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 – Etiquette

Joining swimming club as a kid, you learn to share the swimming lanes with other swimmers. You learn the etiquette of lane swimming and you learn to be respectful of your team mates. It then becomes really frustrating when trying to find a pool that is:-

a) open for public swimming when I’m not working

b) has at least one lane cordoned off for those that want to swim laps, and

c) is not so ridiculously busy that it takes hours to clock up a dozen lengths

I am really struggling to clock up the miles for the #swim22 this month for all of these reasons.

Much of the frustration of my third point could be alleviated if those that didn’t grow up staring at the bottom of a pool for mile after mile, would think about those around them when they’re swimming.

So for the uninitiated, here is a list of a Swimming Snob’s Do’s and Don’ts so we can all swim in peace and harmony – and I wont “accidentally” drown you by doing butterfly as you swim towards me.

  1. Do pick the right lane.  Take note of the lane signs and choose according to your skill. If you are a slow swimmer, please choose the slow lane. If the lane you should be in is full and the lane next to you is nice and quiet, there is no problem with you moving into that one, as long as you appreciate that you might be getting in other people’s way.
  2. swim laneDo follow the circuit.  The lanes have their own circuits, indicated on the signs. You either swim clockwise or anti-clockwise. Have you noticed the darker stripe down the middle of the lane?  When competing you swim above that line and follow it.  When swimming circuits you swim up one side of it and down the other. Don’t just swim up and down on one side, or worse still – in the middle. We’d all love a lane to ourselves, but, let’s face it, that is rarely going to happen.  
  3. Do realise faster swimmers have right of way.  Pay attention to those swimming in the same lane as you. If you are holding people up, or you have people constantly overtaking, it is simple courtesy to at least wait at the end of the lap for the faster swimmer to go first.  The number of times I have got to the end of a lane behind a slower swimmer, only to have them look at me and immediately push off for their next length. It just takes a moment to wait for the faster swimmer to go past and they wont be getting in your way. Gah!  You are the equivalent of the tractor on a B road.  You have every right to be there, you really do, but when you have a chance – please pull into a lay-bye and let those queuing behind you to pass.
  4. Do get out of the way.  Clubs will have a tap-feet policy, where the faster person behind taps the foot of the slower swimmer in front, who then moves out of the way.  This might be a bit weird in a public pool surrounded by strangers.  But just so you know, if you feel the need to tap me on the foot, I’ll know what to do and will act accordingly.

    Sponsored swims
    Sponsored swim hats
  5. Don’t walk, swim.  Don’t stop half way down the length and start walking.  Similarly, don’t stop 5 metres from the end and walk the rest. This has happened to me a lot this week, where the swimmer I was following suddenly stopped and stood up mid length, almost causing a pile-up.  If you can’t swim a whole length, perhaps you should swim elsewhere.  The roped off swimming lane is for exactly that – swimming.
  6. Do keep the end of the lane clear.  If you are going to have a rest, get out of the way of incoming swimmers. The number of people who appear oblivious to those behind them and stand about chatting while others are trying to finish a length is really annoying.  It’s particularly difficult for people who do tumble turns (something I have never mastered) and you’re likely to get kicked if you’re in the way.
  7. Do trim your nails – fingers and toes. No matter how careful you are, at some point you are bound to brush against a passing swimmer and you don’t want to be drawing blood with your grotesque big toe nail as you scrape it down someone’s shin.
  8. Don’t swim backstroke in a crowded lane. You can’t see where you’re going, you’re likely to drift across a lane, slap the backside of the guy behind you, or crash.  Just check ahead and wait until it’s clear before you head off.
  9. DON’T PEE IN THE POOL! Did you know that you don’t get red eyes after swimming because of the chlorine? It happens when urine, sweat and dirt cause a chemical reaction with the chlorine. So shower before you get in the pool, then pee in the toilet and swim in the pool, not the other way around.  The hours I’ve spent in a public pool, and the amount of water I must have swallowed – urgh – it doesn’t bare thinking about.

OK rant over. The public pool is just that – public.  It’s designed for everyone, and the pools do their best to accommodate all.  I love swimming, and love that people of all ages and abilities also enjoy the water.  If I wanted to join a masters swimming club then I have that option.  But to be honest, I’ve had enough of swimming clubs to last a lifetime.  I am not trying to show off by constantly overtaking you.  This is me exercising in the most enjoyable way I know how.  I can’t run, I hate exercise classes, I just love to swim.

