Intermission – Holiday!! Part 5

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The main tootsie-related problem on our beach was one which I dare say affects a lot of beaches on the island, namely, coral. Fortunately it was not the type of coral we experienced in Mexico, which is sharp as razors and, if a tiny scrap breaks off under your skin, will grow inside you until it strangles your heart and you die (I exaggerate but only slightly). This coral was altogether more amenable, but it did start pretty much as soon as the sea did, and it was lumpy and pointy which is never great to walk on.

Fortunately the hotel owners had built a sort of artificial reef of rocks just off the beach which prevented the sand being washed off and created a swimming area within the sea where guests could bathe safely. It was shallow but large and we spent a happy twenty minutes on the first morning sculling around looking at all the tropical fish living on the tiny reef and in pots and globes half buried in the sand. The latter were clearly designed as fish hide-outs and had been placed within the swimming area to attract fish and to give snorkelling guests something to see.

After this, though, we got restless and wanted a proper swim. The only way to get one was to leave the sandy area and strike out across the coral, where the water was about two feet deep for quite a distance. This isn’t enough to swim, but it is sufficient to scull along, propelling oneself by fluid kicking. Good practice for the freestyle kick, since if you were bicycling or kicking from the knee rather than the hip, the lack of depth pretty soon found you out. Ruth and Kathrine showed how to do it, diving through incoming billows and surfing forwards on the backwash.

This turned out to be huge fun, and once one was out in deeper water it was wonderfully relaxing to bob around in the warm waves, being gently lifted and dropped by the incoming rollers, and idly chatting in between popping one’s head below the water to see what interesting fish might be swimming below. And when we got restless we had the joy of striking out to swim a little way up the coast and back, watching the beach gradually creep by and coral passing underneath, riding the waves.

It was the first time I’d really swum in such large waves and I genuinely enjoyed it, especially as it was warm, shallow and safe enough not to feel threatened at all. The only downside was that bane of swimmers’ lives, jetskis. Enterprising young men would race up to the beach on them and hire them out for fifteen minutes to tourists. This meant that there was a danger not just from the owners, whizzing into view and swooping showily around just off the beach to attract the attention of potential customers, but also from inexperienced drivers who had them on hire. This made swimming during the day less inviting; fortunately they didn’t appear until later, so we could enjoy our early-morning swims in peace.

More shortly.

Intermission – Holiday!! Part 4

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Of course, the other thing I did on my holidays was – swimming! And I have to say that the swimming in Barbados is FAN-TAS-TIC dahling! The variety! And the quality! And, oh my goodness, the bathwater temperature of the water, which at 28° was a whole 20° higher than the current temperature of our own dear Lido. In fact that it was even a bit too hot at times, about which more later.

But to start with, the swimming on the beach at our hotel. We were on the south side of the island near Bridgetown, where the beaches slope very gradually, creating long flat slopes up which the Caribbean rollers ride gently to curl and foam upon the sugar sand. Add palm-trees, sunshine, cloudless blue sky to taste.

This ought to make them ideal for swimming, but the problem which bedevils outdoor swimmers everywhere also applies here, namely, tootsies. Feet, in other words, which in humans are singularly ill-adapted to walking over rocks, stones, pebbles, coral, seaweed, molluscs, sea-life, broken glass and all the other stuff one finds underfoot when getting into a heavenly-looking swimspot in the Great Outdoors, where there are neither ladders nor lovely smooth tiles to ease the passage from dry land to cushiony billow and vice-versa.

Hence the notorious Swimmers’ Straddle, which occurs when swimmers try to exit or enter the water via an invisible underwater minefield. Essentially the swimmer will try to compensate for the lack of firm or indeed any footing by adopting a brace-kneed legs akimbo posture akin to John Wayne without the horse, butt stuck out, whilst simultaneously flapping the arms in an attempt to balance and occasionally lurching forward, arms outstretched, in a sort of Downwards Dog posture, in the hope that a temporary return to a more traditional four-limbed mode of locomotion may be of assistance.*

More shortly

*Yes, of course one could wear those little rubber or plastic booties specifically designed to protect the feet against rocks and so forth, but where’s the fun in that? Throwing Crocs or similar to the beach/the exiting swimmer is permissable, however.

A fine example of Swimmers’ Straddle, with Crocs in flight.

Intermission – Holiday!! Part 3

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So…I’m back from my holidays, and in time-honoured tradition, it’s time to write the essay “What I did on my holidays”. And the two main things I did were 1. Swim (no surprises there) and 2. Swim with turtles! Oh yeah!

