First challenge of the year; join me swimming to Pells Pool in Lewes?

high above Oxford Street
Floaty jellyfish like installation above Oxford Street


I have been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on this year. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. Back in September I set myself the goal of swimming outside at the lido, without a wetsuit, for as long as I could into the winter. I thought I’d don a rash vest, but I didn’t. We were blessed with a bizarrely warm end to the year, which helped no end, and it was really exhilarating to enjoy swims on both Christmas Eve (10’C water) and New Year’s Day (8’C water). The video is proof of my 1.1.2016 swim 

The temperatures are now back at more seasonal level, so water around 4-5’C and I am just not sure about that, so for now I’ve moved inside to Kentish Town. It’s a beautiful Victorian pool, 30m long, with windows on the sloping roof through which you can see blue sky and sometimes vapour trails. They keep it cool, and when possible it’s lit just by natural light. It’s not a patch on a lido though… today the pool was evacuated for a false alarm, someone dropped their lunchtime soup in the changing room, splat, and rather than clear it up themselves left it there, and the chemical cocktail in the water gave me a very ruddy, stingy face. But I clocked up 1.2km.

Since the new year I’ve been mulling over which swimming challenge to take on. It’s all very well swimming up and down but I need a bit more purpose, something to aim for. My uber sporty friend suggested a race; knowing I’m a solitary swimmer she thought a distance challenge might work. So, something like swimming the Channel (21 miles according to the Channel Swimming Association), or swimming across the Solent (mile and a quarter), and asking others if they’d like to join me with us regularly clocking in to update distances swum to date. I then got carried away. Pells Pool in Lewes is top of my list of lidos I’d like to swim in this year. I checked out the route on the AA Route Planner. It’s 94.9 miles / 152.7km away from my home! Imagine, though, I could swim the distance there AND swim in it too. That’s the equivalent of 5090 lengths of the pool at Kentish Town. Here’s Pells – doesn’t it look gorgeous? (Photo credit @PellsPool)

Pells Lido 2015

Is there a pool you’d like to swim to this season – and then swim in? Please do let me know if you’d like to join the challenge. I’m going to get drawing and do a lido-ometer with some other distances-to-lidos marked up along the way. If I do this metaphorically I can first swim to London Fields Lido, on to Hampton lido, out to Charlton Lido, perhaps with an honourable diversion inside to the London Aquatics Centre as it’s such a special pool to visit, and then it’ll be smooth journey south to Pells. Once I’m there I could head north out of London up the A1 to Ilkley Lido – scene of a top 2015 family day out – that’d be a total of 11,206 30m lengths.

I’ve always been a bit envious of some of the swimming hats at the lido – particularly the pink one with ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ on it. Mind boggling, I think the lady is a Channel swimmer. So perhaps through this I can earn myself a special ‘I’ve swum to Pells Pool’ hat…

Will you join me on my challenge? Leave a comment here or find me on twitter @loveswimming

(Pells 5090 – 40 = 5050 to go!)






Warm water swimming in Wantage – looking for a goal

New Swim Hat joins the other

We have been staying with my parents since Boxing Day, and so far the family’s clocked up two trips to the local pool. I drew the short straw yesterday, and missed the swimming races (Footballing Son & Father doing 2 lengths v Super Swimmer Daughter doing 3 lengths, and yes she did beat them), to do a food shop. Today I dashed down to have a solitary swim. It’s a public 25m pool operated by Better in Wantage, and I love it.

I have visited this place on and off for 4 decades. It’s the pool of childhood lessons, doggedly swimming laps to earn those fabric badges to be sewn proudly onto costumes, and weekend mats and balls sessions brilliantly designed to exhaust my own kids. I have done my heel in and am off Proper Walks, so the itch to swim was particularly strong. Up and down I went, without the Task Master (aka Super Swimmer Daughter) to challenge me to races or sets. The little voice started up in my head ‘well you’ve done your lido distance, you can get out now’. “But you can’t compare swimming in 29’C water to 10’C water, you have to keep going, you have to do more!” replied my own internal task master. I carried on, did some sprints, had a lot of rests, and did an ok distance. Well not really ok as only 1km but the flipside of this outdoor swimming is my fitness and stamina has dropped with the temperature.

