Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Swimming

Diary of a Swimming Snob – People Watching

I love a public swimming pool. It’s a great place to people watch. (just don’t be creepy about it or you’ll get yourself in trouble)

People from all walks of life go swimming and these are a couple of my favourite observations from my latest swims. The first three come with the subtitle “What were you thinking?” The last two “Ah, isn’t that nice?”.

  1. Swimwear. You see all kinds of swimwear, and most of it is unremarkable. Guys, thankfully, rarely wear Speedos these days, and the ladies almost always wear a full swimsuit. But there was a young lady recently in the pool who was wearing a bikini. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, except this particular garment consisted of a couple of triangles of camouflage printed fabric held together with shoelaces that criss-crossed over her hips. Nice for the beach in Benidorm perhaps, but for swimming? Really? Then again, I remember that going to the pool as a teenager was a great excuse to show off to the lads. In my case it was less about the body, (I am built more like a seal than your average Sharron Davies look-a-like) and more about how I could beat them all in a race.

    sea animal dog zoo

    Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

  2. Hygiene. There are signs around the sauna and steam room with instructions on not what to do. There’s the usual – don’t run, don’t go in the steam room if you have health issues, etc., then there are some I have never seen anywhere outside of Liverpool. ‘No shaving, no pumice stones, no food, no glass bottles containing oils’. Why do they need to put these signs up? Have I missed something? I’d have thought it’s pretty obvious that you don’t shave in a sauna, it’s not a Turkish bath, it’s a public swimming pool. Then this week as I sat in the sauna, a guy in the corner started shaving. He tapped the razor out on his leg, got up and left. Behind him another guy walked out carrying his glass bottle of Olbas Oil. When I saw them later they had carrier bags of ‘stuff’. There was another family having a picnic at the table, right underneath the ‘No Food‘ sign. Why are they allowed to bring in anything more than a swim cap, goggles, towel and a bottle of water? Shouldn’t the lifeguards be putting a stop to this at the door? So I am just waiting for someone to get the old pumice stone out and start scrubbing their feet. Urgh, my skin crawls just thinking about where those dead skin cells will end up. I think the signs must be giving people ideas.

    person swimming on pool with feet in the air
    Photo by Chee Zu on Pexels.com
  3. Then, there’s the lady with a couple of kids heading into the pool on a Sunday morning. She was shoving bags and clothes and general stuff into a locker and trying to corral the kids at the same time. She had her hands full, I’ve been there. Sometimes it seems like it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Anyway, as they were finally leaving to go and get wet, she shouts “Hey Carol-Ann, take your IPad with you.” Carol-Ann asks why. “‘Cause yours is waterproof. The others aren’t.” The kid looks at the sign that says ‘Absolutely no phones, cameras, tablets or electronic equipment past this point’ and looks at her mum. “It’ll be fine” says mum. And they say kids spend too much time online.
  4. But to end on a couple of good notes. There was an elderly couple in the pool one day who must have been in their 80’s. He was helping her to swim. I don’t know if she was learning, or if she was exercising after a health issue, a stroke maybe. She wasn’t a good swimmer, she was slow and she kept veering off at an angle, she didn’t get her face wet, she was not confident, and she was unsteady on her legs when she stood up, but he was so patient and gentle with her, it was a joy to watch. That’s how I want to grow old. Of course I could have it all wrong and they can’t stand each other most days, but I am choosing my version.

    three boy s jumping into the water
    Photo by Marc Richards on Pexels.com
  5. At the other end of the age range, a mum was teaching her little girl to jump into the pool without arm bands. I was in the lane next to them and as I was about to push off, the girl said “Look mummy, that lady is going to go underwater.” As I pushed off I heard mum say, “Yes, look, there she goes.” I smile to myself as I glide underwater. Someone had noticed me, and she might have taken it as a sign of encouragement to jump in herself. I like that. It gives me a lovely warm feeling inside.

So despite all my moaning at the annoying stuff going on in the pool, there are bright spots of sunlight to brighten up my day too. I just need to train myself to pay attention to them.  But if I see a pumice stone I’m cancelling my membership and only swimming in the docks with the eels.

Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Swimming

Diary of a Swimming Snob

I am a swimmer – check out ‘Badass Mermaid‘ – and it is pretty much the only sport I have ever done. At school I was OK at squash, but not tennis. Netball bored me to tears and a smack in the face with a hockey stick put me off that too. I still have nightmares about my cross country running trials. I was the one at the back limping along, drenched through to the skin, blue with cold, splattered in mud and holding the stitch in my side. Running was not for me, which became even more apparent when I joined the Army.

So swimming is my ‘thing’. My brother, sister and I were in the local swimming club. We swam most nights after school, before school, at weekends and during holidays. We swam for miles. And this was back in the day when we did no other exercise other than swim. We didn’t go to the gym, we didn’t stretch, we didn’t have water bottles poolside, our warm-ups involved jumping in and swimming 20 laps. We just swam.

