Fats Domino, 1963)

Social prescribing is designed to support people with a wide range of social, emotional or practical needs, and many schemes are focussed on improving mental health and physical well-being. Sometimes referred to as ‘community referral’, social prescribing is a means of enabling GPs to refer people to a range of local, non-clinical services. It seeks to address people’s needs in a holistic way and also aims to support individuals to take greater control of their own health.

While the concept and vocabulary of Social Prescribing might be relatively new, the idea – and practice – of recommending swimming – or sea bathing as it was then called – is not new and earlier this year, Denton & Aranda (2019), in writing up research on the ‘wellbeing benefits of sea swimming’ asked “Is it time to revisit the sea cure?”

As I wrote previously (see Sink Or Swim) in the 18th and 19th centuries, sea bathing was believed to have curative or therapeutic value. In 1795, Dr Crane of Weymouth, published his Cursory Observations on Sea Bathing in which he advocated the “salutary effects” of sea water for healing various diseases – with winter considered to be the best time to follow the practice. Sea bathing – in combination with the drinking of sea water – became fashionable as the cure for many and varied diseases.

Dr Crane recommended the use of sea water as a powerful remedy in “disorders of the glandular parts … obstructions of the liver … and in swellings of the joints”. He “strenuously” recommended sea bathing in “rheumatic cases, obstinate agues and tertian fevers” and forweaknesses of the nerves”.  And:

“in that dreadful calamity of the bite of a mad dog, dipping in the sea is generally successful”  (Crane, 1795:34)

We might not go that far, these days, but there are many similarities in the conditions Dr Crane claimed to successfully treat with those emerging in more recent accounts, studies and research. Furthermore, Dr.Crane’s description of the ‘after-glow’ will sound familiar to many cold water swimmers – as it does to me:

“soon after coming out of the sea the bathers find their spirits exhilarated and feel an unusual glow through the system” (Crane 1795:88)

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In the bright shop window sits the polar bear
Makes the children’s eyes light up to see her there (Queen, 1972)

Play It Safe

Let’s play safe  (Iggy Pop, 1980)

The recent increase in popularity of open water and winter swimming has started to raise concerns that people may be tempted to swim further and to stay in longer than is safe for them. Even among the ‘sub-set’ of Polar Bear Swimmers, some may find themselves tempted, or encouraged to ‘push’ their own boundaries if they witness another swimmer staying in the water for longer than they have.

It is important to stay safe and to swim responsibly. There are many authoritative and sensible websites with guidance on safe cold water swimming (see here for example) – but here are 5 of my (less authoritative) top tips:

  1. Don’t Go Chasing Polar Bears – Acclimatise gradually and learn to ‘read’ your own body. You don’t need to become a ‘Jedi’ Polar Bear to feel the benefits of swimming outdoors. As Dr Crane (1795) cautioned “..staying imprudently too long in the water can bring on a temporary depression of the spirits and bring on a chill or shivers” (Page 88)
  2. It’s probably not advisable to drink the sea water – Dr Crane (1795) and his contemporaries prescribed the ‘internal’ use of sea water for a number of ailments and conditions. While I have undoubtedly (and inadvertently) imbibed quite a lot of sea water (especially when the sea is rough) – and not suffered any noticeable ill-effects from this – I would suggest you stick to something like hot chocolate. Always take a hot drink with you and warm up from the inside.
  3. Check with your doctor if you have a pre-existing health condition – Dr. Crane (1795) cautioned against going “off to the seaside” without proper medical supervision. He viewed sea bathing as a complementary treatment – “its efficacy is greatly promoted by joining proper medicine with the use of it”
  4. Try not to get bitten by a mad dog – but if you do, please don’t use sea water as an antidote. On the other hand, I can vouch for the use of sea water as the appropriate treatment if you get stung by a jelly fish (see I Won’t Back Down)
  5. In winter, avoid swimming alone – It is always advisable that someone close at hand knows that you have gone into the water – and that you have got out safely. There are friendly, active groups of outdoor swimmers now just about anywhere you want to swim. There are also a number of ‘introduction to’ and ‘acclimatisation’ coached sessions available …. But also, it is just so much more fun to stand around, hugging your hot drink and your hot water bottle, laughing and chatting with fellow swimmers

“What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” (Steinbeck, 1962)

Qualifying November Polar Bear Swims

1.   November 1st 2019 – Clevedon Pier Beach – Water Temperature 11 degrees celsius – Air Temperature 13 degrees celsius – Distance swum 512 metres – time in the water 12 minutes

2.  November 3rd 2019 – Clevedon Marine Lake – Water Temperature 10 degrees celsius – Air Temperature 11 degrees celsius – Distance swum 850 metres – time in the water 20 minutes

 