The thing about running is you get going and carry on, you don’t turn back early. But with swimming the dastardly voice in your head offers an exit every time you turn – you can just give up and get out.

I need to set myself a very clear target before I get in and stick to it.

I need to remind myself why I’m swimming, it’s not enough to just do a dip, I need to use the time to refresh myself and challenge myself.

I don’t have a target as I don’t have a goal beyond a very loose ‘stay fit-ish / get fitter / look better’. I clearly need to be a whole lot SMARTER with my target setting, and need to start using plans from sites like  SwimFit for some new indoor / warm water swims. They produce sets of cards with different workouts on, which I’ve found at Ironmonger Row and Barnet Copthall but nowhere else; I need to dig them out online, laminate them and take them poolside.

After today’s swim I lay on my back floating in the shallow end, doing ripple angels in the water (think snow angels and you get the idea), looking up at the ceiling that transports you to a ski chalet or into a sauna with its pale brown wooden planks, thinking about challenges and not giving up.

Wherever you’re swimming enjoy yourself. Don’t give up.

PS the second Christmas hat belongs to the Super Swimmer Daughter

Books for Christmas for you or the swimmer in your life

There is still (just) time to get a book or two for the swimmer in your life. Here are the ones on my list this year. I’ve picked these because I’ve read about them, listened to the authors on the radio, or been intrigued by mentions on twitter. I should add I haven’t read them – that’s why I’m asking for them – but I’m looking forward to hopefully finding them under the tree:

My first pick is Downstream  A History and Celebration of Swimming in the River Thames by Caitlin Davis (Arum). I heard Caitlin on Woman’s Hour in the summer and was intrigued to find out more about ladies swimming in the river back in Victorian times.

I’m keen to hear more about Thames swimming as I’ve had three life enhancing holiday swims in it during the last 18 months. Twice with a family group of cousins near Pangbourne and at Sittingbourne (where we saw a kingfisher) and once with just the super swimmer (aged 11 1/2) and my sister’s dog near  Shiplake. Oh the fun of being able to jump into a river and swim off and then share a flask of tea or Ribena on the bank!

Dip by Andrew Fusek Peters – I picked this after I found a review by Matt Haig in The Independent. The author has had depression, and this looks to be an intensely personal account of how wild swimming joined him on his journey to recovery.

Having lost my mojo twice this week, and twice grabbed it back in the pool, I know how lucky I am to be able to swim through drizzle or under grey skies to be rewarded when the sun comes out and spreads a silver sheen across the water. Sometimes on Sunday mornings I swim to clear my head of a grumpy mood, to set myself up to be a better mum and wife for the rest of the day.

The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway. I picked up some great buzz on twitter as it came out in the UK in the autumn.  It’s the true story set in a Hawaiian sugar plantation in 1937 of a group of kids who were challenged to become Olympian swimmers by their teacher – they had nothing, no pools to train in, just fetid ditches. Julie’s on twitter here.

Or… you could try them (or you) with a copy of H2OpenMagazine. This magazine is a whole new world to me. I didn’t know it existed til a colleague met the editor at a gymnastics event their respective children were attending. They got chatting, as you do when you’re spending hours watching your kids perform, and she told him she knew someone keen on swimming outside. So hey presto she was given a copy to pass to me. It’s  packed full of swimmers’ exploits and tips, and me and my super swimming daughter (now almost 12) have really  enjoyed reading about other swimmers’ incredible feats. There are instructions on how to prepare your venue for an Ice Mile – which could involve bringing in a crane to remove the sheets of ice you’ve had to carve out of the water. Quite glad the temperatures at Parliament Hill Lido have stayed so balmy we haven’t needed to bring in any ice breakers…. Looking at the magazine, and chatting to the editor on twitter has got me thinking about what my swimming goals may be for 2016, after all those intrepid swimmers all started somewhere. You can find the magazine on twitter here.