It’s not rocket science.  It really just boils down to paying attention to the signs and your fellow swimmers.  It’s simple good manners.  So can we please try to be considerate of each other?

pool water splash feet
Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com

 

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 pembrokeshire

Stackpole Picnics

It’s the Stackpole Quay car park in Pembrokeshire on a Wednesday in April.  There are no other cars in sight, there are no car parking charges, and no other people with dogs.  It’s cold and it’s wet but it’s peaceful and beautiful.

beach blue car combi
Photo by Nubia Navarro (nubikini) on Pexels.com

Compare that to Bank Holiday Monday at the end of May.  The car park is full.  Parking attendants are waiting to take your cash, and other attendants are directing traffic into the smallest of spaces, with calls from colleagues to “squash them in, any space they’ll fit”.  This is after dodging traffic on the ‘quiet’ country lanes that had been deserted only a week before.

Holidaymakers come to beautiful Pembrokeshire from all over the country, all over the world.  The scenery is nothing less than spectacular.  It’s warm and sunny and the sea is flat calm.  The water is a gorgeous blue-green and crystal clear.  The car park leads off to Stackpole Quay itself, and to the coast path in both directions. Barafundle Beach – voted the best in Britain – is just a ten-minute walk away.  The Quay itself has benches for sitting and admiring the view – and what a view.  So can someone explain this to me please?  Why do dozens of people unpack and eat their picnic’s, squashed between parked cars, with other cars for a view, and the sweet smell of exhaust fumes for their fresh air?

food basket fruit no person
Photo by Valeria Boltneva on Pexels.com

They’re not just grabbing a quick sandwich before heading for the beach though.  Oh no.  These are serious picnickers.  Blankets are spread out on the ground, baskets in the centre and deckchairs placed around them.  Some are reading books and newspapers, obviously aiming to be there for some time.  But why?  What’s the point of braving traffic jam’s, dodging car’s on single track lanes, paying exorbitant charges to park, in the best countryside and on a beautiful Bank Holiday Monday, to sit in a hot, dusty, smelly car park to eat your lunch? Are they just too lazy to walk to the nearest picnic table?

What a waste of a glorious day and the most beautiful scenery.

Posted in pembrokeshire, Swimming

Badass Mermaid

open water swimming
Photo by Eduardo Mulford on Pexels.com

I grew up in Pembrokeshire, South Wales, surrounded by the most beautiful beaches (in my opinion) in the world. As kids, we spent summers swimming, fishing, and building sandcastles, so it’s no surprise that I love the sea and enjoy swimming.  Our parents, immigrants from the Midlands, (about as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK) spent hours and hundreds of pounds taking us to swimming club, teaching us to swim when we were young, and later, competing and travelling Europe with the club. I was never particularly good, my brother and sister were much better than I was, but I loved swimming and in later life, I took up Octopush and SCUBA diving.

I didn’t do a great deal of swimming for a very long time as an adult, but have always loved the sea and miss it when I’m away.  So now that I travel back and forth from Liverpool, I make a point of stopping for a swim on the beach at Aberaeron on my way home.  It’s cold, it’s always cold, but it’s invigorating.  A friend ran a half marathon on the Wales Long Course Weekend this year, and asked if I would do it with her next year. You know how “Joey doesn’t share food”? Well Tracy doesn’t do running!  So I said I might give the swim a go instead. Then we just need to find someone to cycle a hundred miles or so and we have a Long Course team.

With this in mind I checked out Open Water Swimming in Liverpool and found a local watersports centre that opened for open water swimming twice a week.  Perfect.

Until I got there.  I am such a wuss when it comes to doing anything new.  I sat on the dock side watching the swimmers for over half an hour, unable to pluck up the courage to walk into the building.   Nothing badass about that, right?

badass mermaidSo, did I get in the water?  Well, actually yes, I did. The only way to do it in the end was to stop thinking.  I got a grip, blanked my mind and just got up and walked.  Before I knew it, I was in the reception asking about swimming and taking on board the directions given to me by the very helpful receptionist. I found the hut where I had to pay, she told me how this all worked and where the changing rooms were.  Before I knew it I was in my cozzie, at the water’s edge with goggles, hat and float ready to jump in.

A very nice lady was also on the edge waiting to get in. I asked her ‘Can you tell this is my first time?’  She looked like a seasoned pro so I was sure I was in safe hands.   She said, ‘Don’t worry about the jellyfish, they don’t sting.’

