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!


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





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


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


Have thermos, have shades, have woolly hat: swimming in the rain and the sun

My routine is changing big time on Monday and there will be no more day time swims Monday – Thursday, so I’m packing in as many outdoor ones as I can right now. My kit’s changed as you can see the Red Reindeer Hat has been joined by a thermos, woolly hat and extra layer for afterwards.

Autumn Swim Kit

There’s been a trip to the Ladies Pond on Hampstead Heath – the forecast seemed good enough to challenge another mum to a dip. I texted her  ‘wear a hat’, so she brought a woolly one – if you’re not diving in it really doesn’t matter as long as it keeps you warm. We met at 8.50am. It was not warm. It was not sunny. Undaunted we marched the couple of miles to the leafy mecca that is the Ladies Pond. I saw 59’/15′ etched up on the blackboard, telling us the water temperature. No chance to chicken out. But oh what bliss, oh what a wonderful thing to do because as we swam semi gracefully around the pond the sun came out, warm enough to really feel it on our shoulders. Well worth every penny of the £2 entry – and yes we did dash off for hot chocolate and toast.

I’ve swum at the Parliament Hill Lido three times this week. Yesterday swimmers were joined by a large film crew which was slightly disconcerting as they lugged their equipment and hung around waiting for us to leave the pool. It was pouring with rain, but not cold, so 15′ in the water, 12′ out. Lying on my back in the shallow end I looked up at the grey sky with the rain falling on my face. Such a soft and magical sensation. Reward was some rather good granola from The Spoke on the Holloway Road. Hurray for the sun and blue above today and the chance for a longer business-like swim.

View before swim on the heath and rainy swim reward

View on the sunny day, and rainy day reward
View on the sunny day, and rainy day reward

I know it’s fully possible to swim through the winter in very cold temperatures but the advice is to do it at least 3 times a week to avoid frostbite, and I’ve not managed that. Yet. I used to winter swim til it got down to 10’C, kitted out in a full wetsuit, boots and gloves. I swam 600m in 6’C and it took over an hour to warm up, it hurt, really hurt and it wasn’t really exercise, rather endurance.

It is a very different swim encased in neoprene, for a start you’re ridiculously buoyant. Although it lets you swim for longer and later in the season you miss the euphoria of immersion in chilly water. I could also mention in small print that wetsuits are very unforgiving. They’re designed to fit like a glove, so they notice when you’ve gained a pound, and I have no desire to don the wetsuit and not be able to do up the zip!!!!

The plan for the season is to swim at least twice a week, outside, sporting a ‘rash vest’, for as long as I’m enjoying it. The vest is meant to keep you a bit warmer and more comfortable, rather than give you a skin condition.

PS I know that for winter swimmers and many outdoor swimmers 15′ is positively balmy

New season, new challenge: trials of a trainee swimming gala official

Autumn is most definitely with us, rain and conkers have begun to fall, and most importantly the temperature gauge at the lido is on its way down fast. I had the most perfect end of summer swim at the weekend in the enormous 60m by 27m pool at Gospel Oak which I had all to myself. No one’s limbs but mine breaking the surface of the water, no one to avoid colliding with and no one but me gazing at the silver stainless steel lining on the bottom. Heaven can be the Gospel Oak lido. It was 16′ which is absolutely fine if you keep moving and are sporting a new festive swim cap like mine from Canada.

swim cap

I’m sure autumn’s a time for reinvention, why leave it all to January when you’re feeling bloated, depressed and cold? I’ve taken on new challenges, the first is very much in the spirit of #ThisGirlCan or perhaps #ThisMotherisGoingToTryTo and is to train for British Swimming’s Judge Level 1 qualification. This entails three classroom sessions: learning about time keeping, what’s a legal turn and what’s not, heaps more about correct strokes and watching videos when me the novice tries to spot what on earth the super slick swimmer could possibly be doing wrong.

Then there are the practise sessions poolside – 10+ of these – when the trainees are let loose sans L Plates or even P Plates to time and watch and judge at real galas featuring highly competitive swimmers. You might imagine adrenalin is all kept to the guys diving off the blocks and pounding up and down, but oh no, I was overflowing with the stuff as I stood there all in white (eek, yes, white polo shirt, white jeans, white flip flops and *tangerine toe nails*) clasping the stopwatch in one hand and the back up button in the other trying not to press STOP or LAP or START prematurely.

