Fitting in a Swim

….or not.

Pretty apt this week because I can’t. That to do list is ever present, either in the back of my mind, the forefront of my mind, or written down (with no ticks) on the back of a used envelope. A great example of winning at the who’s busiest competition but losing at life.

Women are their own worst nightmare when it comes to wearing BUSY as a badge of honour. Whether you work full-time, part-time, freelance, manage the home or volunteer we like to share how busy we are. When asked ‘how are you?’ the reply will nearly always contain a reference to how busy you are rather than how you actually are. Probably because we are so busy we haven’t actually taken the time to figure out how we are and so don’t know the answer to the question.

In a world where Social Media now shapes and influences our lives we are bombarded with images of women who are busy. Famous female CEOs who have treadmills in their offices so they can exercise and do their emails at the same time. Women who go back to work after a few days maternity leave. Why are we even asking the question about how they balance work and life? Perpetuating the busy.

Are these ‘busy’ women pioneers shaping the way for future females or is this feminism gone wrong? This very female phenomenon of being busy all of the time could be a consequence of competing with men. They possibly feel they need to be busier to justify their position. To smash through the glass ceiling. Multitasking seen as a female attribute – men can’t do it. Women demonstrate and foster this thinking by working, cooking from scratch, running marathons, joining the PTA, arranging numerous play dates, meeting friends for drinks, attending sports day, ferrying kids to activities. It’s not that men can’t do it but chose not to do it. They worth is not measured by their peers in levels of ‘busyness’.

There is nothing wrong with doing all of the above but there is also nothing wrong with doing none of the above. I am a big reader yet I am often met with scorn from other women when I suggest a good book to them. I am have been told, on more than one occasion, I am lucky that I have time to read. It takes all of my self control not to snipe back ‘I am just more organised than you’ but that would be childish and encourage the busy competition. I hate busy competition but it is ever present in my life. I worry when I post a happy picture of me swimming in the sea it will be received and interpreted as ‘she’s got far too much time on her hands’ by other women.

I am not immune to these thoughts, opinions, scoffs. It’s so easy to judge and compare when our lives are laid out for all to observe on Instagram or Facebook. One of the ways I combat being caught up in the busy race and social media life comparisons, is swimming. You cannot take your phone into the sea. Your mental to do list is actually erased by salt water. And I can’t be a mum Taxi if I am on the beach.

There are still times when I am ‘too busy’ to swim. This week is a great example of how Mother Nature put pay to my swimming plans and I rolled over and let her. I could have relocated, found shelter in the harbour, tried a river instead or even an outdoor pool. But no, I had a great excuse not to swim. Stormy seas meant having to consider tide times and conditions and relocating was far to difficult to fit into my busy schedule. So I didn’t and haven’t had a sea swim all week. And my goodness do my kids and husband know it!

So I am back in the sea today. I can’t wait. Whilst I have had a dopamine hit from ticking off that to do list, I think an adrenaline rush from diving through waves would have been better. It’s great that I have managed to re-do our household budget, switch insurance providers and sort out my cluttered wardrobe but all of those tasks could have waited until after I had had a swim. Especially when I know how great I feel after some salt water therapy.

It’s time to stop the busy bus – I want to get off!

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The Days of the Dawnie are numbered

Not only is winter approaching, fast cooling the sea and air temperature, but daylight is fading fast too. And shorter days mean less opportunity to swim particularly if you are an early bird like me.

My favourite time to swim is first thing in the morning. I regularly wake up at 5.30am without an alarm all year round no matter what time, and in what state, I have gone to bed. This is both a blessing and curse. The curse is quite obvious. I can’t stay awake past 9pm, most peoples lunchtime is when I want to be eating my evening meal and don’t even think about asking me to do anything that uses my brain or my body after 4pm.

The blessing of being up at the crack of dawn is no body else is. I can start my day at my own pace and chose solitude or a seabird swim.

Brighton Beach in the morning is a totally different place to the bustling tourist trap that is presented on the front page of the red tops every time we get a hot day. Most locals stay up late and get up late so the shops and cafes do the same. So you can head down to the beach and scarcely see a soul. There is a huge community of sea swimmers, cycling commuters and promenade runners, but not a tourist in sight. Sadly the remnants of their late night activities too often are.

