Post redundancy crossroads: navigating myself and my skills round diversions towards baking, swimming, publishing and people

I am supposed to be preparing for our after-school cookery club which we hold every week in the kitchen. This involves:

1. cleaning the kitchen

2. removing all papers – odd pieces, old homework, newspapers, written-on post-it notes – to recycling bin or into a neat pile on the stairs for ‘sorting later’

3. preparing surfaces for their weekly shroud of icing sugar and flour

4. geeing myself to be really calm about ensuing mayhem

I am also meant to be making fish pie for supper, and need to get a move on as the kitchen will need fumigating of fishy smells before the quite-fussy-fish-eater returns from school

But hey fuelled by the seriously good and very strong coffee at my favourite café, The Spoke, I’m ignoring everything and embarking on a new post. This morning I’ve thought a lot about the crossroads I’m at. I’ve wondered how best to represent it here, the sketches in my notebooks are garbled maps of balloons, scribbles and jottings.

There are seven roads off the junction leading to:








and some of the routes overlap. At each destination there are shiny things, and bright lights beckoning me. I don’t have an A-Z, SatNav or Google Maps to help me navigate my way. Sometimes one route seems best, other days another, and some days there are diversions blocking each way. I’ve popped the page from my notebook at the foot of this – you can tell it’s genuine as it’s not very legible.

Above it all there’s a signal gantry – a bit like on motorways, with three routes off it.

photo signal gantry

There’s a voice in my head that’s getting louder and stronger, boosted no end by my husband’s unswerving presence at my side, and the voice is urging, ‘Just do it all. Go for it.’ So that’s exactly what I am doing. And I’m hoping not to get lost along the way!

photo notebook December 2014

PS Whatever you’re doing and wherever you are (waving hello to readers here in the UK, in America, Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan) thank you very much for following my adventures.

Swimming outside in London’s Zone 1: steam and solitude at the Oasis pool in Covent Garden

I am mildly obsessed with swimming. I could write about outdoor swims, hotel pools and pools I’ve swum in on author tours, I could create lists of swimming books I’ve enjoyed and devise a post about London pools I’ve visited. I wish I was a better swimmer, I’m not graceful and I’m not fast, but I do love it.

Returning to the Oasis: Zone 1 swimming at its best

Today I swam in a pool I’ve not been in for 20 years: Oasis Covent Garden. I was yearning for an outdoor dip, but one for which I wouldn’t need my wetsuit or a 10 minute long shower afterwards to warm up. The Oasis has two pools, one indoor and one outdoor. There were just three of us there outside this morning, each with our own lane. I could vaguely see the other swimmers’ coloured hats through the steam coming off the water, but most of the time it felt as if I was completely on my own, swimming right in the heart of London. How magical is that? I could swim backstroke looking up at the blue winter sky and watch the clouds, or just plough freestyle. The only downside is the size, it felt a bit short and a tad shallow for me to be able to switch into a good rhythm. I didn’t take a photograph today as it’d have felt very intrusive and didn’t seem the right thing to do. But here’s the pool on the cover of Swimming London by @jennylandreth (published by Aurum)- a book which should be on the top of every capital swimmer’s Christmas list! Visit Jenny’s blog about swimming.

Top tip: don’t go Christmas shopping afterwards, it kind of broke the post swim spell…

photo Swimming London

Swimming in the Oasis in the 1990s

The changing rooms were terrible then, I thought it was an urban myth that people broke into the lockers and stole gym-goers’ and swimmers’ clothes and valuables until it happened to someone in our office…. But the water was gorgeous.  I used to cycle to work on Wednesday tube strike days and have a dip in whichever pool had fewest people in, and then head off to buy hot buttered toast to eat at my desk. Perfect.

Swimming mid tour in Guildford

Midway through a long tour we had a two hour rest time in Guildford. I hurtled into M&S to pick up a costume, hopped on a bus to the pool, bought some goggles and spent half an hour gliding up and down in Guildford Spectrum’s competition pool. I am sure I was a much better publicist and tour companion as a result of that swim, and from then on  I always packed a swimsuit and goggles in my tour bag.