It was 11’C at the lido today, a whole 7′ warmer than the average temperature over the last few years on 20th December…

I’m into lido(swimming) not lipo (suction)

So far this week I’m swum outdoors once, and been followed by two different liposuction companies on twitter. When I glanced at twitter and saw that @southportlipo was a new follower I thought ‘brilliant, a new lido to add to my list to swim in next year.’ Then I looked again. ‘What? Is this a hint?’ I’m really not into liposuction. I’m all for #ThisGirlCan, whatever shape she is, and the idea of sucking stuff out just doesn’t appeal at all. If I was to emerge sylph like from a spot of liposuction perhaps I might not be able to swim so happily in colder water.

Later on today I noticed I’ve been followed by @Leeds_Lipo too. I think I’d better either get back in the pool quick, so I’m in less need of lipo, or gently explain I’m keener on swimming than surgical procedures.


Just after the launch of the #ThisGirlCan campaign some research was published about women abandoning swimming. The figures were dramatic, with three times as many women as men giving up swimming in the previous year (you can read more here).  If you’re intrigued by #ThisGirlCan hop over to read more  – I hope there’ll be a second wave to the campaign next year, just as I hope the Amateur Swimming Association has more positive news to report on a year on in January. Is it body image or is it something else?

Other forms of exercise are that much more ‘get up and go’ aren’t they, bung your trainers on and off you trot / stumble / sprint, but swimming takes a bit more planning, and when you go first thing or after work the pool can be offputtingly busy. I’d love to swim more often but home / work / family / chauffeuring duties mean I’m a solid 3x a week at the moment. But when I do go I get to experience the joy of a giant pool, with no one’s bubbles to swim behind or collide with. On Friday I had a funny chat with a fellow swimmer. I was clad in costume, booties and gloves, wandering about purposely in the shallow end. He was on the side, looked across and said something. I replied ‘it’s fine’, “yes” he replied, “a solid 9”. I hope whatever you’re up to for the rest of the weekend you can rate it a solid 9 – and if you’re swimming outside it’s 9’C or over!


Lists, pastry making, ignoring Christmas shopping – and celebrating a cold water swim

This time of year can be a bit overwhelming, can’t it. Please don’t shake your head, I know I’m not the only one. There are lists galore in my head, lists half way out of my head being forgotten, lists in my work book, lists on the cupboards. I am fortunate not to work on Fridays so I get to use the last day of the week for playing catch up, swimming and doing household stuff.

Here is today’s typical Friday list. Things have to be achieved before the kids get home. Quick quick!!

lido list

Pastry – what’s that all about? I’m Making an Effort as we’ve an extra child staying tonight so I thought it’d be nice to have proper jam tarts made with our jam. Am I mad? Can nip down the road and just buy some pastry? Would I be letting anyone down if I did? No. But I do love baking and I’m not finding much time to do it right now.

I am all about lists, but I think after 12 or so items they risk becoming a bit overwhelming in themselves. I did read about having priority to do lists with just five items on, as you tick one you add a new one. Surely better than just turning a page in your notebook and rewriting a long task list neatly at the beginning of a new week….

I am not nearly there with my Christmas shopping. Well done to those who are, but please could you keep quiet about it. I’m struggling with the ideas. Christmas hasn’t quite started waking me up in the night, as other things are busy doing that. We will be hosting Christmas, which will be magical. There’s nothing like watching the kids open their stockings in our bed and going downstairs to turn the lights on the tree. The lovely very well meaning in-laws we’re hosting keep emailing to ask how they can help, or what they can bring. This is so generous, and I should be celebrating that, rather than panicking that I just don’t know as I haven’t got to thinking about cooking and eating yet and whether it’s ok to ask for something you might not eat when they’re with you.

So with all this going on, how about celebrating the little things we’ve done. Everyone’s achieved something today, be it clearing up the breakfast stuff, emptying the washing machine, making an overdue phone call or being nice to someone else. My personal pat on the back comes from dashing off to the lido to fit in a swim under a cloudless blue sky. Clad in swimming costume, funny bootees and gloves (which feel like you’re wearing buoyant rubber gloves) I clocked up an 11 length swim in 9’C. Never dreamed I’d manage that!

lido temp

Oasis Swimming Pool, shopping & brownies: my #BlackFriday recipe

How was Black Friday for you? Were you seduced by the offers? Did you click on the emails as they poured into your inbox? Did you venture out onto the high street? Or did you just steer well clear, waiting for the dawn of Civilised Saturday?