Coldest Swim So Far

November 11th 2019 – Clevedon Marine Lake – Water Temperature 5 degrees celsius – Air Temperature 6 degrees celsius – Distance swum 400 metres – time in the water 7 minutes

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Photo Credit:  Jayne Almoznino

References

Cowie, J. (2019) Sport England research confirms massive growth in outdoor swimming,Outdoor Swimming Magazine, 29th May 2019

Crane, J. (1795) Cursory Observations on Sea Bathing  printed for the author, and sold at Delamotte’s Library 

Denton, H. & Aranda, K. (2019) The wellbeing benefits of sea swimming. Is it time to revisit the sea cure?,in Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 2nd September 2019

Domino, F. (1963) Nothing New (Same Old Thing), Imperial

McCartney, P. (1980)Waterfalls, on the album McCartney II, Parlophone.

Pop, I (1980) Let’s play safe, from the album Soldier, Buddah Label

Steinbeck, J. (1962) Travels with Charley: In Search of America, Viking

Queen (1972) PolarBear, Mercury

Swim England (2019) Value of Swimming

Temptations, The (1965) Its Growing, from the album The Temptations Sing Smokey, Gordy Label

 

 

 

Autumn · bereavement · Blue therapy · cold water · English Channel Swim · grief · Jellyfish · Mallorca · mental health · open water swimming · outdoor swimming · sea swimming · swimming · well being

34: I Won’t Back Down

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I’ll stand my ground, Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground, And I won’t back down
 (Tom Petty, 1989)

My final open water swimming event of the year, this season, was at the end of September, in Wimbleball Lake, Exmoor. It was a stormy, wet, windy, cold and grey day as the remains of a tropical storm passed across the UK, dropping a month’s worth of rain in two days (Smart, 2019). Many other events, that same weekend, were cancelled because of the weather – and I found myself, the day before, secretly hoping that ours would be cancelled too! But all credit to the organisers, who decided to go ahead, despite the conditions, enabling the 450 swimmers to successfully complete their swim and to emerge from the water “positive and elated” (Smart, 2019) – me included!

I have noticed that, every year, around this time my mood and my motivation take a bit of a tumble; I feel tired and I struggle to find much to be joyful about. I find myself not looking forward to the prospect of a swim in the cooling water. There are a range of reasons for this, I believe: the end of September brings, for me, some emotional anniversaries that coincide with the change in the season. This autumn we have not been lucky with the weather. It has mostly been wet and windy and it seemed to happen suddenly and before I was emotionally ‘ready’ for it. The days seem to have got suddenly shorter, darker and colder and I succumbed, inevitably, to the first of the winter viruses, which I have found hard to shift. I know that the water is only going to get colder and I have started to experience the anxiety about getting into the water that I wrote about in my blog Sing, Sing A Song.

Friends and family say to me: “well don’t go if you don’t want to”; “Don’t do it if you don’t enjoy it”. But the fact is, that once I am in the water, swimming, I do enjoy it. And I always emerge “positive and elated”, and more particularly, proud of myself that I did it. That I didn’t give in.

We will not be defeated

I know I am not alone in this, as all the outdoor swimming discussion groups on social media are currently full of swimmers chatting about the sudden drop in the temperature of the water and the need for the addition of extra post-swim layers of clothing together with tips on acclimatisation and the emergence of supportive groups and challenges to encourage us to swim through the winter together. This is because we believe 

cold water endurance swimmer, Sally Goble (2019) wrote recently: “Sometimes I wish it wasn’t so hard”. She admits that, sometimes swimming in cold water at this time of year “is blooming hard” and sometimes she chooses to swim – not because of the endorphins and natural high – but because “I will not be defeated”.

I know what she means! I feel the same! It would be easy to give in, to feel sad, to feel lonely, to feel tired, to stay under the duvet – but I won’t. I have realised that it is important to me that I don’t give in, or give up. I need to just keep swimming.

And so, like many others around the country, I have entered the winter Polar Bear Swimming Challenge this year. The Challenge is to complete a set number of swims and distances outdoors in the sea, river or lake (in the UK) from 1 November to 31 March.  I have entered the ‘Gold’ category, which is to swim 250 metres twice a month AND to complete a total of at least 5000 metres total distance during the challenge period. The Polar Bear challenge is run under the clothing rules of the International Ice Swimming Association which means we can only wear one standard swimsuit, one standard silicone swim hat and standard swimming goggles.

As the water temperature (and the air temperature) continue to drop, and as November rapidly approaches,  I have begun to feel a bit nervous about this commitment – but (at this moment in time at least) I am determined that I will not back down! I will not be defeated!

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Easier Said Than Done

I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)

As if the thought of swimming through winter is not hard enough, it feels even more challenging following a recent ‘restorative break’ swimming in the, still warm, Mediterranean Sea and the, still warm, air and blue skies of Mallorca. I know that I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do this and – on just about all counts – it was a positive, enjoyable, relaxing, healing and interesting trip.