First, swimming with turtles. I’ve seen turtles before, in Greece and Mexico, flippering along at a distance, shadowy majestic shapes deep below me. I’ve never seen turtles as I did here, up close and personal. As already reported, we started out by watching, and helping, hatching turtles to make it to the sea. Awesome! The next day we swam with turtles in the surf off our beach. And then, a few days later, we took a catamaran trip to swim with turtles.

I have to say that this was turtley turtley awesome. Yes, it was because the turtles are more or less trained to come close to moored boats from which people are swimming, since the boat operators feed them. So we weren’t exactly swimming with turtles in their wild state – that would be the experiences I had in Greece and Mexico, where they stayed well away from us. I had a similar sighting during one of the Barbados swims: a green turtle far below me, rowing itself unhurriedly around the seafloor far beneath me. And that was wonderful. But this was better.

Adrian, one of the boat operators, got into the water with a bag of fish bits and paddled around with us until a green turtle came up to see what was on offer. She flippered amongst us, unworried by the number of people treading water to stare at her; she was too focused on Adrian and his fish-strips. He held them out and she came to him to take them either from the water or from his hand. I took a floating piece of fish and held it out to her and she took it gently from me, brushing my fingers with her mouth as she did so. It was an extraordinary experience, to be so close to an animal so entirely different to me and to watch it interact intelligently with me with no fear.

And amazingly the next experience was even better. At the next swim stop there were no more fish bits left, but even so two turtles came up to inspect us. One was a stately Hawksbill, grey with a yellowy head and eyes and a look which seemed ages old. The second was another green turtle, which swam around and in between us.

I was treading water next to her when she came up for air; she surfaced just next to me, her whole head out of the water as she breathed, facing me just a foot or two away. I whispered “Hello!” in pure delight. Then, as we submerged, she sank below me and when I turned to follow her, gazing down at her through my goggles, swam slowly upwards in front of me until we were face to face. She stared mildly and inquisitively at me, for all the world like my cats approaching me for some food, a treat or a snuggle. When I failed to deliver, again just like my cats she ducked her head and stroked herself against me as she dived beneath me, her shell sliding first against my outstretched hands and then against my legs in a brief underwater caress. Swimming with turtles. It doesn’t get better than this.

https://goo.gl/images/ajFL9Z

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Intermission – Holiday!!, part 2

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BIRDS OF BARBADOS

A short account of some of the birds I have seen on my holidays.

1. Bajan Bastard Blackbird. Like a normal blackbird, but shoutier and more profane. Hangs around tourists yelling “Arsetrumpet!” and “Eat my feathery spunk trousers!”*. Has mad staring yellow eyes which look as though it is thinking of all the ways it would kill you if it were still a dinosaur.

2. Pink throated sexydove. Frequents bars and restaurants scavenging leftovers and having sex in the eyeline of unsuspecting tourists. Exhibitionist.

3. Bananaquit. Addicted to bananas, but in recovery. Mainlines fruit juice. Winner of Wackiest Bird Name of the Caribbean Award for three straight years since 2014 (against, I should point out, some pretty strong competition).

4. (Non, je ne) Egret Rien. Also known as the Piaf Bird. Stands around in cornfields singing mournful French songs in four part harmony.

5. Magnificent Frigate Bird. Distinguished, amongst other things, by actually being called the Magnificent Frigate Bird. Spectacular, but a little bit full of itself to be honest. Swoops around looking effortlessly impressive in a manner which is not quite uncalculated enough to be entirely artless, a bit like Justin Trudeau.

6. Tiny Anonymous Wader Bird. Highly skilled at looking extraordinarily photogenic, exactly like a small wind-up toy, whilst simultaneously avoiding being filmed as assiduously as the Barclay Brothers, the irritating little camera-shy bastard.

*Acknowledgments, as ever, to Tom Cox and the immortal Shipley.

Intermission – Holiday!!

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Dear diary

So… Here I am in Barbados! How exciting! The cat nanny is installed at home, the cats have been counselled for the approximately 0.3 seconds of trauma they suffered when realising that a different human would be feeding them and providing them with stroking opportunities for the next few days, and I am off on my holidays. Yippee!

I won’t trouble you with pictures of azulean seas, silver strands, palm trees and rum punches, although these are all here in abundance, as you can find these easily on Google should you so wish. No, instead, a picture which references the things which have already made this a turtley awesome holiday – turtles! (Do you see what I did there?). Yep, we haven’t even been here a day and we’ve already seen baby hawksbill turtles hatching.

And not just seen them, but handled them, picked them up by the handful and helped them into the sea. And, in my case, been bitten by one. Extraordinary experience!!! So what happened?