My brother was the kid that broke swimming club records and later went on to complete an Ironman. My sister was also a very strong swimmer, breaststroke especially. Unfortunately, she was born into the year that contained the elite swimmers. All the girls she had to swim against were awesome. She didn’t do a bad job at competing but it was an unfair time to be in her age-group. She is the middle child though, so if it was going to happen to any of us, it was going to happen to her.

I, on the other hand, had very little competition, and I still never won anything. I was a steady swimmer. I could keep up but I was no Sharron Davies. I once entered a 50 metre butterfly race. 2 laps long and I lost by 1 lap. I got the silver – because there were only 2 of us. I was up against Theresa – she really did put the fly into butterfly.

A few years ago I was encouraged by a friend to enter an adults swimming gala. I didn’t do too badly in most of the races, until it got to the backstroke. I used to be quite good at it back in the day, but not on this day.  I was slow, I messed up the turn and I had that awful pity applause as I came in miles behind everyone else – it was mortifying.

But I was (and still am) a stylish swimmer. My teachers used to ask all the other students to get out of the water and stand on the side of the pool. Then they would make me swim up and down to demonstrate how to do the different strokes properly. Style and grace I had, speed and endurance I did not.

Swimming led on to other sports. Octopush was one of my all time favourites. (Yes it has an ‘H’ on the end. To this day I struggle to say octopuss without it.)  If you have never heard of Octopush you should really look it up. Invented by SCUBA divers as a way of keeping fit during the winter season, it can best be described as underwater hockey.  I may not have been keen on getting hit in the face in regular hockey, but that was nothing compared to Octopush. It is supposed to be a non-contact sport, but it is more comparable to ice-hockey with the pushing and shoving – except it’s played underwater!

And finally a few years ago I qualified as a SCUBA diver, something I have always wanted to do but never had the chance before. I’ve still not had chance to do a great deal of diving, but I love it when I do. I especially loved meeting this little cuttlefish in Tenerife a couple of years back. It’s the only time I’ve been diving outside of the UK so far.

cuttlefish

Cuttlefish – Tenerife
underwater motorbike (2)

A chilly murky dive in an English quarry

For now though I mainly swim in a warm indoor swimming pool. I recently signed up for the Diabetes UK Swim 22. The challenge is to swim 22 miles over 12 weeks – the distance across the English Channel – and it has brought back memories of those swimming club days. I would like to tell you about in the next couple of blogs.

Posted in Life, Love and Laughter, Outdoors, pembrokeshire, Pets

Unlucky Chucky

There was an old chicken named Gertie

Whose feet were incredibly dirty.

To increase her allure

She’d a fine pedicure

And now she’s fantastically flirty.

She wasn’t called Gertie as it happens.  Her name was Scrat.  Do you remember Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age movies?  He never has any luck, seems to always get himself into bother, and is obsessed with hoarding one single acorn.

Scrat, the only one daft enough to venture out into the snow in search of our company.
Scrat, the only one daft enough to venture out into the snow in search of our company. Here she is trying to look at me through her bad eye.

We named our Scrat after Ice Age Scrat because she was an unlucky but likeable little chicken.  When we first collected her, she could barely walk because her feet were completely encased in rock hard chicken poo. She had great big solid balls of the stuff on each of her toes.  It took a lot of soaking her feet in warm water to finally get them clean, but then she could run around just as well as the others.  Almost.

scrat fruitsalad
Helping herself to fruit salad

Scrat was accident prone.  She had somehow lost the sight in one eye before we collected her, but we don’t think she’d cottoned on to this fact.  She would get all excited and go hurtling around like a headless, well, like a headless chicken, only to crash headfirst into walls or trees or other chickens.  If you threw food for her from the wrong side she couldn’t see it, and by the time she’d worked out that she needed to turn around, the other chickens had often scoffed the lot.

She was the very definition of bottom of the pecking order in our little flock, bullied by all the girls, especially Tikka, who was a gobby little madam.  Even Kentucky the cockerel wasn’t as enamoured of her as he was the others.

dustbath cloche
Scrat and Kentucky destroying the seedlings in my cloche
scrat and dustbath
Scrat assessing the damage

But, after a little settling in period,  she laid just as well as any of our ladies,  she was soon in great condition, she was curious, she was silly and she loved people. The main reason we picked her up in the first place was because she ran straight to us, so she was easy to catch.  (and the dirty feet helped.)

She was always first to greet you in the mornings.  She was the one that sussed out where the back door was and would often wander into the kitchen.  She was the one standing outside the kitchen window, just in case you felt the urge to throw out a few scraps, or under the bird table in case the wild birds dropped anything.  She was the one that didn’t mind being picked up and stroked.  She almost lost her head or a toe every time she dived in front of the spade because she’d seen a grub or a worm.  She was the one that would come running up to you as soon as you stepped out of the house, head held to one side so she could see you from her good eye.

kentucky looking out for his girls
Scrat in the centre with Gertrude and Beatrice and Kentucky looking out for his girls.

She was a clutz, she was a danger to herself, she was accident prone, and we never worked out if she was very brave or just very stupid.  But her self-preservation skills seemed to be paying off, she trusted us and she was by far our favourite.

