The Final Countdown


If the title of this post doesn’t give you an earworm then I am not entirely sure you’re human, and you should probably avoid daylight, mirrors, wooden stakes and young women with shapely necks. Which will make for a dull eternal life, I imagine.

So… for someone who is supposed to be training to swim 5k fly in 5 weeks and 4 days I’ve been very quiet on posting about training front, haven’t I. I’d like to be able to say that’s because I’ve got a top secret , super-charged training plan that I’ve had to keep under wraps lest it became such a game changer at the Olympics that all the fly swimmers refused to come and stayed home playing ludo with their mummies.

But it’s not. It’s because I haven’t done any training.

‘Aha!’ I hear you cry. Shortly before you wonder ‘Is this the true path to success? And if so why have I been hauling my buns to the pool at unsociable o’clock and pretending that I don’t want butter on my sandwiches?’

Let me answer those questions in turn…


‘Because you understand that if you want to be fitter / swim better / look impressive in sandwich shops you need to put in the work.’

To be fair I understand that too. I wanted to do the work. When I went to see Mark in Chesham and benefitted from his eye-opening coaching I really believed I could (and would) do the work. By applying what he had shown me I doubled my distance over night. But I wasn’t very well then, and I have been even less well since. A thuggish virus kicked around the sink estate that is my lungs for weeks on end, my asthma joined the gang – tooled up and intent on hooliganism, and all manner of stressors I couldn’t control put the boot in and left me having panic attacks that I didn’t even recognise for what they were. Well, you don’t, do you – when you’re one of life’s copers? But my GP, despite looking about 13 years old, did recognise them for what they were and signed me off work on the spot. I love the NHS, and we should all be MUCH angrier about the government selling it off. But that’s another issue for another day.

Anyway, being open about this stuff matters. It’s easy to sweep it under the carpet, and pretend everything is fine, rather than just admit that the wheels are coming off a bit. We all need a bit of help from time to time, and I’ve had a lot of that lately. My dearest friend Sally tells me, in that blunt way that very good friends have, that I am ‘shit at asking for help’. She may be right, she usually is… but I think I’m just rubbish at identifying what help I need. Once I’ve worked that out I think I can ask for it. I’ve learned to ask for it. I had a very difficult time 6 years ago when I learned that and everybody stepped up to the plate. As they have this time. Many of them recognising what help I needed before I even recognised it myself.

I’m not rambling as much as it seems I am, I promise. The point is, I need help if I am going to get to 5k fly and therefore avoid the ordeal of 3 months dry. I’ve had a lot of fun with fly the last month or so, even though I haven’t been training. I had the pleasure of helping Duncan double his distance, of seeing Lynx get to grips with fly, of getting Ruth to bust some serious fly moves having never done it before and of helping a small boy and his mum, who showed a bit of interest when they saw me swimming at Bovey Tracey outdoor pool today. All that was really fun, and I am enjoying what fly I can do. So the help I need is for other people to be around having fun with fly as well – or at the very least just having fun.

So to that ends I invite all and sundry to come and have some fun at the Flyfest. Please. It’ll be for two good causes – firstly to delay the point at which I quit, and that alone might just get me to 5k, and secondly to raise a bit of money.

And there will be cake. Bound to be.

And if you can resist the temptation to come and watch me nearly kill myself then you could always just cut out the plump lady swimmer and make a donation direct. Thank you kindly.


Freedom of movement


Freedom of movement is a valuable thing, to my mind. Not least in the shoulders. I’m lucky enough to have free movement in the shoulders. It’s helped me to achieve all sorts of things that other parts of my body simply wouldn’t have managed to achieve on their own. I look after my shoulders, probably not as much as I should I know. They’d thank me for a bit more backstroke, and they’d prefer I hadn’t taken the opt out on the expensive chiropractor. But even though I’m not supporting them wholeheartedly they continue to give me what I need; some strength and stability. They make the whole of me more than just the sum of my parts.

