“This summer I went swimming…..

….. this summer I could have drowned…”*

Oh this song has been going around in my head all summer long, as I’ve resumed swimming and it’s gradually become a regular part of my life.  The version I’m familiar with is by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who I listened to almost obsessively many years ago, and still love to listen to.

I learnt to swim at junior school, where the target was to be able to swim first a width (12 yards) and then a length (25 yards).  It didn’t seem to matter how you did it: mine was doggy paddle, and only just got me there.  But get me there it did, and that was the end of swimming lessons for me.

Having worn glasses since I was 7, I found swimming quite a trial.  All that echoey noise combined with not being able to see properly and the feeling of only just being able to keep myself from drowning – not a pleasurable affair.

So it remained until many years later when, for some reason I no longer recall, I wanted to do something and swimming seemed like a good idea.   Someone suggested that the eyesight problem could be resolved by wearing goggles, which was transformational.  I had been wearing contact lenses since I was 18, and had swum with my head well out of the water for fear of losing my lenses.  Suddenly I could swim with my face in the water instead of keeping my head firmly out of the water, and I could see.  This changed everything – how you hold your head really affects how the rest of your body is in the water.

Coincidentally, Malcolm had a book on Alexander technique applied to swimming and I read it.  You really shouldn’t be able to learn to swim from a book, but somehow what I read made perfect sense to me.  Step by step (stroke by stroke) I made small changes in how I held and used my body in the water, and to my amazement I soon found that I had progressed from barely being able to get from one end of the pool to the other, to being able to swim length after length.

I didn’t keep it up, for all sorts of reasons.  Now though I have good reason to choose swimming in place of long walks, and I’ve done so.   I planned to swim twice a week, usually early in the morning.  So far (it’s summer, right? with all those light mornings and hot days….) I’ve found this to be a wonderful way to start the day – by 9.30, I’ve walked a couple of miles to the pool and back and swum a long way.  I feel refreshed and ready for whatever is next.

I set myself a long-term target of being able to swim a mile (60 lengths of our local 25m pool).

To my surprise and delight, yesterday I achieved my goal.  It felt amazing to have done it, and frankly a bit of an anti-climax that there was no-one there to cheer me on, to congratulate me, to celebrate it.  But then I hadn’t gone to the pool intending that today would be the day.  It just kind of happened.  Because, like any other large goal in life, you do it bit by bit, step by step, stroke by stroke, length by length.  And then, so long as you can manage to keep at it, eventually you arrive.  But for me, the journey was the thing.  And I know now that I’ll do it again, and enjoy it again.

And this summer, I didn’t drown, even though I could have.

*lyrics by Louden Wainwright 111

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Six (good) things on Sunday (26 August)

  1. I made a small start on getting to grips with my sorely-neglected garden.  Taking a tip from others, I’ve broken it down into bite-sized chunks.  I tackled the terrace, which is immediately outside the kitchen.  I’ve always wanted a clematis there to climb up around the kitchen door, and I found one I liked at a garden we visited last week.  I just need to bring some compost in from the allotment and buy a few plants to fill up a couple of the troughs where the summer planting has long since died or gone to seed.  To finish this weekend! I’ve also made a list on my phone of the various small areas to tackle that together add up to the whole garden, and plan to work my way through.
  2. Resolving to do things differently next year (which in my head starts in September).  Primarily this means not allowing other people’s priorities always to take precedence over my own.  Which in turn means developing a kind of a routine – not fixed in stone, but there as a guide to myself – a day a week for granddaughter/d-i-l; a day a week gardening for myself; a day a week for the City Farm; a day a week to see friends/family; a day a week to go out somewhere with Malcolm.  And then the weekends – I love to have those unplanned whenever possible, they feel like a treat and a treasure.  Coincidentally d-i-l suggested a regular day a week with grand-daughter, just when I was starting to feel the need for some regulars. That all feels like it might be about right, though I worry that there may not be enough ‘unscheduled’ time just to be.  This retirement malarky is wonderful, but don’t imagine it means sitting around doing nothing.  Let’s see how it goes.
  3. Cycling – for the first time in ages I did a longer cycle ride (about 30 miles or so).  We’d arranged to meet a friend and walk or cycle somewhere together.  He planned a circular ride from his home in N Bristol out into South Gloucestershire.  It was delightful, and I didn’t find it at all too taxing.  A good pub lunch stop in the middle revived any flagging leg muscles.  The only downside was that my ankle was more swelled than usual by the evening.  I’m still trying to gauge what’s ok and what’s not, and really the only way to do that is to risk doing too much.
  4. Getting a place on a conference for people with lymphoedema.  I’m optimistic that this will help me figure out what’s worth doing and what’s not, and what new treatments are being explored.  Its led by the UK’s (and indeed one of the world’s) leading consultant. I’m curious to meet other people who have this condition, having never knowingly done so.  I’m sure there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience out there to be shared and learned from. Not till mid September, so just a few weeks to wait.
  5. Getting a positive resolution to a seemingly intractable issue.  Not mine to share, but the feeling of relief and new optimism are most certainly mine.
  6. Our 40th wedding anniversary – we celebrated this with our immediate family earlier this summer by taking them all away on holiday in Pembrokeshire, where we had the most wonderful sunshiny week by the sea.  Perfect.  Yesterday was our own private and personal celebration together, which we marked by taking our bikes on the train to Oxford, treating ourselves to a lovely lunch out in a place special to us, and being treated by my sister to tea and cakes in another lovely spot there.  We sat in my old college garden and reminisced, and explored the small streets of Jericho and the open space of Port Meadow on our bikes.  The magic is still with us.
Posted in Five (good) things on Friday, Reflections on life (and death), Retirement | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Life’s not just a bowl of cherries you know

