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

And so Cultural Tuesdays were born: visiting London’s museums, galleries & open spaces. First Germany: Memories of a Nation at The British Museum

When I left my job I decided to use it as a chance to take time out and time off. My dear friend @AlyxP1 and I were mulling over what I could do in a café one Sunday afternoon and by the time we adjourned to the pub I had quite a list in my notebook. Top of the list came learning to bake sweet pastry properly. Ah, she suggested, sensing I needed to get out and about and not just spend the time learning in the kitchen, “you could do something cultural every week” – and so the idea of ‘Cultural Tuesdays’ was born. It’s very simple, I try to go to a museum or a gallery, or simply experience something different, once a week. The idea has expanded since then, so there’s an element of ‘Going Places Thursdays’ too, when yes I go to new places be it Kew Gardens, Trent Park, Rotherhithe or perhaps an independent bookshop I’ve not visited before. Most weeks it’s one or the other.

My favourite ‘Cultural Tuesdays’ were spent at the British Museum and at the Cabinet War Rooms. I had a bad experience with the kids at the British Museum, I thought we’d go and enjoy ourselves exploring but instead they trailed around trading Match Attax cards with each other… That day was redeemed by ice creams and games in the fountains in Russell Square.

Revisiting the British Museum. This was my first trip back since then. I went to see Germany: Memories of a Nation. Outside the gallery they’d parked a Trabant. Inside the first exhibit was silent video footage of border guards being overwhelmed, and a sea of people – mainly men – flooding past the guards away from East Germany and into the West. You can see the guards don’t really know what to do, the people just took control. I can vividly remember watching the BBC news reports at the time in 1989 with queues of Trabants waiting to cross and maps showing where the borders had come down across Europe. Seeing this again was one of those experiences that you immediately want to share, that make you want to turn to the stranger beside you and ask if they too remembered it. I have just discovered a blog post from a then 8 year old girl growing up in West Berlin – she was woken by her parents to watch the news. You can read it here

In another case there was a wetsuit. A man planned to escape from the East wearing it, rowing in a rubber dingy across the Baltic Sea. He was captured before he set out – and imprisoned for two years until the fall of the wall. It shows quite how desperate people were to start a new life – imagine how cold it would have been on the November night in 1987 when he planned to make his exit from the east. The wetsuit itself looked really absorbent, nothing like the ones you see triathletes sporting now, and if he’d had to swim in it in the Baltic he’d have been in real trouble

Radio 4 ran a series on objects featured in the exhibition, you can see clips or listen to podcasts here The exhibition runs until 25th January and I really recommend it.

And if you’re wondering if I learned how to make sweet pastry, yes I did, and ice like a semi expert, and make gluten-free bread too!