Friday without a swim is not a good way to end the week. But Christmas hosted by someone who has done no Christmas shopping is not an option, so I had to combine the two.

I dropped the Super Fast 11 year old Swimmer off at the train station, left the car at home, sped off to the Post Office sorting office to collect a parcel on my bike, returned home, packed my kit and set off to shop and swim. The plan was to Beat the Crowds and get to John Lewis for 9.30am. Hmph, a 4 person deep crowd on the Victoria line platform at Highbury derailed the schedule a bit as I waited for 3 tubes to pass and boarded the 4th…  With my husband’s words ‘John Lewis, on Black Friday? Are you insane?’ in my head I marched down the road and into the shop. Where were the crowds? Not in the entrance foyer and glamorous make-up bit and definitely not further back in the menswear area. There the customer to staff ratio was 2:1 with lots of helpful partners in black and lace dresses and others in leggings poised to run around and be very helpful. This bode very well for my trip. Tick, tick on the list. Up to childrenswear, where the staff outnumbered customers 2:1. A slightly bewildered staff member asked me where everyone was, ‘is it madness downstairs?’ No. But perhaps it was later. The shop opens from 8am – 10pm….

blog dog
Spotted in an Oxford Street shop window


Swiftly out down the back stairs and on to Gap. Many even more helpful staff members greeting the large handful of customers with a cheerful ‘it’s 50% off everything instore today’. The problem about messages like this is you then start thinking off list and about yourself, which of these tops, jumpers, coats, and scarves do I want? I was side-tracked, trying on this, trying on that. ‘Get back on list’ shouted the Christmas Voice in my head.

The whole Black Friday Bonanza made me feel a bit guilty, what on earth was I doing, looking for things for me? ‘If we don’t have your size buy it anyway and you can exchange it another day, don’t you deserve a treat?’ asked one assistant. Argh no I don’t want to come back here and do this shopping all over again, and no I don’t deserve (another) treat. There is a limit, isn’t there?

Armed with more bags and more goodies than I intended I pounded down the pavement for my reward: a swim. I’ve talked before about The Oasis Leisure centre in Covent Garden. It has 2 pools, one outdoor heated and one indoor. There were no special offers, and the place wasn’t marketing itself as the perfect antidote to Black Friday. Instead the indoor pool was shut, and everyone was ploughing up and down in the outdoor pool. At 27’C it was balmy, far too warm, and just full, full, full of people. There were no fun swimming hats, like the ‘Ferries are for Wimps’ one I look out for at Parliament Hill lido. My red reindeer one was by far the best. The pool looked tiny, like a paddling pool. At 27.5m it’s a standardish size, but if you’re used to a 60m length it’s small. There’s none of the sense of achievement at reaching the end of the length that I get in the lido. Instead the wall comes up too fast. I was forever swimming in someone else’s bubbles or wake. I found it hard to settle into a rhythm. There was no chance to lie on my back at the end and gaze up at the patch of blue sky surrounded by grey, as I normally like to. But on the flipside how amazing to be able to swim outside, under London’s sky, looking up at London’s sky just 10 minutes from Oxford Street. Instead of fretting about things not being perfect I flipped from freestyle to breaststroke to backstroke.

blog pastry
Hiding round the corner from the pool lies temptation in the shape of Portuguese custard tarts


So for me Black Friday did involve hopping, but also a swim, brownies and burgers with a very good friend, returning home in time to greet the Super Fast Swimmer after her day at school, and deleting all the discount emails. There’s a proper recipe for a Black Friday.