People might try to persuade me that the rest of me could manage just fine without my shoulders, that it would be alright because if I ever decided to leave them they’d probably be so keen to continue to do all the work that I could absolve any responsibility for looking after them. These people would promise me that I wouldn’t have to think about back stroke ever again, but still my shoulders would be there… all eager to do my bidding and delighted to let me keep all of my rights to use them without any of the responsibility for looking after them. They’d brush off my insistence that I simply wouldn’t be able to lift a cup of tea, tell me that my belief that without my shoulders I’d be weaker and would look silly to boot as scaremongering. Project Fear, they’d call it. They’d make vague references to my being able to Take Back Control, without ever really explaining just how I’d manage that without, if only I got rid of the troublesome shoulders. They’d insist that my shoulders have somehow taken over from brain and are running the show in secret, robbing me of opportunities I don’t even know I’m missing. My weak lower back, and my muffin top, are all the fault of  my shoulders. If only I would listen to them and get rid of my shoulders I’d be able to knock out 5k fly standing on my head. They’re sure of it.

But that wouldn’t be a gamble I’d ever want to take, to be frank. Why would I?

And no, those numbers up there are not big enough. I am still finding it hard to breathe at all, so swimming is a significant challenge and I am feeling pretty demotivated about that because the clock is ticking. My stroke feels much better, although the jazz hands are still an issue and the wandering knees creep in when I tire… but I feel that if my lungs ever clear I might be able to start to build things up with the stroke as it is… but this morning I couldn’t string out more than two lengths continuous without coughing my guts up. Not pretty.

Jazz Hands

Oops:Forgot to start my watch:25.85

I know I was only doing a length at a time, but I have no idea how many lengths I did. Because I’m a twit.

In my defence, the focus of today wasn’t really the numbers – even though I like to know the numbers because I’m a bit geeky like that. It was a case of never mind the quantity feel the quality. And it really felt like a quality hour. I took myself off to Chesham lido to see Mark, a channel swimmer (solo and fly relay) who has been extraordinarily generous with his knowledge, encouragement and expertise. He foolishly offered me a bit of ‘casual coaching’ and I bit his hand off. He may be regretting that now, not least because for him it came at the end of a week where he has swum 30k. I’ll just pause to let that sink in…


But also because I arrived full of post viral fatigue and blocked sinuses.Add blocked sinuses to earplugs and you’ve got an almost total absence of hearing. I’m pretty sure that on more than one occasion I had a conversation with him that he hadn’t initiated simply because I misheard the original question.He was, needless to say, too much of a gentleman to point that out.

The only way to describe the progress I made under his kind and patient guidance is miraculous. I now know that I can undulate properly – I had started to wonder whether it was even possible. People, I felt the cool breeze of a summer afternoon caressing my buttocks. Let’s just leave it at that but man, it felt good. I can keep my knees together, my feet as together as they need to be and I feel like I’m all made of one piece. Until I get tired and the wheels come off, but that’s fitness and being flabby and unfit is not news to me so I can live with that for now.

So, from the chest down things are looking, and feeling, much improved.

From the chest up… however…

There isn’t an easy way to say this. I shimmy. I have jazz hands. Basically, I do disco fly. My pull wouldn’t be out of place in a Pan’s People* routine and my hands don’t seem to belong to me. I appear to have a powerful need to make a fist after having shaken them all about. But we made a little progress on that too. A little. And I sort of think that if I’m down to thinking about what I do with my hands then that has to count as progress, right?

And disco fly is bound to be the next best thing; they’ll all be doing it in Rio. Just you wait and see.

So if you want to reward my trend-setting self you know what to do. I’m in it for the money, honey.

And after that session I double dipped at Kimpton Pool Club, a slice of heaven on earth.