As you approach the sea front road you see people strolling out of the flats, towels rolled under arm, and heading onto the shingle for their morning constitutional. Open water swimming is a very social pursuit and fosters strong communities but the early morning swimmer seeks solace and silence. Courteous nods are exchanged but little chatter as you find your own spot and sink into the sea. Even if you are in a group voices are muted to suit the situation.

I have been trying to put my finger on what is so special about swimming at dawn. For surfers they can catch clean waves before the air temperature rises and creates a sea breeze. With less people in the line up, they also get their pick of the waves. The same can be said for morning swimming. The still air can create mill pond conditions and you will always be able to find a quiet spot.

But it is more than that. Knowing you will leave the water feeling relaxed and ready to face the day is a particular draw for me. The calm before the storm. The stillness of the air and water literally gets absorbed into your soul. The light in the morning also carries a sweet peace. Grey or blue, bright or dull, cloudy or clear it has a special sort of light in the sky that steals the horizon creating an endless seascape. The sun is low in the sky gradually creeping upwards taking your mood with it.

But how many Dawn Patrols are their left before winter steals the sunlight? Well that all depends on how close you are to the equator. For the Seabirds in Brighton we’ve got light at 7am until the end of the October. When the clocks change and we leave British Summer Time we are given the gift of a few more early starts possibly into November. Much like last year we will just keep getting in the sea and see.

Winter is Coming – the anticipation of cold water

Last year, the Seabirds swam in the sea all year round. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just sorta happened. We started meeting on the beach to swim in May and we just didn’t stop. We were/are just a bunch of ordinary people who began regularly sea swimming due to changes in our personal lives. These changes meant we had the time in our normally busy, modern day, lives to take to the water at short notice and during the working day. Every month going in was another notch on the bed post although we convinced ourselves we hadn’t set ourselves arbitrary goals. Making it to December and the end of 2017, was a real highlight. Making it through January, February and March, when the Beast from the East turned up, really tested our determination. Swimming in the snow and frozen shingle. Who knew that would be a thing.
We all agreed that we would make concessions for the cold to ensure we were still able to get in the sea. Even if it meant donning a wet-suit which we were very keen to avoid. But, if it meant the difference between getting in or not, we would wear a wet-suit. This never happened. We are not skin swimming purists. We don’t judge neoprene clad swimmers. We believe you should wear what you feel comfortable in to ensure you get in. If the cold is a barrier then neoprene is the key that unlocks that door. As long as you get in who cares what you wear! Skin swimming is, for us, a choice we made as we love the high we get from being cold and hate the restriction of a wet-suit. However, if you are swimming kilometres rather than Brighton buoys and groynes and aren’t blessed with a slight middle aged spread, get your seal skin on.
We do have some adaptations though. For me, the head stops going in when the sea temperature drops out of double digits. I revert to a shoulder aching, face out, breast stroke. This is when my collar bone gets cold, a painful burning cold, from being both in and out of the water and the inevitable wind chill. So I resort to a thermal vest over my swim suit. Neoprene boots/socks are also a must. Not just for traversing the shingle beach to enter the sea, but to get out. I need to know that when it is time to get out, I can get out and get out quickly and safely. We double hat to preserve heat and pull on gloves to stop gnarly hands. See, hardly skin swimming purists, more cold water swimming with reasonable adaptations!
Swimming safely is also a massive consideration. Most of our flock have links with Brighton Surf Life Saving Club and the Seafront Office. We know only too well what can happen if you get too cold in the water. More concessions are made in the colder months. In deepest darkest winter when the water temperature plummets our swims are no more than 10/15 minutes. We never swim alone. There are no Lifeguards on duty after September until May so no red and yellow flags and safe swim areas. So if it’s too rough we just don’t go in or we pilchard on the beach. (Pilcharding is lying down in the shallows on the shingle in a line allowing the cold waves to wash cold water over you.)

We also have the best selection of cold combating after wear, accessories and refreshments. Hot tea and cake is an absolute must. Along with a woolly hat, woolly socks and woolly gloves The brighter and more garish the better. A brisk walk is better than a bath afterwards….but a bath ….with wine is also good!