As to my next swim, it’ll be a challenging one. A lido buddy said to me ‘there’s a nice icy edge to 11’C’. I’m not sure which words will spring to mind to describe the current water temperature at Parliament Hill. It’s hovering between 5-8’C.

blog shop and swim
Have shopping bags, have swim kit: Black Friday Bags





Blowing the whistle at the wrong time: mentoring in the workplace & poolside at swimming galas


I passed the first stage in my effort to become a British Swimming Judge Level 1 and am now a Qualified Timekeeper, pretty much all thanks to a lady called Jane. There was just the one very audible hiccup along my way. I’d donned my white kit and was poolside at Southbury Road. I’d had it explained to me twice what my role would be as guardian of my lane for the 1500m race. The second the distance came up I thought ‘Help, how many more than a lot of lengths is that?’ and scrambled to check on my phone. Of course it’s obvious, but if you’re at the end of the lane with the stopwatch in your hand you need to know for sure if it’s 60 lengths or not. I was stationed at the start / finish line / ‘evens’ end. My job, beyond timing, was to check turns were all legal, and to blow my whistle for a very loud and long time as the swimmer approached the turn into and out of length 58, to tell them they’re into the home straight. Clutching a lane countdown sheet, numbered down from 59, which was confusing as I was at the evens end, I was ticking the lengths off. Quick it’s time to blow I thought, how odd no one else is blowing, well I’ll just get on and BLLLLLOOOOOOW. I’m not sure why I peaked and blew two lengths early, but everyone poolside sure did hear my loud and long blast on the whistle. Mortifying, yes, very mortifying, yes. I didn’t dare ask the tired swimmer if I’d confused them. Lesson learned: work out your own system, and if you normally count up not down then do that.

For the afternoon session – yes quite a full-on long day by the pool – I was mentored throughout by the best possible person. I know only that her name is Jane. She is fully qualified. She stood beside me through the racing peppering the afternoon with questions, what are we looking for in a butterfly stroke, what should we watch for on a breaststroke turn, is it legal to stop during freestyle (yes, but no steps may be taken). Mentoring is an essential part of training to be a qualified official, as a newbie you get to learn from someone who has days and weeks and years (not hours) of poolside experience, knows the rules backwards, and understands what’s an infringement and what’s not. Thanks also to the day’s referee who coached and coaxed me along as he questioned exactly when to blow the blooming whistle next time.

I asked another club parent about mentoring and volunteering for the club, and he explained how he thought it was his way of giving back. Someone else’s parents or guardians have watched over your child at galas and at training, and here’s a chance to pass on your thanks through your own time. It’s very simple, if a club doesn’t field officials (qualified / trainees) then it can’t enter swimmers to race in a gala. Having been to many galas I’m very conscious of the need now to give back. But at the same time I have to remember that I have two children, not one, and a husband, and only two of the household are Really Into Swimming, and sometimes the footballing team need the car and we all need family time.

Mentoring is all around us: in the workplace on a formal level, when you’re matched with A Mentor, and also at a very informal and unofficial basis with people – or perhaps one person – helping a new starter, showing them the ropes, guiding them as they start out in new surroundings, with new colleagues and unfamiliar systems. I’ve been really lucky embarking on my job to be guided along, no more so by the person who suggested, ‘Make a difference with little things before beating yourself up about big things’ and the other who told me it’s ok to feel a bit like a fish out of water as you start adapting and learning, as everyone does.

At home I suppose we’re trying to mentor our kids through their transition into secondary school and beyond. When we’re not over-parenting or nagging that is.

Conquering colder water swimming. No, I am not mad, I’ve just decided to make a success of this cold water business.

So I’m four full weeks into the challenge to keep on swimming outside as long as I’m enjoying it. I’ve I have swum under the London sky 14 times since 23 September. The experience has changed massively. When I started the water temperature at the lido was 14’C and now it’s hovering around 11-12’C. In wetsuit wearing days I thought there was a big gap between 15′ and 16’C, now I know there’s a chasm between 14′ and 11’C. But hey, it’s fine, and I’m now almost feeling like a bit of a pro.

I’ve come across some words of wisdom from the team at H2Open Magazine who say ‘plunging into cold water can give you an endorphin rush that can set you up nicely for the day’. Couldn’t agree more.