This first poolside practice was at Barnet Copthall, a pool I have travelled to many times for the Super Swimmer’s (now aged 11) galas. I normally fail to get a seat to watch, so squidge up with other parents on the damp concrete. But this time I got to perch on one of the Officials’ Only chairs. There’s a lot of leaping up and down – check out the rule manual:

‘On hearing the long whistle the Timekeepers must;

Stand up to indicate readiness to the Referee (in fact I didn’t want to sit down lest I missed something)

Listen / watch intently for the starting signal (YOU BET I WAS!)

When the starting signal is given Timekeepers must;

Start the watch

Sit down

Check that the watch is running’

But before all that for each race you have to check the swimmer’s in the correct event, correct lane, correct heat, what their name is, what stroke they’re doing and how many lengths. That is a lot of checking, whether you’re talking experienced masters swimmers or enthusiastic and perhaps very nervy young ones. They just thrust their entry card at you, or put it on your clipboard, and if you’re not very careful you end up with a wodge of cards not knowing who’s who. (NB note to tutor: I will get better at this!) I bet I’m not the only trainee who’s panicked at a ‘200m IM’ thinking is that 200m of each stroke, or 50m of 4??

Woe oh woes it went pear-shaped twice. Twice I pressed the wrong button. It’s mortifying as you have to flag down a Proper Qualified Official who takes over timing your lane.

But hey I am really enjoying this. I haven’t got a new qualification for so long, and this is fun, I’m learning rules, understanding systems and getting to grips with the world of competitive swimming which my daughter is so immersed in. The language of the rule book is quite particular, and takes some learning. My tutor was right, it was best to start with a Masters event (so adult swimmers) but I think you get wetter at them, try standing beside the blocks when a grown man dives in, whoosh down the legs goes half the pool water.

The Proper Qualified Officials were so kind, one had laid on an enormous officials’ feast for lunch (I’m wondering what said feast etiquette is, is it an excuse for me to bake and take something along or would that be seen as currying favour at the start of my training?), and some of the swimmers said thank you. But I’m very sorry to the team who asked if ‘are we going over’ for not knowing what on earth that meant (it’s a reference to diving over the top of swimmers in previous race) and hey to the medley team who apparently did an illegal handover but I couldn’t disqualify as I was too busy fretting about timekeeping I do know that the key to being an official is giving the swimmer the benefit of the doubt.

I can’t really believe that I got to time Jane Asher. Not the cake impresario, as I thought of as I looked at the timesheet, but multi medal-winner and record holder – Jane Asher, who took up competitive swimming aged 40 and is an utter inspiration. Here she is starring this video alongside @LouiseMinchin

If you’re swimming this week have a good one – and if you’re officiating and you’re all qualified, good on you, I’ve a long way to go! You can catch me all in white on 19th September…

So #ThisGirlCan run and swim (now) and her kids can swim, run and play football. But no thanks to lacrosse at school.

Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan campaign has been everywhere over the last week or so. It’s polarised opinion; some feel it’s sexist, the women in the clips look too fit with too much cleavage on show, whilst others think it’s great – and I’m firmly in that camp. It’s got us talking about exercise and that’s a good thing, surely. I’ll write another time what the twins think of #ThisGirlCan film…

We are a sporty household, home to:

Me: swimmer, recently-returned-to-running runner

Supportive Husband: speedy cycler-to-work, kick around in the park footballer

11 year old daughter aka Speedy Swimmer: swimmer, footballer, sometime cross country runner, recently discovered handballer

1 1 year old son aka the Footballer: football, enthusiastic runner, cricketer

This means the house is full of kit and trainers and on a bad day the hall is a jumble of football boots, trainers, pool buoys, swimming bags, bikes and balls.

In between work, school, homework and sporting commitments there’s not much (woops, any?) time for culture and music. Some families juggle it all and do lots of trips to places but we don’t.

The #ThisGirlCan campaign got me thinking about what sport has meant to me in my life. I went to a girls’ boarding school where lacrosse dominated, the games mistress used to say we should be ‘masters of one sport’ rather than trying out lots. This didn’t work for me, or anyone who wasn’t in the school team. Weekends were spent sitting on wet grassy slopes, enrobed in enormous school cloaks, ‘watching’ the teams play whilst smuggling sweets into my mouth. Not great. My sister told me the only way to survive GSCE and A Level exam season was to make use of the offer of daily swimming, so every day during those summer terms I swam up and down the school pool. I tried running in the 6th form. This entailed going out on my own in the dark stumbling around the school grounds. Not great.