Lots of layers, it sounds obvious but we love our haramaki core warmers. A fleece lined sports cloak is brilliant to get changed under and indeed travel home in. And clothes to easily get on afterwards when your hands just do not function with the cold. Tights and skinny jeans are not part of an outdoor swimmers staple wardrobe. Nor are bras. And sometimes knickers when we forget to pack them. 
So we made it though last winter with our concessions and cold combating accessories. The positive impact on our well being being the driving force. In fact, we swam more regularly during he cold months than we have all summer, as the Seabirds migrated for their holidays. And now here we are, turning to face the changing season. Last time full of naive anticipation. This time full of nervous anticipation. While the sea has been warmer and our swims longer we are looking forward to the more social winter swims. With heads out we get more time to chat. The chat is a necessary part of the swim, not just for our well being. It also allows us to regulate our breathing as we adapt to the sudden drop in temperature and prevents cold water shock and panic. Sometimes we sing too.

We are all a year older and hopefully wiser. Wise enough to know that it gets cold. Really cold. But while there’s a Seabird that is willing to swim it will encourage the rest of the flock into the swimming formation. Of this we are sure. 

Birds get Big Lottery Grant

This week at Seabirds HQ we have received the wonderful news that we will receive a lottery grant. The grant will fund a 6 week course focusing on women’s confidence in the water. It is aimed at women who wish to improve their physical, emotional and mental well being.  There are lots of courses locally run to help people transition from the pool to the sea but many people are intimidated by these courses, and imagine the participants to be all fit die-hard triathletes. Whether this be true or not, there is definitely a demand for a female-centric course. Many women struggle to get into a swim suit, let alone a pool or the wide open sea. Yet it is exactly these women that would benefit so much from introducing open water swimming into their lives.

The course will run in June 2019 but we will be testing out the course content on some ‘willing’ volunteers in September 2018. Our working title is Women, Well being and Water. We will be working with other agencies, charities and local community groups to create a course framework that can easily be used by other groups and clubs.

There are points in people’s lives where they need support to build resilience and to make improvements to their wellbeing. We believe that outdoor swimming can improve outcomes for women experiencing mental health challenges from first-hand experience. Having an understanding of the benefits of getting in the sea all year round, the Seabirds want to help make sure more people have the opportunity. Their courses aim to reduce obstacles to sea swimming, empower more women to get in the sea and use this fabulous, free, local resource in a safe and confident way.

Many women that would benefit most from sport and physical activity are the very women who are least likely to participate for cultural, personal, practical, and economic reasons. Helping women to overcome these barriers and supporting them to engage in activity will provide them with many positive outcomes and ensure that access to sport and physical activity is equal for all.

Open water swimming benefits have been researched and written about a great deal over the last few years and is often referred to as Blue Science. In 2009, Prof Michael Depledge and Dr William Bird, from the European Centre for Environment and Health, based out of the University of Exeter Medical School, proposed a notion called the “Blue Gym” – the idea being that the sea can be used as motivation to exercise outdoors to influence health and wellbeing.

Various social factors put women at greater risk of poor mental health than men. However, women’s readiness to talk about their feelings and their strong social networks can help protect their mental health. Seabirds already have an established network of sea swimmers that gain confidence and happiness from being part of a community group. The course would act as a foundation for women to join the already established swimming community group providing them with respite from daily worries, a support network and a regular activity and meet up.

We literally cannot wait to get more women in the sea!

September Book Club Read

I am finding it hard to put into words my thoughts about the September Seabirds Virtual Book Club read. Just thinking about some of the emotions this book invokes starts the back of my eyes stinging and the laptop screen becomes a bit of a blur. It is also an impossible task as nothing I can even contemplate writing comes close to the authors wonderful way with words. I think the best thing to do is just read it, and read it again, and again and again and again.

Wild Woman Swimming is a collection of Lynne Roper’s diary entries about wild swimming. The entries were written over a five year period in which she was recovering from a double mastectomy until her passing. Lots of her thoughts, experiences and stories resonate with me as they will for anyone who has been fortunate enough to be part of an outdoor swimming community.

The book was edited by Tanya Shadrick, Pells Pool‘s writer in residence for the last couple of years. I was lucky enough to attend a Swim Talk event recently where Tanya was a participant speaker and heard her read extracts from the book. She has the kind of gentle brogue you could listen too forever, slightly hypnotic and incredibly soothing. And when the words she recites have such insight into the freedom and respite wild swimming can provide…… well you have the perfect partnership.