Oh no.  You can do a lot more than just that with a whole (5 kilo) box of cherries.

I meant to take photos of each of the different things we did, with quantities.  But, you know.  Life.

Anyway, this is what we did.

  • Just eat them.  On their own, as they are.  From a bowl if you choose.  So very delicious.
  • Cook with them.  Malcolm made the most delicious cherry tarts – 1 large, 4 small.  We ate some, gave some away, and some is still in the freezer.  Just scrumptious.  He’s really got that recipe cracked (one he found in a magazine years ago and has worked with ever since).  One of his culinary party pieces.  Then there was the clafoutis – another party piece, and completely delicious.
  • Bottle them.  I did this with one kilo.  It produced two jars of cherries, one large and one small.  Unfortunately at least one of the jars didn’t ‘take’ – the lid wasn’t successfully sealed, so they are stored in the fridge for now.  They’ll keep well enough there, but I need to get on top of this bottling lark for next year.
  • Make cherry brandy.  I did this too.  Only a very small amount, to see if we like it.  (Though what’s not to like?  I assume we’ll drink the sweet flavoured brandy, and eat the cherries with cream or yoghurt or some such).  I’ll hang on to those until Christmas at least before we try them.
  • Stew them and freeze them.  Again, a small quantity this time around.  Actually my plan was to make conserve, but life got in the way and I didn’t get round to it.  Next year.  Especially as the plan was to avoid needing to use the freezer.
  • Dehydrate them.  This was Malcolm’s thing.  They took longer than we expected to dry. They are now stored ready to use though the winter.  Not surprisingly, they are very sweet.  He enjoys them with muesli.
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Five (good) things on Friday (17 August 2018)

Another week, another list.

  1. Exercise – day 46 of my 100 day challenge, and I’ve managed to stick to it pretty much every day.  I’ve missed maybe 4 or 5 – I’ll count them up and add them on at the end, because I do like completeness.  Regular swimming (twice a week so far) has been a revelation.  So far I’ve beaten my ‘personal best’ and managed to built up to 50 lengths in one visit.  Not so much further to the magic 60 lengths (a mile!).  And I’m feeling better for it.  And now I’ve been told I can have a go at running to see how it feels.  That will be the next challenge for me.
  2. Garden visits – my garden isn’t yet a place of joy this year, but how wonderful to be able to visit other peoples.  This summer I have bought a season ticket to Derry Watkins garden (Special Plants), which includes weekly half hour talks mostly by Derry herself.  Her garden is gorgeous, in a most wonderful position, and she is such a fount of gardening knowledge and know-how.  I haven’t managed to get there every week, but have done 5 so far and plan to go to several more before they end in October.  Sometimes I take my knitting and crochet, sit on a favourite bench, and just sit there drinking it all in.  A slice of heaven.