Exercise means a lot to me now. This diagram pretty much sums it up to me:

exercise chart best

I asked the children what it means to them and why they like it. Here’s what one said:

11 year old Speedy Swimmer

(swim trains 4x week + galas)

I’m good at it

I can talk with my friends (this is the post pool time when a parent chauffeur is waiting outside wondering where on earth she is)

I sleeper better afterwards

It makes me feel good

It’s nice away from school stuff

I like winning (when I said it wasn’t all about winning she said no, but that’s the best bit)

What she didn’t say was how her confidence has grown as her swimming has improved, hurray.

Next time it’ll be the turn of the Footballer.

When I was 40 a very good author friend introduced me to Couch to 5k. This running programme does exactly as it says, it gets you off the couch and able to run 5k. It’s a 9 week programme and it’s brilliant. So in 2013 (6 months after she told me about it) I downloaded the podcasts – not the NHS one she recommended but for some reason an American one starring a 40 year old runner called Robert Ullrey. It really does work. You simply do exactly as the voice on the podcast tells you to, 3 times a week. So thank you Robert for getting me running. I even earned a hand drawn ‘Well Done Mummy’ picture from the Speedy Swimmer, featuring a rather large and lumpen figure slumped on a couch, with an arrow to an unrealistically thin stick figure running off in the distance. I had to stop last spring when I had a stint off games, but I’ve started again and am managing to look after my back better this time round. If only such a running programme had been on offer at school!

At university I took to the water and took up rowing. This was good fun, and being a member of the college rowing club led me to hang out with other sporty people – mainly hockey players – on my course. But I couldn’t run, I was hopeless at land based training. Oh the memory of a ‘compulsory run’ for the college club, to which only 2 girls turned up. The other girl sped off with the boys and I was left stopping and starting miles behind, mortified. I could handle the ergo though, and loved pulling high scores for 2k pieces. By my third year I had somehow taught myself to run / pound the pavement for an hour.

And now of course my favourite sport is swimming. It’s brought me and the Speedy Swimmer closer together as she shares her swimming tips and every now and then gives me some coaching in the pool.

I have been helped and supported by so many people on my sporting journey to fitness and back to fitness. I have three cheerleaders at home, and was lucky to have many lovely friends and colleagues like Lauren (marathon runner) and Georgia (swimmer) making all the  right noises as I regaled them of my attempts to run and swim. Thanks guys!

Let’s get on with it – new year swims, birthday cake baking for twins and no more prevaricating

Around the nation people are attempting to tighten their belts around their festive paunches. In this household we’re preparing to let them out another notch for today is the Footballer and Super Fast Swimmer’s 11th birthday and there will be cake for tea. Early Jan is a pretty dire time for a birthday, but at the time back in 2004 I didn’t fancy hanging onto them inside any longer and I was very proud of how long their gestation was. So there’s been more cake baking and icing. They share a cake on their birthday – and have separate ones for their parties. For the second year running we’ve gone down the separate children separate icing route…

Birthday cake

Today I had a long list of things to get done, with baking a reward for achieving some of the bigger and less appetising looking tasks.  There was no time for messing around, coffees or chats at the school gates, so instead straight up to my desk, fingerless mittens on and flask of hot tea at my side. This thermos business is a winner – it means no excuses for ‘just popping to make a cup of tea’ as I have a ready supply of piping hot tea inside it.

This new sense of urgency that’s arrived with the kids’ return to school has really taken hold, and it’s very exciting. I’ve workbooks filling with to do lists. Some of the tasks I’d rather not do, or am apt to dodge, but thanks to the 10 minute rule (set a timer, work on the less attractive job, and by the time the pinger goes you’ll be so into it you’ll complete it) I’m on track.