Jellyfish? What jellyfish?  Oh my God, there were hundreds of them.  She bent down and scooped one up to show me they don’t sting, before telling me that they actually do have a small sting, but she’s never felt one.  Marvellous. Badass Mermaid – my aunt Fanny!

After releasing the jellyfish back into the water, she asked me what was written on my swim hat. When I told her it was the Sport Relief mile that I swam a few years ago, she looked down her nose and said she only swims a minimum of 3km at a time. She’s a long-distance swimmer.  Apparently, a mile is not a long distance in the open water swimming world.  Well it feels like a bloody long distance to me.  In the pool the longest race we ever had was 800 meters and only the really good swimmers ever considered swimming that distance.  I was not one of the really good swimmers.

moon jellyfish
Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

Anyway, enough chit-chat, it was time I got wet. It would have taken an age to gingerly step in bit by bit, so I decided to bite the bullet and jump in. Whoa! That was fresh – about 17 degrees.  Goggles on and off I go. And that’s when I put my face in the water and find that it’s black.  I stick my head in again and I can’t see anything. It’s completely black.  To be fair it looks black from the dockside but I thought it was just the way the shade fell on it. Apparently not. Is it really deep?  It found out later that it’s only a little over 2 metres deep, so it’s not that.  The walls are black and the sun wasn’t out, maybe that was it.  I floated upright for a second and had another look and I could see my pasty legs dangling in the gloom.  They had a a green glow about them, like a nuclear power cell from the Simpsons. I kept telling myself that the water is clean. They check it regularly, I know this.

I’m used to the open sea.  Usually the sun is shining, the water is blue and crystal clear and you can see the sand beneath your feet.  You might even be able to see the odd school of sand eels if you look closely.  Have you ever been swimming on a Pembrokeshire beach?  You should.  But this was so far removed from that.  Plus, of course, there were the jellyfish.

They were only small, no bigger than the palm of my hand.  They are moon jellyfish, the  clear ones with the 4 purple rings on top.  When you see them in the black water, pulsing softly, they are beautiful.  They really are.  But when you’re swimming, trying to ignore them and you accidentally put your hand on one, oh my God.  I tried to stop myself squealing every time I did it, but it was tough.  They lure you into a false sense of security and then Bam – you’re surrounded.  I don’t mind the feel of them as they touch my arms and my legs.  They’re soft and gentle and they really don’t sting, but, to my horror, I found they congregate in the shade.

The shaded area is half way around the loop so there is no way back but to keep going.  There were so many jellyfish it was literally like trying to swim through jelly.  They were bumping against my face, my chest, my arms, my legs.  Every stroke was met with a handful of jelly.  I am not one to panic in the water, years of playing Octopush and learning to SCUBA dive teaches you to stay calm, but even so, I had moments of real alarm and had to calm myself, take deep breaths and channel Dorey.  “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”  I really was chanting this to myself over and over.

If you don’t swim in the sea, this may sound like a complete nightmare.  Believe me it’s really not.  You get used to the wildlife, even the eels snaking up the dock walls.  Though I must admit, I am definitely starting to see the advantages of wearing a wetsuit.

open water swimming
Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

But the feeling of swimming in cold sea water is so invigorating.  It wouldn’t be the same in a wetsuit.  Later when you step out of the water and enjoy a well-deserved hot shower and a cup of tea you feel on top of the world.  You can do anything. You feel so completely refreshed after a dip in the ocean.  When you learn to be one with the jelly’s, the bobbing along with your fellow swimmers is so calming.  The salt water does marvellous things to your skin, and you can forget all your woes when you’re floating in the sea.   Swimming is great exercise anyway, but swimming outside gets you a dose of vitamin D that you can’t find indoors.  But you don’t even need the sun.  Swimming in the rain feels weird in a really good way.  Usually you’d be running for cover, grabbing wellies and brollies, but when your already wet it really doesn’t matter.  Swimming in the rain is joyous.  Trust me.

And when you know you can jump back into that freezing cold, black water, filled with jellyfish and enjoy it, that’s when you know you really are a Badass Mermaid.

Just a word of warning.  Don’t go swimming in any old body of water.  The cold can zap your energy in no time, quarries and reservoirs are dangerous places.  Always seek out a certified open water swimming club or venue.  Check out the NOWCA.org website for help and advice.