However! I have found that it is not just the thought of getting into cold water that makes me anxious. I now, also, have a new anxiety – about swimming with jellyfish!

I last experienced swimming with jellyfish in Australia and I wrote about this in my blog Down Under. While that was a terrifying, jellyfish soup sort of experience, I can honestly say that the sting from a Barrel Fish Jellyfish is not painful – no more so that a mild nettle sting. Since then, I have occasionally spotted one or two little ‘Moon Jellyfish‘ and  ‘Fried Egg Jellyfish‘ while swimming off some parts of the coast in Mallorca, but they always managed to stay out of my way – and I have never been stung while swimming there – until last week when I was stung by the pink jellyfish known as Pelagia noctiluca.

This is a fairly small jellyfish but (unusual among jellyfish) both its tentacles and  bell are covered in stinging cells. The sting (as I can attest) is very painful and the swelling can (and did) continue for a considerable time after the encounter. A week later I still have a scar!

There has been a reported increase in sightings of jellyfish around the coast of Mallorca this year – and around UK waters for that matter. The general consensus seems to be that it is due to global warming boosting the water temperatures by a couple of degrees, together with the presence of increased pollution-derived nutrients and reduced cool freshwater entering from rivers. However, overfishing of tuna fish and the reduction of the number of marine turtles – which eat the jellyfish – has also been blamed.

Apparently, Jellyfish have been living in the sea for millions of years. They are invertebrates and are not very good swimmers – usually just drifting around on the sea currents. They (usually) float, suspended in the water at a depth of about five metres where the light is brightest and the food abundant. They are actually quite beautiful to watch (from a distance) and the lack of a brain means that if a jellyfish stings you it really can’t help it.

But I did get stung! And it was quite a shock how painful it was. However, I was determined not to allow them to defeat me and I made myself get back into the water the next day – and every day – and I continued to enjoy some lovely swimming locations.  However, I found that  it is very difficult to relax and to settle into a swim once you have been stung! Whereas previously, when I saw jellyfish, I would swim away from or around them, I am now constantly looking around, and if any jellyfish are present I would shorten and curtail my swim.

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It is sometimes harder said than done, to keep going, to overcome your fears – but I know that I would feel worse, would feel disappointed with myself if I hadn’t got back into the water and kept swimming.

I Will Survive

I’ve got all my life to live
And I’ve got all my love to give and I’ll survive
I will survive (Gloria Gaynor, 1978)

On 17th September, Sarah Thomas inspired us all by becoming the first person to swim across the English Channel four times non-stop – that is, from England to France and back – twice!  The swim was due to be about 80 miles but because of strong tides she ended up swimming closer to 130 miles. It took her just over 54 hours.

This tremendous feat of mental and physical endurance is almost incomprehensible by any standard. And yet, Sarah Thomas did it just one year after she had completed treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer. She claims that planning for, training for and completing this swim kept her going during her treatment and recovery and gave her something other than her cancer to focus her mind and her determination on.

Among the many mental and physical challenges that she faced during her swim she was also stung by a jellyfish – in the face!. And she did not stop. She didn’t give up. She kept going. And s

I promise that I will try to hold on to that inspiring thought when I stand by the water’s edge contemplating my swims this winter! I will keep swimming. I will not be defeated!

Photo Credit:  Howaboutdave Photography. 

References

Brontë, C. (1847) Jane Eyre, Smith, Elder & Co.

Essex, The, (1963)  Easier Said Than Done , Roulette.

Gaynor, G. (1978) I Will Survive, from the album Love Tracks,  Polydor Records

Goble, S. (2019) Let’s not kid ourselves: sometimes it’s hard, from Postcards From The Pool, Medium.com

Perraudin, F. & Ingle, S. (2019) Cancer Survivor is First Person to Swim the Channel Four Times Non-Stopin The Guardian, 17th September 2019

Petty, T. (1989) I Won’t Back Down, from the album Full Moon Fever, MCA Records

Smart, M. (2019) Hundreds beat the weather to take on Exmoor Open Water Swim, in North Devon Gazette, October 3rd 2019

Local Details

My jellyfish encounter happened at Cala Llamp on the South West Coast of Mallorca.

Sea temperature : 23 degrees celsius

Air temperature: 24 degrees celsius

Distance swum: 750 metres

Swim Time:  22 minutes

Post Script: In case it ever happens to you, you might like to know that the best way to treat a jellyfish sting is to soak it in sea water – and never with fresh or bottled water which will aggravate the stinging cells. Just soak it and do not rub or scratch the stung area. There is, apparently, no scientific evidence that urine disables the stingers. There is some disagreement about whether vinegar is helpful (just in case you happen to carry vinegar with you when you to the beach)!