Approaching the water I know it’s all about thinking positive. I don’t have the words ‘ooooh it’s going to be freezing’ anywhere near my head, instead I firmly plant ‘I CAN do this, I LOVE doing this’ in there instead. For some reason one Friday I had Shirley Hughes’s words from her picture book about opposites ‘bathwater’s hot, seawater’s cold’ in my mind, I think the temperature gauge must have set me off, so I added another phrase ‘lido water’s not’.

bath temperature

I wade around in the shallow end, put my hat and goggles on, take my goggles off again and unsteam them, and then park all issues and problems and thoughts poolside and just get going. I pick a mantra to chant, perhaps ‘This Is Amazing’ or count stroke sets ‘1, 2, 3, 4’, until I reach the end of the first length. It’s all about getting through that transition phase from poolside to underwater at the end of the first length. By then it’s not remotely uncomfortable. I know if I stick at it, chipping away stroke by stroke, I’ll be fine. I stay in til I’ve done 1.32k = 22 lengths and completed my mission of the moment. It’s not a long way but this isn’t about distance, more mind over matter and gritty determination.

I think success so far has been all about choosing the right attitude. I once watched an amazing motivational video called Fish Philosophy about fishmongers in an American market, who could track their sales down to the experience they gave all of their customers. They knew if they chose to smile, crack a joke, juggle with a fish, and entertain their customers and possible customers they’d succeed in selling more fish to more people. It all boils down to you and the choice you make. So if I want this challenge of mine to work I’ve got to borrow their can do attitude and choose to make it work.

I can’t give up. I’ve embarked on this challenge and I’m not quitting!

#THISGIRLCAN … even if she might perhaps soon need to add boots, gloves and rash vest into the mix

Finally thought I’d share this infographic which the guys at H2Open Magazine have produced which is full of sensible advice  – NB note the mention of tea and cake


Wearing the wrong trousers home from secondary school, nagging and lost property: a year 7 parent’s over parenting conundrum.

I hadn’t realised the biggest Secondary School Challenge would be over parenting. The end of primary school was very easy going, once SATs were done homework stopped, all of the structure of the timetable dissolved and the fun started. Secondary school has hit us all hard. Homework every night. Getting the right sports kit and boots in the right bag on the right night. Packing school bag. Catching the right bus and the non-stopping train. Wearing their own trousers home. It may be a familiar story.

Trying to teach an 11 year old to timetable their life is interesting, doubly so when you’ve got twins. How to prioritise what has to be done over what they’d like to do. Is it over parenting, or is it nagging, or is over parenting just a more PC term for nagging?

The nagging doesn’t make me feel at all good. Once I start I am apt to go on and on. So how not to start in the first place? Choose your argument seems to be a good mantra. It doesn’t really matter if towel is on the floor and bed is unmade as long as the protractor, German dictionary, water bottle and oyster card are in the right place. Quite a bit of my nagging seems to revolve around possessions. I am definitely Nagger In Chief, my lovely supportive husband doesn’t have any nagging bones in him.

So far the youngest members of the household have lost / mislaid:

1 football sock – necessitating my high speed cycle ride to sports shop to pick up replacement (Cue: Sorry Mummy am I making you late for something? Grr yes)

1 mouth guard – he ambled down to sports shop to buy replacement with pocket money (mega brownie point: he took the initiative)

1 pair of trousers – tricky one this, coming home in someone else’s trousers when they are taller and scarier than you are. Somehow thanks to the kind ladies in the school office and both mums using name tapes both pairs were reunited with the rightful owners. (a lot of nagging involved with this one)

1 sports sweatshirt (I) – very difficult this when the Super Swimmer had borrowed her friend’s and then it went AWOL only to turn up on someone else who didn’t want to give it back. I bought another one and eventually the original one got back to the right girl. (nagging from 2 mums)

1 sports sweatshirt (II) – abandoned on the side of the sports pitch, with no time (inclination?) to retrieve. (some fruitless nagging)

1 coat – left on the train 😦 (I rang round, visited Kings X to no avail, bought another one argh)

1 watch – heaven knows where (replaced with pocket money, what about my time spent traipsing to shop?)

Finally on Friday night it reached a crescendo with the loss of the bible aka Homework Diary. Not the end of the world as kind friends filled in the gaps with what’s to be done, but who knows how you manage on Monday without one.

Nagging and not nagging doesn’t really help me with our Lost Property Challenge does it. I’m sure I didn’t lose stuff at school. Everything was named and everything came home. However  much I nag or ask them to remember things they might not. I wonder if we should introduce a No Lost Property and No Nagging Incentive Scheme. If I don’t nag I get points and if they don’t lose things they get something? Ideas from Successful Parents out the other side of the Nagging and Lost Property Maelstrom would be much appreciated.