Last night, when we had been here barely four hours, we were sitting at the beach bar at our hotel enjoying a pre-dinner drink. A couple of our group moved off a little for a cigarette and I joined them for a paddle and to look at the sea sparkling in the starlight. And then a hotel employee came up to show us something – a tiny, just-hatched hawksbill turtle which he had found on the beach. We cooed over it, delighted, held it in our cupped hands and then watched as he placed it gently at the water’s edge. Off it swam, zigzagging through the waves exactly like a tiny clockwork toy.

And then, amazingly, we looked over and saw more. Our friend and another man were by a concrete hut at the back of the beach and by the light coming from the hotel we could see half a dozen, a dozen, twenty, dozens of tiny turtles all crawling jerkily across the sand. And not all in the direction of the sea, either – the majority were coming out by the side of the hut and were trying to crawl up the walls and into a pile of palm fronds stacked by the hut. The second man seemed to be a turtle expert; he had a bucket and we joined the two of them picking up the tiny turtles and putting them all into the bucket. One felt threatened after I’d gently wiggled him out from a palm frond; he sank his tiny beak into my finger and held on. It was surprisingly painful, although he didn’t break the skin.

There were so many turtle babies you had to be careful where you put your feet. I gathered several at a time and they piled up in the bucket, which bothered the turtle expert not at all. He was seriously worried about crabs, though, which apparently eat the tiny turtles, and we were encouraged to find all the babies as quickly as possible, including those which were hidden amongst the palm fronds.

Once he was satisfied we had all of them we followed him to the water’s edge, where he gently tipped out the bucket so all the babies could head oceanwards. Not that all of them were that keen to head out to sea – quite a few needed to be turned around, some of them several times before they got the idea. In the end the turtle expert got one of our number to stand in the surf shining a light on the water for the tiny turtles to make towards.

And as if seeing a couple of hundred baby hawksbill turtles hatching were not sufficient wonder, today at lunchtime one of my friends came up to say there were turtles just off the beach. We rushed to the spot and waded into the water. Swimming slowly through the surf I was rewarded by three turtles slowly flippering along, one swimming so close to me for a minute or so that I could have reached out and touched her. Her antediluvian eye regarded me dispassionately before she turned frostily and oared away from me like a dowager duchess bored by the need to talk politely to one of the lower orders.

And this is only the first day! Truly, this is a turtley amazing place.

More shortly

Pictures of a mural near our hotel.

The Bechdel-Wallace Test, as reimagined by me, part 7

So…. Where were we, before I so rudely interrupted. Ah, yes. Battlestar Galactica, the opening series, in which a rag-tag bunch of humans flee across the universe, pursued by their own rebellious creations, the Cylons.

We are swiftly introduced to the leading characters: Admiral William Adama, in command of the fleet, President Roslin, erstwhile Secretary of Education, now elevated to the position of leader of humanity by virtue of being the only surviving member of the cabinet. Dr Balthar, a genius scientist. Lee Adama, William Adama’s son, leader of the fleet’s aerial fighter wing. Colonel Tigh, Adama’s second-in-command. Starbuck, a brilliant but reckless and rebellious pilot, and Helo and Boomer, also pilots. Number 6, a Cylon who seems somehow to be in telepathic communication with Dr Balthar. Chief Tyrol, in charge of the fleet’s engineering section. And so on.

The characters are excellently drawn and all without exception go on enormous personal journeys during the series. The premise is brilliant, the writing high-quality, the underlying theme, that those we think of as our bitterest enemies may in fact be more like us than we think, is profound and rewarding. But the best, the most striking thing about it, for me, is that so many of the leading characters are female.

Now, let’s not get carried away. It’s still not fifty-fifty. There are still more males than females. But compared to most films, TV programmes and books, Battlestar Galactica is absolutely stuffed with women. The President is a woman. Starbuck is a woman. Boomer is a woman (well, spoiler alert – a female). So is Number 6, and so is Athena, another iteration of Boomer (you’ll need to watch the series for an explanation). So are others of the Cylons, and Admiral Cain, the hard-assed captain of another Battlestar that appears unexpectedly halfway through the series.

And, wonder of wonders, these women are not there as the romantic foil for the hero, or in order to deliver the plot-critical line “Come to bed, honey, it’s late”. Nor are they there in supporting roles which showcase “female” traits, a sci-fi trope so common that Galaxy Quest made it into a rather excellent joke. (The aliens who used Galaxy Quest as a template to build a space travel civilisation, designed the computer so that it would only respond to the Communications Officer. Thus, when any other member of the crew wants to know something, they have to go through Sigourney Weaver as the only female cast member, who then repeats “Computer, how many dilithium crystals do we have left?”, or whatever. When the Captain mildly wonders whether it would be possible for Sigourney to ask the computer to respond to him directly, she bites his head off with the words “Look, I may only have one job on this ship, and it’s a stupid job, but it’s all I’ve got and I’m going to do it!!” Kerr-ching.)

