Like Mother Like Daughter

An extract from a Seabird mum’s diary from 1980 – wild swimming is not a new thing!

The Diary of Ann Steward

This week I received a letter in the post from my mum. There is nothing unusual in that. I often receive letters, cards, newspaper cuttings and books in the post from my mum. She is fierce in her protection of the analogue and unless I put pen to paper, literally, she will never read any of these blogs. Which is a shame as this one is about her!

So the letter I received was short and to the point. That is my mum in a nutshell. “Dear Katharine, Looking thro’ my many ‘diaries’ I came across “A Selsey Summer” written in the 80’s? I thought you might enjoy this extract. Obviously you have inherited your love of the sea and swimming from your Sainted Mother! Lots of Love.”

To put the extract in context – my mum was a school teacher – and every school holiday we would relocate to Selsey, West Sussex and live in a converted railway carriage on the beach, called Nutshell, with all manner of foster siblings, cousins and anyone else that my parents swept up into their very un-nuclear family.

“We’d swum everyday – to begin with there was time to get in two swims – one before lunch and one after, but for the rest of this week we’d have to wait until 6/7 o/c for deep water unless we cared to try for a swim early morning. 

I was better than ever at ‘getting in’. I still needed that preliminary paddle up and down to knee height, then up to the middle and a pause before a step or two to reach my armpits when I could bob down and launch into my school girls breast stroke.

It was always worth it – even if on a chill, sunless day you didn’t stay in too long. What a feeling of wellbeing – superiority and freshness it gave. Half a dozen strokes towards the breakwater – half a dozen back, bob up and down and repeat. 

The most important purpose of the daily swim was to timetable the day. It set an immovable hour in the day – for it took that time on a chill day and twice that on a hot one, to follow the ritual of gathering the party – pulling on costumes, finding towels and in the case of adults forcing feet into still damp plimsolls as protection from the shingle. 

What time’s high tide? Then we must have breakfast/lunch by such and such. before our swim we could do this and after the swim we’ll do that. And so our day was mapped.”

I remember my mum wrote diaries. I remember our endless summers swimming in the sea. I remember days dictated by tides. I remember how bloody long it took her to get in – but she always did – eventually. And still does. But, I’d forgotten that this life that I live is not new to me. It’s always been my life, me and the sea. All I’ve done is remember and come home.

Author: Seabird Kath

3 generations of Seabirds

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The extract goes on to say ” A couple came to look over ‘The Summer House’ next door which is for sale. They have left their large expensive motor outside Nutshell while they have the guided tour around the quite extensive grounds. How well I remember it years ago when the old gentleman lived there as a recluse. The garden overgrown – little of the house visible, fruit trees laden in the Autumn, banks of primroses in the Spring. We’d dreamed of it being ours.” It never ended up being theirs but they have a beach hut and home on the Isle of Wight now – which I am sure comes a close second.

 

 

Libby in the Lakes – swimming with my daughter

I am a Seabird. I swim in the sea. I am not anti Lidos, Lakes and Lochs I just prefer the sea and it helps that it is on my doorstep. This summer I swapped the salt for freshwater swimming in the Lake District and Scotland with a sneaky anniversary trip to the rivers of the Somerset levels. They didn’t disappoint. All special for different reasons. The Lakes because I swam with my daughter.

My eldest child did her GCSEs this summer and I was keen for her to have the best summer ever as a reward for working so hard. She, like me swims in the sea all year round albeit in a wet-suit and as part of her Surf Life Saving weekly training sessions. She is an incredible swimmer, powerful and fast. If I got into trouble in the sea I would want her there. But other than her weekly session and the occasional dip with mates after school she doesn’t swim in the sea, at least not with me. I don’t know why not, I make her look like an elegant mermaid as I splash around frantically trying to keep up with her. Maybe it’s just not cool to hang out with your mum when you are 16! So it was a massive surprise when she agreed to come swimming in the Lake District with me.

The plan was for she and I to drive up to the Lakes on our way to Scotland for a family holiday. My husband and son would fly up to Glasgow to meet us when my youngest had broken up from school. Best laid plans. She soon backed out of the Scotland trip as she wanted to hang out with her mates. Fortunately she still wanted to do the Lakes with me. So as my husband and son arrived in Alba, she got on the same plane and flew home. All she saw of Scotland was Gretna Green Service Station and Glasgow Airport! But not before we had a fantastic couple of days exploring tarns, rivers and waterfalls.

The course has been set for uncharted territory. Not just the unfamiliar freshwater lakes but we are entering a new phase as Libby leaves school. She is changing fast and I am trying to keep up. It’s hard enough trying to keep up with her swimming!  I can cope with the late nights and the boozy experiments and think I have finally grasped what ‘linking’ is but I miss her. She just doesn’t want to be with me anymore. She either wants to be out with her mates or alone in her room. I have created an independent young woman with very strong ideas about who she wants to be and who she wants to be with. And it ain’t me! It’s everything I wished for but I feel bereft.

I was determined we would have the best time together so she could see what she was missing hanging out with her dear ol’ Ma. Spending time with your teens is hard. There is such pressure for the snatched moments you have together to be better than snapchat scrolling you inevitably end up arguing. Probably over snapchat scrolling. But I was not deterred.  Armed with my Wild Guide, we still managed to get lost, but when we didn’t we swam and chatted, swam and laughed, swam and squealed.

It was a wonderful couple of days with a beautiful back drop. I will definitely return to the Lake District. Hopefully with Libby. It was over all too soon and normal service soon resumed. Back to feeling like I had an empty nest but the fledgling was still in it. Redundant in my role as a parent as my child was now self sufficient and flying free.  There is a wealth of information about parenting from how to potty train and other developmental milestones but nothing had prepared me for this. Grieving for a girl that was just upstairs

I am still trying to catch up with the speed at which she is growing (and swimming). I still ask he if she wants to come on a dog walk with me even when I know the answer will be no. Ever hopeful that one day the answer will be yes. Our interactions are mainly me hovering at her bedroom door asking her if she wants of cup of tea. There are still the rare moments when she comes into the kitchen and wants a chat but she in is charge of when this will be.

It was during one of these moments when she told me she really enjoyed swimming in the Lake District with me. She ‘just liked being with me on her own’ and ‘found it relaxing’. In teenage talk that was a very long conversation! It took every ounce of self control not to book a lifetimes worth of trips right there and right then to ensure we would always have that time together. Instead I very coolly suggested she might like to do The Big Bala Swim with me next year. (In my head I was cool, I may well have squeaked it whilst clinging to her). And she has agreed! So next year Gwynedd with my Girl. Until then bedroom hovering will have to do.

Author: Seabirds Kath

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