So here is a taster to wet your reading appetite. “It’s a spiritual experience, sliding through wild water. Worries dissolve, my mind is liberated; thoughts flow and glide and play like dolphins. My soul swims wild.”

Enjoy and may all of your souls swim wild.

**Disclaimer – This s a book to be read outside – may it go waterlogged, sun-buckled and wind-chapped.

Summer Swim Slump

Long hot days and warm sea temperatures have created idyllic sea swimming conditions from as early as May this year in Brighton. The offshore breeze that just wouldn’t shift for two months meant flat seas inviting longer safer swims. Lots of visitors including jellyfish, seals and even a shark added to the swim excitement and anticipation. Clear aqua water creating a picture postcard seaside setting enticing normal swim aversive beach-goers into the water in their droves. So why did this seabird stop swimming?

With the summer brings increased social commitments and the kids school holidays. Every weekend is packed with BBQs, weddings, parties, camping trips, weekends away. Summer family holidays are taken and weekdays are spent juggling child care and cramming in work. Life is full to over-flowing. And it’s great. The endless summer we dared to dream of is a reality. Especially this year, when the weather has been so kind to the British masses.

But it’s only great for a while.  This summer hedonism is not sustainable and the inevitable summer slump arrives, for me, in July. This year the summer started early. Early because of the weather and sea temperatures got into double digits in April. Early because my eldest did her GCSEs and her endless summer started mid June with festivals, parties and prom. Early because I returned to teaching life-saving to school children on the beach and gained a permanent shorts tan at the start of the season. So by July I was kind over it!

With the slump came a ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude and an unshakeable fatigue. This was clearly visible to the naked eye. My normal priorities of sea swimming and being outdoors resided on the back burner and mundane non-urgent errands and tasks took poll position. These errands and tasks included watching season 1-4 of Poldark. I have literally been swimming off Brighton Beach maybe 5 times in the last 2 months. And when I say swimming I mean a dip, a couple of groynes breast stroke, catching up with a willing seabird,that due to the crammed calendar, I probably haven’t seen for a few weeks. I looked on with envy on social media as our flock of seabirds grew over the summer but I am conspicuous in my absence.

I truly believe that outdoor swimming, open water swimming, wild swimming, what ever you want to call it, should be free from arbitrary goals. You can float in a pond, jump waves in the sea, swim lengths in a lido or smash out kilometres down a river. Yet my summer slump was gradually stealing this belief from me. By August I found myself in the wonderful cycle of self loathing. Loathing my body and mood that had changed due to a food and drink over indulgence. Loathing that I wasn’t going round the buoys at least once a week. Loathing that I still haven’t been around the West Pier this year. This slump was gaining  momentum. (Not sure how slump can gain momentum as a heavy non-moving thing but you know what I mean).

So it’s September 1st. I declare summer to be officially over. For me anyway. The kids return to school and college and routine returns. I have cleared the calendar and cancelled camping. The warm weather is welcome to hang around but not for too long.  Poldark season 5 hasn’t started yet. So this week I have been in 3 times. Once for a dawnie and met two new wonderful seabirds. Once for a sunset swim post brilliant Swim Talk at Sea Lanes. And once for a regular swim spot swim followed by tea and cake. The later catching up with summer lost seabirds who had also had summer slumps. Now it is Autumn, I am planning to go back to my routine 3 swims a week. One early bird swim, one Fun Friday swim with tea and cake and one Saturday Social swim. Sod the slump let’s swim!

 

Do it for David – alternatives to plastic

Being plastic free is hard. There are lots of images on Social Media and slightly preachy people telling you to change your ways as they eat from bamboo bowls. But old habits die hard. And giving up plastic is bloomin’ hard. They don’t tell you that. That conversation is not in the public domain about just how hard it is to avoid plastic all together. It’s easy to post and despair at a single tangerine peeled and packaged in a plastic tub. It’s also easy to avoid buying ridiculous products like this. But in reality, in day to day life, when you have a habit that has been part of your upbringing and culture for your whole life, it’s bloomin’ hard.  To even realise you’ve consumed single use plastic sometimes is hard as it’s our way of life to grab a bottle of water when thirsty or a ready-made sandwich when hungry. We all know we need to reduce our plastic consumption and stop polluting the seas or we will inevitably kill off life on earth. But we have a habit of convenience and a cupboard full of Tupperware.