*showing my age


Bisque for the soul

Not enough:Less than not enough:Considerably less than not enough

I met Nancy, Nancy’s mum, Gav and a cast of at least a dozen others drifting in and out at Clevedon Marine Lake this morning. I’m going to make it a regular Thursday 8am thing; I figure that if I have to do the equivalent of invading a small country to get my child up early for gym club before school I may as well make the most of the early start. And salt water is anti-septic, so it’ll salve the battle wounds. Win win.

I’m still very congested, and croaking like a bull-frog in mating season so I can’t really say I got much use out of this morning from a training perspective. My breathing is very restricted and I’m so tight chested that if I inhale or exhale hard a cough develops. That’s quite interesting when you’re exhaling underwater, to be honest. I’ll spare you the details but I don’t honestly think I abided by Michelle’s instructions not to fill the lake with snot. I’ll leave it there.

But I did get a lot of use out of this morning from a wallowing perspective. John Donald introduce me to the phrase ‘swimming as therapy’. I’ve no idea whether he coined it himself or whether he blatantly burgled it from somewhere else, and I care less. It stuck in my mind, and this morning the therapy overtook the swimming.

The water was bisque for the soul. The sun, when it peeped through the gathering cloud, danced on the water and had sufficient strength in it to warm my bottom on the odd occasion I managed to undulate enough to get it anywhere near the surface.

I did a bit of backstroke and looked at the clouds, I did a bit of bobbing and looked at the pier. I revelled in sun on bare skin when I got changed, and was reminded of how much I love this community of swimmers.

Donations are almost as therapeutic as swimming you know. Freud said so, so it must be true.




Appallingly low numbers. Swimming in a tide of phlegm, still. Just a short one, I thought, focus on keeping the legs together and undulating more deeply if nothing else. But there’s short, and there’s barely being wet… and let’s just say I didn’t imagine it’d be that short.

And it turns out that when you can’t breathe out through your nose water still finds a way in; when your nose is red raw from blowing that hurts like childbirth. Nose clips  tomorrow, for the marine lake, I think. Pool water up the snout is one thing, salt water is quite another.

So all in I feel a bit down in the dumps about it this morning. Cheer a girl up with the colour of your money. Donations are scientifically proven to be the best decongestant there is.

The camera puts ten pounds on you

That’s what they say, isn’t it. And, frankly, I’m carrying quite enough extra timber without being made to look any heavier. So I generally avoid having my picture taken wherever and whenever possible. It’s a good job I’m not the Queen – I’d be forever hiding from photographers and demanding that any carpets be removed from long corridors at Buck House so I could slide along the polished floors on my knees. There isn’t enough research done into what trouser fabric makes you go fastest / longest, if you ask me. It’s that sort of thing that could make Britain great again.

But on Friday I had my picture taken, and what was worse I had a stinking head cold, was struggling to breathe and I was in my togs floundering about pretending I’ve got this fly thing totally nailed. A local magazine kindly wants to run a little piece on fly or dry, and they wanted a picture. And it’s for a good cause so on the basis that I wouldn’t be recognisable in cap and goggles I said yes. Although my chubby little arms and elbows are fairly distinctive so I possibly didn’t think that through. AT, the operations manager at the pool, kindly did the honours with the camera and he did his best to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and the magazine are happy enough with the pictures I sent them. Let’s not talk about whether I’m happy with them…

But I also asked AT to video me, because ND demanded film of me practicing. And fair’s fair, if you’re going to sponsor me then you should at least get a good laugh out of it.

And the result is nothing short of horrifying. I thought I had made a lot of progress with my stroke, and I suppose I have in that it can actually carry me further than ten feet. But I am appalled at the disconnect between what my brain thinks my body is doing, and what my body is actually doing. I can’t add the video here, because that requires eighty-five quids worth of premium plan and I’d rather donate that to the pool. But I’ll post it on FB and twitter so you can frighten the children via those channels. And when they, and you, have stopped crying you can jolly well sponsor me just to make up for the humiliation.

Here’s a picture though, which deceptively makes it look like I almost know what I’m doing. I don’t.