Nope, the women in Battlestar Galactica have proper big roles doing proper big things and doing them bigly. Fighting. Governing. Adventuring. Espionage. Flying. Sabotage. Murder. Genocide. And a big sackload of gambling, drinking and shagging thrown in. In pretty much every respect the women are no different to the men. They’re as bold as the men, as brave as the men, as violent as the men and as ruthless as the men, but they do it without becoming bitch-caricatures. They are fully recognisable and believable people doing their jobs and their best in unthinkable circumstances. Nor is it their job to nurture their fellows, or to care for them, or to be their conscience, or to provide them with hot sex or love interest or reassurance or waffles or anything else, except in exactly the same way as the men do. They are the men’s equals in everything, and it’s wonderful to see.

So in short Battlestar Galactica is a pretty spiffy show from a feminist point of view. And from every other point of view too; it’s a cracking good story whichever way you cut it, brilliantly told. And as a final bonus it has the wonderful underlying theme that those who we believe to be so different to us as to be entirely alien may in fact be so similar that in the end we may not even be able tell which us and which is them. Now there’s a feminist ideal 😎

Next up, Aliens!!! More Sigourney! Shortly 😊.

I’m back

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I’m back!! Oh, little blog, I’ve missed you. Did you miss me? Like a lot of relationship breakdowns, I never really intended things to get so distant between us. Stuff happened, as stuff always does – a holiday, a course of early swim sessions, the need to spend tube journeys after swimming in doing my makeup and putting on jewellery rather than blogging.

And of course, there was the freedom! Like many people who’ve been in a long-term relationship and have got through those first thrilling and intoxicated months to a more quotidian domesticity, the effort required to keep going suddenly seemed to outweigh the rewards. How charming to spend my mornings reading others’ writing in The Guardian rather than laboriously pecking at an uncooperative WordPress app on a sticky old Android! How exciting to engage in instant keyboard-to-keyboard conflict with real people on Facebook instead of clambering deep into my own subconscious via the act of writing for a conversation with myself which might or might not yield anything which made any sense at all. How delightful not to have to work at it!

And yet. And yet. There were the days when you stubbornly refused to engage with me, yes, when writing a morning post felt like swimming through treacle. There were the posts which flopped out and slumped lifelessly for all my best efforts to breathe life into them. But there were also the times, so many times, when we were GREAT together! Days spent with friends, on holiday, swimming, or just watching tv. The times we laughed ourselves sick over nothing. Long involved passionate debates on everything from politics to cycling. And those “No-one exists but the two of us” conversations that lasted for weeks and deepened understanding with every post.

I miss those times. I just can’t have those conversations, or those laughs, on my own. And it turns out they were worth the times when your predictive text annoyingly pretended that you’d never heard of the word “domesticity” (or “predictive”, apparently, come to that). Facebook became less satisfying. No matter how many times I told people that they were wrong, they’d still be irritatingly wrong again the next day. I started to fear that if I left it any longer, we’d actually drift so far apart that you’d become one of those “Whatever happened to old So-and-so” past acquaintances, those of whom one says “Haven’t heard from him in years. I wonder why? Funny, we used to be quite close.”

And above all I missed – you. The space you afforded me. The opportunity, over weeks and months, to explore ideas, to develop my thinking on a subject by writing about it. The access you gave me to myself. The simple act of writing, of getting words from my head onto a page (or, in your case, a screen), and the weird inexplicable alchemy that happens so that I find myself writing things which I personally would never be able to write, things which seem to have been written by the much better writer who lives inside my head but who won’t talk directly to me, only to you. And so….. I’m back! I missed you. Did you miss me?

PS. I had no intention of writing this post this morning. I was going to finally write a post, yes, but it was going to be a continuation of “Intermission – The Bechdel Wallace Test (As Reimagined By Me)”, which I last wrote in April before the Guildford 2Swim4Life. But as soon as I opened the WordPress app, my subconscious upped and bipped me on the head with this. So, thank you, subconscious. Point taken.

PPS. If you can’t remember anything about The Bechdel Wallace Test (As Reimagined By Me, and god knows I can’t, the last post is here.

More, at long last, tomorrow.