Our first five chickens came from a barn and had never stepped outside before.  Next we rescued a couple of ex-battery hens, who were in a worse state.  But watching them take their first steps on grass and grow in confidence and feathers was an absolute joy.

tikka

Times have changed and we don’t keep chickens anymore, we don’t have the lifestyle that would allow us to keep them right now.

But, if you do have the opportunity, the resources and the desire to keep chickens, I can absolutely recommend it.  They are such characters with quite individual personalities, and they are a joy to have around.   And the eggs are a delicious bonus!

eggs

Posted in Books, Life, Love and Laughter

Book Review – The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

I have never written a book review before, but this blogging lark is all about new experiences, so here goes.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa

I picked up ‘The Travelling Cat Chronicles’ from the Central Library in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, and with moving house and general busyness I have only just managed to finish it. Why did I pick it up? Well as with most books I choose, I liked the cover. I know, I know – but it was soooo pretty. Blue covers seem to do it every time, but this one also had an oriental style painting of a cat on the front. It was a winner from the off.

The Travelling Cat Chronicles is the story of Satoru who rescues a stray cat and then takes him around Japan in his van to visit his friends, but we don’t why know until later in the book. I tried to finish it on the bus tonight but I knew I was about to cry, so I had to wait until I got home and then blubbed away to my hearts content.

It’s a gentle, warm story that you just can’t put down (unless you are about to embarrass yourself on the Number 82) and tells of friendship and companionship between Satoru and his cat Nana, but also between him and his childhood and university friends as well. Satoru has had a hard time, but he is never seen to complain or bemoan his lot in life, and the writer doesn’t dwell on it either. He is a truly gentle, kind soul and the story depicts that perfectly. The humour comes mostly from Nana’s side of the story, looking into the strange human world that he has chosen to live in. Anyone who loves cats will know that you do begin to wonder who adopted who. Did Satoru adopt a cat, or did Nana adopt a lonely young man?

It is also a great introduction to a country I know very little about. From the changing seasons, to the diverse landscapes and the understated customs, it is an interesting and evocative read.

The author Hiro Arikawa lives in Tokyo and her book is a massive hit in Japan. It was translated from the original Japanese by Philip Gabriel and has since become an international hit too – and rightly so. In Japan the story has now been made into a film.

I was half way through the book before it occurred to me that the cover I love so much shows a picture of a black cat, but Nana is a white cat with a black tail. When I reached the end of the story I found out why. The painting is a work entitled ‘Man and the World’ painted by Shuai Liu, a Chinese painter with cerebral palsy. They simply fell in love with the picture, so used it for the cover. It obviously worked on me. The internal artwork was created by Yoco Nagamiya.

If you’re a cat lover, you will love this book. If you’re not a cat lover, you will also love this book. At just 247 pages long it is a truly lovely short novel that will find it’s way into your soul. Buy it, borrow it, gift it, but absolutely, definitely read it.

Posted in Life, Love and Laughter

Smile :-)

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens.

In the immortal words of Julie Andrews, when she’s feeling sad she simply remembers her favourite things and then she doesn’t feel so bad.

For me it is always music and in particular the video of the the American Marine’s parody of Carly Rae Jepson’s video ‘Call Me Maybe’.  Those guys are just so cute and some are clearly not as comfortable with it as others, but they always bring a smile.   So cool. 

The Brits in Iraq parodying ‘Is This The Way to Amarillo’ is next  This one crashed the Army’s website because it had so many views when it was released.   I particularly like the toilet humour – it is the British Military after all, I would expect nothing less.

Another good one is Bobby McFerrin’s video for ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ with Robin Williams and Bill Irwin.   I can’t believe it’s from 1988 –  that’s 30 years ago!  And of course, more recently is ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, that one is a little younger than Bobby’s.

Not seen them?  Google them – right now – they’re a must. I’ve saved them in my bookmarks.

It’s a well known fact that music can shape your moods so I also have a Spotify playlist called ‘My Happy Place’ filled with over 300 merry tunes to turn up nice and loud and sing along to.

As well as music there was a lovely train guard one day that brightened my day and when I see this in my notebook it always makes me smile.  He was a very jolly and flamboyant young man with a big beard.  I ordered coffee from him from the cart and as he passed me my cup he said in a grand booming voice “And of course don’t forget the stick of destiny.  All powerful … until … it … get’s … wet.  Oh well, maybe next time.” He was referring to the wooden stirrer that he dropped into my coffee as he said it.  I know – you had to be there – but he didn’t have to say anything and it really cheered me up on a long and boring journey where I hadn’t spoken to anyone for over 5 hours.

And finally, this sign outside a tiny church hall warmed the cockles.

“Feeling down in the mouth?  You need a faith lift.”

Add to this list my husband’s hugs, sunflowers, sunshine and the seaside, Kitty curled up on my lap, good friends and my kids banter around a dinner table and I think that’s me pretty much sorted for life.

So what is it that turns your frown upside down?

photography of woman surrounded by sunflowers
Photo by Andre Furtado on Pexels.com