Today’s post is dedicated to those people who would rather have been having a swim than doing what they did today…

Favourite outdoor swims of the year as I swam redundancy out of my system – Gospel Oak, Scotland, River Thames & Yorkshire

I love, love, love swimming. I’ve been a fan of Gospel Oak lido for years – it’s a stainless steel-lined 60m x 27m temple to swimming. It’s walking or cycling distance from home, so when I left work the lido – and the sport – were the obvious things to focus my day on. I’ve swum in new places and made new friends – and swimming has been a fantastic way to shed the stress of being made redundant.

photo Lido start

The photo above was take on day one – 14th May 2014. I shed the wetsuit 2 days later.

photo lido winter kit

This year my outdoor swimming season spanned May to November, last week I reluctantly wimped out and moved indoors. I’ve packed away my essential lido bag of wetsuit, neoprene booties and gloves, thick hat, googles, thermos and tea kit. When the water temperature – it’s unheated – dips below 10’C I find I can’t swim for long or far enough for it to count as proper exercise. I’ve swum elsewhere too, and here are my top 5 outdoor swims of the season. I’d love to know yours as well! Another time I’ll dip into my favourite swimming books.

Gospel Oak Lido

I really used my membership to its max this summer – with 21 swims in June alone. The water temp maxed out at 24’C when the air was 29’C – it might have gone higher later but by that stage you can’t see the water let alone find space to spread a towel to sit on. Our ten year old twin daughter loves the water as much as me. She has grace, speed and superb technique – I don’t. My best swim of the year was without a doubt matching her stroke for stroke as we ploughed up and down side by side in September, her in a brand new long-sleeved wetsuit me just in my swimsuit.

photo Alice lido floatphoto lido water

Fort William

I arrived in Fort William one July morning via the sleeper train  from London Euston. With 2 hours to kill before the Fort William to Mallaig train departed what could I do? I took a wander along the shores of the loch. How inviting the water looked; crystal clear and fresh. Did I have a towel on me? No. Did I have my costume? Yes. What was stopping me from having a quick dip? Nothing. So in I went, for my first Scottish swim of the decade. Bliss.

photo Fort William

Isle of Eigg

I spent 2 nights with a friend on the Isle of Eigg. We stayed in a B&B run by the extremely good cook, and very hospitable Sue Kirk, half a mile from a beautiful beach. I swam before breakfast and supper – and if I could’ve swum more I would have. The water was warm, almost balmy, thanks to the Gulf Stream.  The sun was so slow to set and cast a silvery spell over the water. On my last evening swim I went back in three times, loath to leave its magic.

photo Eigg

River Thames, Pangbourne

Three adults, four children and one enthusiastic black Labrador got the urge to swim. So off we went, OS map in hand, to find the perfect spot. We tentatively waded in and swam back and forth across the balmy water, chatting to various boat owners or captains who invariably raised their glasses and told us we were mad. Such fun, and a real highlight of our summer.

photo Pang

East Yorkshire

I’m not revealing the exact location of this beach, but it’s near Sewerby which is a couple of miles from Bridlington. Fine golden sand is exposed at low tide, whilst at high tide you step over milky white pieces of chalky rock. The water has always been calm in August, and you swim out to the headland then dash back in time to pick up fish and chips. Perfect.

Surviving redundancy – chapter one

This week marks six months since I was made redundant. After 15 years I left a job I adored, bid farewell to colleagues and clients I admired greatly, and was asked to quit a company I was proud to have been part of. I’m starting out on the blog by sharing some things that I wish I’d known on 13th May.

People are very kind. From the colleagues or distant associates or authors I worked with who took the time and trouble to get in touch, to the member of staff in Pret who gave me far more free coffees than I’m sure she should have, to the trio of librarian friends who took me to lunch, to the neighbour who left an enormous parcel of wine, chocolates and flowers on my doorstep thank you all very much. It’s made me think what I can do when people I know are ‘let go’. Get in touch, don’t be embarrassed, it’s so heartening to know other people are thinking of you.

Get your statement ready so when someone asks ‘how are you?’ or ‘what do you do?’ you can reel it straight off. I can’t emphasis enough how much this matters. This really helped me not to be quite so emotional when I set foot in my former workplace during my consultation period. There was a ghastly time, later, when we were having a drink with a couple on holiday and after my husband spoke for some time about his job – it just so happened the other couple are in the same industry as him – they turned to me and asked what I did and I completely fudged my reply. It made me feel hideously inadequate. Now I say, “I’m really enjoying taking a break whilst I work out my next move, so I’m going on cookery courses, visiting museums, swimming and being a present rather than absent mum”. Confident eh?

Grab the bull by the horns and just do it. I admired the Chair of my former employer very much, so when I left I asked to have time with her. I exited her office a foot higher, head held high, full of advice to: read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, try out a portfolio career, write for the trade press, be with my kids. She also suggested I write a blog; stupidly I let my earlier efforts be derailed by a well-meaning mum who said ‘Oh, don’t, it’s all been said before’. It did my confidence no end of good that she and I had that conversation.