Intermission – Swim, Swimmy Swim: 2Swim4Life Part 15

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So, a little late, where does that leave me? With a few reflections, I guess. First of all, that I have a tendency to expect that things will be worse than they actually turn out to be. I expected to find the swimming much harder than I did, the lack of sleep much tougher to deal with, the mental challenge more difficult. In the event, I was very well equal to all of it, and this has been the case with most of the swimming challenges I’ve dealt with in my time, with two notable exceptions. So I need to remember that in the future, and hope that I’m not facing a Channel relay or a Brownsea Island. On the upside, my worries did mean that I prepared very well, which clearly helped me in terms of how I dealt with the physical challenges.

Then there was my final mile swimming with Ruth.  I’m a competitive person, with a tendency to want to beat people, and in the past I might have tried to race Ruth and beat her to the finish. But in the event swimming next to her and loving our synchronisation, warming and supporting each other, and celebrating together at the end was so much more satisfying. Nor did it lack a sense of victory, as we shared our delight at having successfully completed the challenge. Beating people can be fun but it’s a momentary triumph whereas a sense of shared joy and satisfaction is not only better in the moment but lasts for far longer and strengthens the relationship between those who experience it. Something for me to take away into my daily life, I think. 

And that’s it! In the post-event euphoria a couple of us considered doing solos in next year’s event – no, not 2Swim4Life, but a different format where soloists must swim a kilometre an hour for twelve hours during the course of the day. I reckon I could do that, especially if I had my buddy swimming next to me! What do you think, Ruth?  😉

Intermission – Swim, Swimmy Swim: 2Swim4Life Part 14

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And finally, Pip. Our only SLSC soloist, still determinedly ploughing his lonely furrow on and on through the night and into the dawn. He was swimming on the half-hour, which meant that he was going in for his twenty-fourth and final mile at 8.30 am, after some of the faster swimmers who were going at the top of the hour had finished, which must have been tough. But he was still there and still plugging away, which amazed me, particularly as he was by that point clocking up pretty much forty-five minute miles. 

One of the things about marathons which is hard on the participants is that the slower people tend to get fewer cheers and plaudits that the faster people. Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly hard to, say, run a marathon in two hours twenty minutes and change, or even to run one in three hours forty minutes. But it seems to me that it’s even harder to run one in six, seven, eight hours, keeping on keeping on as the speedier people are basking in their success before changing, having a cup of tea and heading home for a hot shower and a nice sit down. On and on, as other competitors and their supporters gradually finish, pack up and start heading home and the organisers begin to take things down until finally you’re overtaken even by the bin lorry collecting the last bits of rubbish from the route. 

It takes a certain sort of mental toughness not just to not care that you’re so much slower than everyone else and to keep going in the face of all doubt as to whether or not you’ll finish at all, but to face a challenge that you know in advance will last three or four times as long as other people’s with precious few cheering crowds at the end. It’s a mental toughness I hugely admire and Pip has it in spades.

So it was that, as other competitors started to drift home and one by one the last swimmers came in to the end and stood up with huge smiles of relief, a small crowd formed at the shallow  end composed of SLSC members, organisers, and other swimmers who know a true hero when they see one. The only other remaining swimmer completed their last length and got out, leaving the pool, for the first time in nearly twenty-four hours, empty, save for one lone swimmer turning wearily for his final two lengths. Down to the other end, turning, and, at long last, back to the applause which started as he approached us, twenty-three and three-quarter hours after starting, having been swimming for more or less eighteen hours of those. You could do a Channel solo in less than that, and many have. Mr Pip Barry, 2Swim4Life 2017 soloist, legend.

More tomorrow.

Intermission – Swim, Swimmy Swim: 2Swim4Life Part 13

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And then all I had to do was to cheer everyone else home. On the far side of the pool, the faster soloists who’d been swimming twenty minute miles were heading towards the end of their own personal marathons. In the lane next to the edge one chap powered down his last length accompanied by a group of supporters running alongside waving flags and cheering. Other supporters had congratulatory notices and banners, or were simply applauding their swimmers in. 

None of this is unwarranted – doing Guildford as a solo is incredibly hard, even in the last two or three miles. Before my last swim I discovered there was actually a large heated changing tent on the other side of the pool, something of which I’d been completely unaware. When we went in the ground was covered with bags and bodies, including one woman asleep wrapped in a Dryrobe right in front of the big air blower who looked as though she’d been there for some time. 

Soloists were parked around the place with their buddies. One chap wrapped in a sleeping bag on two chairs was being given tea by his mates; he asked “How long have I got?” and on being told replied in panicky tones “Seven minutes?!?” “No, mate”, responded his buddy “Nine. Nine.” “Oh…” said the swimmer, relaxing back. The fact that, even right before your last mile, two minutes extra to rest and recover is so important just gives you an idea of how hard it is for the soloists. 

More tomorrow.