There aren’t any numbers on this post, because I’ve been plagued with a vicious head cold for over a week and haven’t done any actual training. Which is really helpful, when the clock is ticking.

Beaten, and stronger for it.

‘The sea’s only gifts are harsh blows and, occasionally, the chance to feel strong’  Primo Levi

I’m taking that quote wildly out of context, because so much of what Levi wrote about, and experienced, I have no ready frame of reference for. The relentless horror of that life, not alleviated in anything other than the physical sense by emancipation, is nothing but a gristly knot in the pit of my stomach to me. I hope it is less than that to the next generation, but I know that if it diminishes too much the risk of humanity inflicting that on itself again increases. 

But yesterday, the sea gave me a chance to feel strong. I swam at the Blue Lagoon at Abereiddy with my daughter and our dearest friends. I felt strong when I watched my ten year old succeed in jumping off the highest ledge, although watching the fruit of your loins free fall for 8 metres or more is rather surreal. I also felt strong when she raced me, fly, back across the quarry. It is a tiny distance, I can’t count it as training, but it was fun. Even though she whipped me. I’ll overlook her rather sharp starting practices* because I love her.

And if I can count this thing as fun then strength flows from that. 
*Cheating. She blatantly cheated, the little gun jumping tyke. 

Salty carnival kisses

No idea: not the foggiest: haven’t the faintest.

I took my burgeoning fly to the sea, where I feel most at home. 

The water was surprisingly warm , bathed in golden shadows and surface scattered with the detritus that comes with a tide gradually rising above neaps; life, and litter sloughs off the beaches.

The salt water shows up the poor timing of my breathing. It’s been a long time since I had nostrils full of salt water. I don’t like it much, if I’m honest. 

Fly girls



“… the conscious mind is not just the place where the witnessed colours and smells are, and not just the thinking thing. It is where the appreciating happens. It is the ultimate arbiter of why anything matters” DANIEL C. DENNETT

I’ve read a lot of books about consciousness, talked to a lot of people who know far more about the study of it than I do, and to people who know a lot less about the study of it than I do. The marvellous thing about consciousness is that it is inside all of us, and it is not necessary to know about the current scientific study of it, or the latest philosophising, to think about it and talk about it.

The quote above, from Dennett’s Consciousness Explained (a worthwhile read if you’re interested in these things) is the nicest distillation I have come across of why consciousness is important to us as humans.

If consciousness is what enables us to appreciate our achievements, and the achievements of others, then what more do we really need to know about it in any fundamental sense? Well, alright – quite a lot. But it seems to me that it becomes ‘nice to know’ not ‘need to know’.

And today mattered to me, as I pursue this ridiculous idea to go to 5k fly from a pretty well standing start in just 4 months. It mattered because I discovered a couple of things.

  1. I push myself when best when others join in. I don’t know whether this is a latent competitive streak (I doubt it – I’m 45, just how latent is a streak until it becomes non-existent?) It might be that I am just jollied along by the company of others and certainly the company of HL, DT and JD, calling in en route south is very jolly indeed. They got stuck in and flew too, and it was a joy. And HL’s fly is incredibly tidy. I wish I looked that good. But I have come to the conclusion that I haven’t got time to worry about looking good.
  2. I am no longer afraid of this thing. That feels like a massive step. When I was getting changed I had the sick feeling cowering in the pit of my stomach that has become familiar whenever I think about the training, or the doing. But today has been a massive boost to my confidence – just look at those numbers… The 726 wasn’t all in one go, granted, but I bloody well did it and I still have use of my shoulders. I can fly, dammit. It isn’t pretty, but I can do it.

And MJ was right, again. I really don’t need the fins. That man might just be my secular messiah.

The quote above is also a hat tip to John Donald, a really fascinating man who also happens to be  a handy swimmer and a lovely writer. He challenged me to include a quote in the next 3 blog posts. So I shall, because he asked. You should have a look at his blog, you really should.

And when you’ve done that you should sponsor me. Your consciousness will thank you for it.