There was no prevarication either on New Year’s Day when me (donning 2 swimming hats and a costume), a friend and 3 children took to the North Sea for a quick dip. The adults had a proper swim, the kids a swifter immersion. It was beyond invigorating, it was BLISSFUL and BRACING. I can’t remember it being cold, but I do remember wanting to go straight back in afterwards. Here I am post swim with my brilliantly supportive and towel holding husband and a devilish glint in my eyes.

birthday cold swim

There was a smashing opinion piece in The Telegraph about cold water swimming recently which pretty much sums up all that’s good about it, and talks specifically of the hit you get going swimming in cold water. Addicts like me rave about the wonders of it,  how high the cold makes you feel, and how alive you are afterwards, but now  Dr Mark Harper a consultant anaesthetist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals (and expert advisor to the Outdoor Swimming Society) has researched the impact of cold water swimming on the body and says, in the Telegraph piece, ‘The benefits of exercise and cold-adaptation include better mood and better metabolism (especially with regard to the way the body handles sugar). There is even evidence to support the theory that cold adaptation –which can be achieved through open-water swimming – may actually reduce the overall risk of a heart attack.’

birthday cold

So when I got to Kentish Town Baths and saw this sign I ignored the groans and complaints from the ladies in the changing rooms, made some (probably annoying) very positive remarks, just thought ‘go for it’ and went for it, so  a swim in cool water, followed by a properly cold shower. Crazy? Probably. But boy I didn’t suffer from any kind of afternoon slump today, and I’m well awake and raring to welcome home my just turned 11 year olds.

The best books to give a swimmer for Christmas: order via Hive and your independent bookshop

I’ve been for another swim at London Fields Lido. There were mutterings that the heated water was a tad nippy so I took two pairs of gloves for afterwards as my hands get cold and take ages to warm back up again. The water was 19.5’C so fine in the spring or autumn but not quite so comfortable when the air is 8’C. There’s no bracing as you get in but you keep moving.

Last week new floodlights were installed poolside so you can swim in relative warmth til 9pm – must be magical. However the extended opening hours seem to be challenging the boiler, hence the cooler water temp.

I’ve gathered together a collection of swimming books this year. As there are 10 sleeps left until Christmas there’s plenty of time to add them to your wish list or give them to your swimming friends.

There are plenty of independent bookshop alternatives to the Large Online Company Based in Slough where you could buy these from – you could shop with Dulwich Books (Brockwell Lido round the corner, enormous events programme), Chorleywood Bookshop (smashing author events) and West End Lane Books (love the atmosphere but best of all their tweets). They will all happily order (and I’m sure post) books for you. Cleverly Hive allows you to select your favourite indie to support and order from online. I am now feeling slightly guilty for not making a longer list of brilliant independent bookshops I’ve been lucky enough to visit and work with, today I’ve just picked these three.

So here goes with my favourite swimming books (part 1) – which I’ve borrowed from the library, bought or pinched from my sister’s bookshelf:

swim waterlogphoto Swimming London

Waterlog-  A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain by Roger Deakin (Vintage)

I discovered this in my local library’s UK travel section. The author decided to travel all over the British Isles, and takes the reader with him, visiting every possible source of water you can swim in. From the Fowey in Cornwall to the North Sea via the ponds on Hampstead Heath to a mill pool in the River Avon. Intrigued? Then head on over to the blog Waterlogreswum where Roger’s escapades are reswum – you can also follow @WaterlogReswum on twitter.  It’s the perfect bedside reading companion, taking a dip at a time.

Swimming London by Jenny Landreth (Aurum Press)

I mention this book in all my swimming posts as it’s a bible for swimmers in the capital, with glorious photos and descriptions of 50 pools, lidos and lakes. She dwells on the Victorian Baths in Kentish Town and Camberwell, wonders at the Aquatic Centre in Stratford and is frank about the facilities at Denham Water-ski Club; and so much the better. Whenever I put it on a shelf the 10 year old Super Swimmer gets it back out again for us to pour over a different place to swim in.

swim leanne shap

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton – Particular Books

I discovered this thanks to Kate Kellaway’s review in the Observer click through to see the image which caught my eye in the paper. Leanne was a world class swimmer, representing Canada, and her autobiography takes us through early starts, pool deck side fall outs with her coach, and what swimming meant to her growing up and means to her now. I love to open this at random, I’ve just rediscovered her passage about needing to ‘Make a Commitment’ which she takes from Dr Keith Bell’s Nuts and Bolts of Psychology for Swimmers. He says ‘A commitment is important. Once you have set a long term goal, you have decided to make the trip. Without a commitment, however, you are liable to question each step of the way.’ Leanne’s own goal – to work out what to do with something ‘I do well but no longer have any use for’. Reminds me how if you don’t have a goal, be it in or out of the water, and don’t commit, you’re not really going to get anywhere.

swim home

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy (Faber)

I confess to not having read this yet, it’s on my Christmas reading pile and is the book I nabbed from my sister’s shelf. Let me know what you think of it.

Part 2 to follow later in the week