However, as the famous supermarket that packages skinned fruit in plastic says, ‘every little helps’. And at Seabirds HQ, much like the rest of the nation, we have fallen for David, (not Hasslehoff). Along with 14 million other viewers we tuned in every Sunday night to Blue Planet II to listen to David Attenborough tell us, gently and stoically we are killing ocean life. We want him to be our uncle/dad/granddad and have him round for Sunday roasts. But who can forget the dead whale calf that the mother refused to let go. Hope in a hopeless situation.

David has bought the conversation to the table, the pub, on-line, Westminster. So let’s #doitfordavid and think about the small, easy, manageable changes we can make. There is no planet B so we need a plan A. Here is our Plan A Top 10 affordable and achievable changes.

  1. Straws – Do you really need a straw to drink your drink? Unless you are a small child or physically challenged I would suggest the answer is no. So when you are out and about either refuse a plastic straw if offered or bring your own stainless steel one. I like to slurp up my morning smoothie through a straw so have stainless steel ones in my cutlery drawer.
  2. Toothbrush – every time I watch Bear Grylls take some more nauseatingly annoying people onto a deserted island to survive I despair. Not just at the contestants, but at the tide of plastic on these beautiful paradise beaches and it is always toothbrushes! So switch to bamboo. Simples!
  3. Coffee Cup – this is a money saving change too. Most coffee shops will discount their coffee price if you are using a reusable cup. There are lots on the market to choose from but be warned some are made from plastic! So chose a bamboo, stainless steel or glass. (The paper disposable cups on offer do not recycle as they are chemically coated to make them waterproof.)
  4. Water Bottle – loads of people carry their own water bottle when they go to the gym, in the car or just out and about, So switch to non-plastic bottles. You can get aesthetically beautiful isothermal bottles now which keep water cold for 24 hours.
  5. Reducing microfibres – this is the invisible mainly unknown threat to our seas. Most of our clothes, especially from affordable high street stores, contain microfibres. Naked to the human eye, tiny pieces of plastic that make up the material, are released when washed into rivers and the sea. Avoiding the obvious ones like microfibre towel and replacing them with cotton ones is easy. Avoiding high street fashion is not so easy. Some shops like H&M have a conscious range of clothes made from natural organic materials like cotton that do not contain microfibres. For synthetic materials, an easy solution is a bag to use in your washing machine that traps the microfibres like a Guppy Friend.
  6. Shampoo – not all shampoo comes in plastic bottles. Many cosmetic companies are now creating shampoo bars. Seabirds are big fans of Lush shampoo bars which fit into a handy tin to store. A tiny bit froths up beautifully so it lasts for ages. We are still on the hunt for a conditioner bar that can handle our sea ravaged and (sun) bleached hair.
  7. Soap – we didn’t always dispense our soap from a pump action plastic bottle. In the days of yore we had bars of soap. So just go back to them!
  8. Bag for Life – I think most people now have these in their boot when they go to the supermarket. But how many people remember to take them to their local shops or are caught short during an impulse purchase. A string bag or fold away bag for life which folds into it’s own storage pocket is the answer. Mine is from a well known supermarket chain.
  9. Pick Up Litter – there are lots of local beach cleans organised by local community groups, Surfers against Sewage, Marine Conservation Society and the like. Here in Brighton we have the wonder Pier2Pier Silent Disco Beach Cleans. But you don’t need to wait for someone to organise one….don’t worry I am not suggesting you organise one yourself. But when you go to the park, the beach, or anywhere really, if you see litter pick it up. Yes the bins are always full and never emptied so take it home!
  10. Festival Pints – the summer staple for many is a festival and they are a great way to spend a hedonistic weekend. But oh the aftermath of litter. Obviously glass and cans are a danger to humans but the alternative plastic and wax coated paper cups used are a danger to the environment. So pack a stainless steel pint pot. It keeps your drink cold, for beer drinkers it retains the head and it is just so much nicer to drink out of. If you don;t believe us just ask Beer Yeti. Again we chill in the fridge and use for smoothies at home.

There are lots of other changes you can make. I have recently started to carry bamboo cutlery in my handbag and my swimsuit is made from econyl.  Many say why bother when our refuse collection companies don’t actually recycle the stuff we put in recycling bins……but David has given us hope. So these are our top 10 easy and affordable changes. No preaching, just suggesting. It is hard but #doitfordavid

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