A Gala Mum’s top 10 survival tips – enjoying weekends by a swimming pool

gala programmes

As I swam through the steam rising from the warm water at Oasis in Covent Garden I remembered we’ve got another gala this weekend. In fact there’s one this Saturday, another the following Sunday and a third to make it three weekends in a row at the start of February. The Super Swimmer (now aged 12) had a gala-light autumn as settling into and surviving secondary school meant competitions took a bit of a backseat.

I’ve lost count of how many galas we’ve been to, it’s like the board game Touring England zig-zagging from home to Enfield, Barnet Copthall, Braintree, Crystal Palace, Southgate, Harlow, Luton, Basildon and back. Now we’ve finessed our double act I’m enjoying galas and the time we spend navigating around together more and more. Here are my tips on surviving – and enjoying –  gala life.

Check the date & team list

This might seem highly obvious. But it’s the obvious ones that catch you out isn’t it. One winter’s morning we left home at 6.45am. We arrived at the pool and the Super Swimmer disappeared off for her warm up. I went for a run around the neighbouring rugby pitch, and came back to shower. Where a very cross Super Swimmer found me, she wasn’t in the team that day but the next. 6.45am the following day we started again and agreed going forward we would both check the schedule.

Leave enough time (so you can bag a parking space)

Competitors get anxious, and you don’t want yours fretting about arriving late and missing the warm up. But more importantly you need to score a parking space. Some venues share parking with other sports – so when a rugby game coincides with a gala you’ll be looking for space on the golf course…


Pack a bag of easy to eat and high energy foods. Through trial and error, our list now includes homemade flapjack (or cereal bars), dried apricots & raisins, honey sandwich, chicken & pasta in a flask.


They need a big water bottle – and just as important to find out where to refill it. I normally take a couple more, one for me and one spare filled up for the times she can’t find the water fountain. We normally pack one of those concentrated squash things too.

Your work / reading

At first I thought I could take work notes to go through,  a manuscript to read or a book to devour. I soon learned it’s nigh on impossible to concentrate; watching swimmers is mesmerizing and distracting. If you need to work remember, your car is your haven so go and sit in there during the warm up at least (this often lasts for an hour), and for all other times just read a newspaper (as unlike with a book it doesn’t really matter if you forget every word, and there are nice pictures to look at).

Phone Charger

Essential for those Spectator Endurance Events that last all day. Though at some pools getting access to a plug to charge up is a sport in itself.

Get Away From the Pool

Your car is also your swimmer’s haven. If you can get them out into it during the lunch break. Away from chlorine, damp kit and noise they can chill out, eat and listen to their own noise with our without their friends. Or take them for a drink at a café off site (the golf club café at Barnet Copthall does a mean hot chocolate).

Their Kit

Swimmers have a lot to think about. So some might leave their goggles / racing costume / towel / top / flipflops poolside. Having once had to return to the site of a gala to retrieve a sweatshirt amongst 3 bin liners of forgotten kit we now have a checklist as nagging is better than return trips. Some dry kit and a spare towel is always welcome in the car, particularly for those 3 sessions morning, afternoon and evening events.

Your Kit

At some galas there’s not enough seating for all of the parent spectators. So far I’ve found seating under most pressure at Barnet. So if you’re going there pack a garden kneeler. You may laugh, but sitting on an inch of plastic covered foam is a heck of a lot nicer than on very wet concrete.

Helping Makes the Time Go By in a Flash – albeit a slightly damp one

One sure fire way to make galas pass faster is if you are working poolside as an official. As a Judge Level 1 in training / newly qualified Time Keeper (hurray!) gala hours whizz by in a blur of concentration. There are also seats reserved for you (no kneelers required) but I’m too nervous to sit down….!

Final piece of advice

Make the most of the fact your child wants and needs you there to support and champion them. Soon they *might* be able to get the train on their own…

My challenge to swim the distance to Pells Pool in Lewes continues

5090 lengths – 140 = 4850 lengths to go