    Corner of Derry Watkins’ garden, with fern sculpture

  3. Eating ripe figs, from my own tree.  Can there be anything more delicious than a black, ripe fig warm from the sun?  I pick and eat them immediately.  None of them make it as far as into the house.
  4. Knitting – it’s been a while since I knitted anything for myself.  I’ve made a start on a warm sweater, for the winter when it comes.  I was incredibly lucky to find enough pure wool yarn in the very colour I craved in a sale.  I’m adapting a pattern I’ve had for years.  Let’s see how it goes.
  5. Library – I’ve said so many times how much I value the public library.  Recently I’ve been reserving books I want to read, and so far they’ve all arrived promptly.  This week I reserved, received and read (all in less than a week!) a book about lymphoedema by a world leader in the subject, Professor Peter Mortimer.  It’s a really interesting book and well worth reading, but not something I’m going to regularly want to dip into, so I’m pleased to have been able to access it without needing to buy it myself.  I’ve also been working my way through all the novels by Elizabeth Strout, which I’m enjoying so much.  Just finished The Burgess Boys; now starting Amy and Isabelle.  What a treat.
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Six (good) things on Friday (10 August)

  1. Swimming – this week I joined the local newly re-furbished and re-opened Sports and Leisure Centre, mainly for the swimming pool, but membership comes with the added bonus of access to the gym and all the classes, plus a one hour induction session with a trainer.  I’ve swum there twice so far, and I’m loving it.  I’m pushing my stamina and aiming eventually to swim a mile (60 lengths).  This from someone who only really learnt to swim in my forties.  My best so far is 46 lengths, and I know that if I’d had time I could have managed more.  My 100 days project is still going well (now almost 40 days in).
  2. Granddaughter – I’m going to have to stop listing this, but really, such an absolute delight.  She’s a smiley person now (10 weeks old), with an intent gaze on whatever catches her interest.  Often it’s my beads, or her own image in a mirror.
  3. Letting go – I’m learning to let go of the perfect, and accept the more messy but real here-and-now.  Most of all on the allotment and in the garden, both in such a poor state after a year of inattention.  My focus has been, rightly or wrongly, elsewhere.  As ever, next year will be better,  I have learnt some important lessons, and I have some great plans (that too, as ever).
  4. My lymphoedema leg – after 2 years of failure to diagnose / wrong diagnosis and inappropriate treatment, I have now had and been wearing the correct full leg pressure garment for around 4 weeks.  Yesterday I had a checkup with the specialist nurse.  I was surprised and delighted to find that my leg has reduced from 60% larger than it should be to 49% larger.  Definite progress, and it spurs me on to continue with my 100 day programme of mindful self-management. (This was meant to be the appointment for initial fitting, but once I got them, I couldn’t wait another 4 weeks before wearing them.  I found good advice on the internet on how to fit them properly, and clearly it’s worked.  She commented on how self-sufficient I am; I replied how necessary it is to be so.  I think we agreed on that one).
  5. Rain! – at last, a proper downpour.  2 months of barely any rain has taken its toll on the allotment and garden, which look arid and flagging.  The rain today will provide welcome restoration to it all, and with luck will help replenish my water butts.
  6. English cherries – yesterday I bought a whole box from a relatively local independent greengrocer – 5 kilos for £19.  Not cheap, but what a bargain.  They are absolutely delicious.  Malcolm will bake some of his wonderful cherry tarts this weekend.  There will be a cherry clafoutis, some cherries to just eat, and we will experiment with a range of ways to preserve them: I’ve bottled a kilo, and will maybe make a small batch of cherry brandy and a small batch of cherry conserve; he wants to dehydrate some.  That way we’ll know for next year which methods work for us, and which not to bother with. Preserving summer fruit is one of our aims, and we want where possible to choose methods that don’t require a large freezer (ours is a small one, and we’d like to keep it that way).  Those long tongs for putting full bottles into the hot water and taking them out again at the end worked a treat (their first outing).

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Five (good) things on Friday (July 20)

This has been a good week for me, after a run of many with a more mixed feel about them.

  1. I received my made-to-measure pressure leg garment, far more quickly than I was led to expect.  After only 4 days wearing it, my leg is considerably better.  I even have something resembling an ankle.  It’s certainly not a thing of beauty, not by any stretch of the imagination, but to me it’s a godsend. (A side issue: it comes from Germany.  Will I still be able to get these quickly, or even at all, through the NHS after Brexit?  I fear that things will be far more convoluted).
  2. I have accepted that this year, for a whole range of reasons, my allotment and garden are not and will not be as beautiful or as productive as they could / should be.  Accepting this has enabled me to let go of the feeling that I should have done more, I should be doing more, I have ‘failed’.  Let it go.
  3. My 100 day challenge is going well.  Today is Day 20, and so far I haven’t missed a day. My cycling and swimming have already become stronger.  Going away from home later in the summer will be an extra challenge, I’ll have to think carefully about what I will do, but that may just be an opportunity to add more walking into the mix and see how I cope with that with the new stocking – I hope it will be fine, and if not, there are always swimming pools.
  4. People close to me have received good news about their health problems.  Things that initially sounded very scary have turned out to be not scary at all, and we are thankful for that.
  5. With all that cycling and swimming, my hair has been a fright.  Cycle helmets and chlorine are not friends to long curls.  So I took the plunge and had a short hair cut.  To my surprise, I’m rather pleased with it.  I think.
  6. Our delicious, delightful granddaughter, always a source of joy.  Now she’s smiling and even rolling over.  And later this summer we shall have a week away with her, her parents, and her aunt and uncle.  Can’t wait! (oh and the lovely Baby Surprise Jacket fits her already, and she looks even more adorable than ever in it.  And you know I’m not one tiny bit biased).

Oops, that’s 6 again.  Look on it as a bonus.

So, all in all, a good week around these parts.  What about you?

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Going Dutch in Delft

I have a backlog of semi-drafted posts from earlier this year.  I’m planning to work my way through them.  This is the first – from April this year. 

It took 35 years or so for us to get to the Netherlands together.  Many years ago I went to Amsterdam with a friend and I’ve been saying ever since how much I’d enjoy visiting there again with Malcolm.  One day.  And finally that day arrived.

Well, almost.  I couldn’t find suitable (affordable) accommodation in Amsterdam, so I looked instead at Delft.  I’m so glad I did, because otherwise we probably wouldn’t have gone to Delft, and we would have missed a gem of a place.

Delft is where Vermeer was born, lived, worked, died, and was buried.

Sunday morning – strolling to the flea market

We stayed in a small house in the central old town, perfectly placed for us to explore the town on foot.  We spent many happy hours walking along canals, exploring small residential streets, visiting churches, markets, cafes, and just sitting watching people cycling and walking the city.

Such a walkable, cycleable city, with hardly any motor vehicles in the city centre, and those there were moved slowly and carefully.After a couple of days we realised what was missing: the noise and the fumes of traffic.  It was quiet, peaceful, with a sense that people mattered.

We were deeply envious of their transport system, which can truly be described as a system – not just independent bits and pieces that feel haphazard, but a fully integrated system of walking, cycling, public transport, and finally cars – the reverse of everything we experience at home.  And what was fascinating was the impact of the transport system on everything else – our (wholly unscientific) observation was that people looked on the whole so much healthier than at home (especially noticeable in children and young people – markedly reduced numbers of overweight and obese children and young people); the air we were breathing was cleaner; the city a genuinely pleasant place to be – and so many people were out and about enjoying it, even on weekday evenings.  It was clear to us that these were mainly local people – families, adults, young people, students.  And it was all so convivial.

We travelled out for the day to The Hague, to Amsterdam, and to Rotterdam.   We saw wonderful art, beautiful bulb fields, and interesting urban regeneration.  All these trips were easily done on public transport, and information about how to do it and where to go was easy to find.   We bought and enjoyed food from local shops and the wonderful twice-weekly markets.  We relaxed in local cafes and bars.

It all illustrated for me the fact that a real transport system has so many positive impacts way beyond just getting you from A to B.

Delft is somewhere we will definitely return.  I just wish that the council in my home city, Bath, would be willing to learn some of the lessons – much of the income in both Delft and Bath derives from tourism, but the approach couldn’t be further apart.



Posted in Climate change, Community, Cycling, Inspirations, Reflections on life (and death), Travels, Walking | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment