Archive for the ‘swimming’ Tag

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The UK formally went into lockdown on 23 March 2020. Which wasn’t actually a hundred years ago. It just feels like a hundred years.

In July and August things started to open up again – pubs and restaurants, shops, hair and beauty salons, sports centres and gyms. In August, when the government messaging changed from ‘work from home if you can’ to ‘go back to the office if you can’, our office in Westminster opened up again (albeit briefly), and we were taking it in shifts go in, one or two days a week. There were only ever a handful of us in at one time, and things were a bit strange, but it did feel like a shift back to normality. But then the government message changed once more, and the office closed again. We were told that we should go back to working from home again, and be prepared to do so for perhaps another six months. But we had the ‘rule of six’ at that point, which meant people could meet in groups of no more than six indoors or outdoors, and that meant we could start running round-the-table D&D games again with some extra safety precautions (individually wrapped snacks, for instance, instead of everyone dipping into the same big bowl).

But now England has a ‘3-tier’ system depending on the number of cases in an area, and from today all of London is in Tier 2, which means you can’t have anyone in your house who doesn’t live there, and you can’t meet your friends in a pub or restaurant. or anywhere indoors. Some parts of the north of England are in Tier 3, which has further restrictions, and in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, all of the rules are different again.

It’s all very confusing, and as well as no more D&D games this means I will no longer be able to go out for dinner with friends to celebrate my birthday next weekend, as I was planning to. The only person I am now allowed to go to a restaurant with is my husband, since we live together. So I guess it’s going to have to be just him and me celebrating.

Over the last six months of lockdown, there are a few things I have learned about myself.

  1. I don’t really like working from home. It was OK for a couple of weeks, and it would still be OK if it were one or two days a week, but five days a week with no face to face contact with anyone I find really isolating. It’s making me seriously question this lifelong ambition I always had to be a full-time writer. It won’t suit me. It’s too lonely. Which leads to…
  2. I am not an introvert. I always assumed I was, since I spent a lot of time alone when I was young, but this was mostly because I had trouble making friends. Truth be told, I like talking to people. Being alone I find exhausting. Over the years I’ve attended many conventions and gatherings alone because I couldn’t find anyone to go with me, and if it was something I really wanted to do I would just go, confident that once I got there I would find plenty of people to talk to. And I have made friends that way, so I would recommend it.
  3. I really like swimming. I have a love/hate relationship with exercise of all forms, but since the pools opened up again I have been swimming three mornings a week and it has greatly improved my mental health. Swimming is actually the only form of exercise I do enjoy, and I hadn’t realised how much until I wasn’t allowed to do it.
  4. I am really struggling to write during this crisis. Particularly horror. I am working on a sequel to OUTPOST H311, but I’m finding it really difficult to write an apocalyptic book when it feels like we’re in the middle of a real-life apocalypse. I think perhaps I am not alone in this – there seems to be a collective anxiety about the coronavirus crisis that is affecting creativity for a lot of people.
  5. I don’t like surprises. I like to plan. I did already know this about myself. I set myself up at the start of the working day with a list of things to do, and another list of things to achieve by the end of the week. I like to put conventions, and gigs, and weekends away, in the calendar. I like to know what I am doing tomorrow, and next week and next month, and even this time next year. Covid-19 has taken all that away. All the things we had planned for this year have been cancelled. We can’t plan any trips away, or even an overnight stay in the UK because everything is changing so fast and we don’t know where we’ll be this time next months, or even next week. The move from Tier 1 to Tier 2 in London was announced with just over 24 hours’ notice. There is still talk of Tier 3 if Tier 2 doesn’t work, or even another ‘circuit breaker’ full lockdown for a couple of weeks when the schools break up. How can one make plans to do anything, under all of this?

In an attempt to find some balance, I am now going to try and list some positives that have come out of the last six months:

  1. We are saving a lot of money by not having to pay for train fares every day.
  2. We are both getting more sleep, since going into London for work required getting up a lot earlier.
  3. Hubby and I are actually having conversations with each other during the day, whereas when we were both in the office all day, we’d just communicate via email. We are also getting to eat lunch together every day, which is sort of nice.
  4. I have actually learned to cook. A bit. Although I am still largely hopeless, there are now a couple of recipes I can make for dinner, and they actually turn out quite well. I just have to make sure I make a point of buying the ingredients in my weekly shop, if I’m planning on making one of these recipes.
  5. I still have a job. A lot of people I know haven’t any more, and every day it seems there’s someone else in my social media sadly announcing they’ve been made redundant, so maybe I need to be grateful about the fact I am still earning a regular wage.

I am reaching a bit here, because on the whole I am waking up in a rather dark mood every morning and struggling to find reasons to be cheerful. With everything I was looking forward to this year cancelled, and not able to book anything for next year because of uncertainty, there’s nothing to look forward to.

I also hate this time of year, because I hate the dark and the cold weather and I really struggle with depression in the winter. I brought my anti-SAD lamp home from the office and I start each morning at my home working desk under its very bright light for two hours. It does seem to help for a while – until I start thinking about the state of the world again.

At the moment shops and retail service providers are still open, I am still able to go swimming, and if Hubby and I fancy a night out we can still book to go to a local restaurant, as long as we follow their Covid-19 rules. So I guess we should be making the most of these things while we can, as we may well go into full lockdown again with everything closed at some point.

But by God, I can’t wait for this year to be over. There has to be an end to all this eventually. I struggle to see that far ahead, but I guess all any of us can do is get through this terrible year as best we can, and hope that better times will eventually come.

Chlorine and Chipsticks

When I was a child, living in Lancashire in the 1970s, my dad used to take my sister and me swimming most weekends.

After the end of our swimming session, my sister and I used to get bags of crisps from the vending machine, and we would sit in the viewing gallery eating them, while watching the swimmers in the pool below. I usually went for ‘chipsticks’. I’m not sure if you can still buy those anymore. They were long thin corn-based snacks with a rather overwhelming flavour of salt and vinegar.

I have heard that smell is the most powerful sense for evoking old memories. I think this must be true. Even now, more than thirty years on, whenever I walk into the changing area of the swimming pool and get hit by the smell of chlorine, I immediately think of ‘Chipsticks’, and swimming with my dad.

Swimming in the Rain

The last couple of weeks have been unseasonably warm in London. But as we launch into November, Autumn has returned with a vengeance, with heavy rain all day and a brisk wind (the kind that makes it pointless to go out with a brolly, because the wind will turn it inside out).

However, I didn’t want to wimp out of my customary walk through the park to get to the sports centre for my Sunday morning swim just because of the weather. After all, I was going to get wet anyway, and I usually shower as soon as I return from my swim, so what difference will a little rain make? I did, however, dig out my big wax-coated rain coat before setting off.

Last time I walked through the park on a Sunday, it was full of families enjoying the lovely Autumn weather. Today it was completely deserted. In fact the only other people I encountered were joggers.

Of course, the walk was pretty miserable. The weather really is foul, and I can understand why people would rather stay at home. I began to think that those who maintain that people who exercise are mad may have a point. After all, we were the only ones out in the rain.

‘Social’ Swimming vs ‘Serious’ Swimming

I am not by nature an active person, as I think I’ve mentioned. I’m inherently very lazy, I’ve always been hopeless at all sports and in school I was always the kid who was last to be picked for teams in gym class.

Nevertheless, I do attempt to keep up an exercise regime, more out of fear than any aspiration of reward. Given my dislike of sports and my fondness for chocolate and cakes, I fear that if I don’t make a concerted effort to exercise occasionally and eat sensibly, I will end up a 300lb counch potato who dies prematurely from some horrible obesity-related disease.

The key to an exercise regime seems to be routine. I quite enjoy swimming, and so every Sunday morning I go first thing to the sports centre and do half an hour of laps in their swimming pool before returning home to enjoy my breakfast (as swimming always makes me hungry). I have missed many weeks, but this activity has been part of my Sunday routine for the last twelve years or so. Of late I’ve started walking to the sports centre (which is a half hour round trip) to get that bit of extra exercise in too. I can then feel less guilty about sitting around at home for the rest of the day.

The pool is at our local council run sports centre and it’s a pretty good one. There are generally swimming lanes in use on Sundays, so if you want to swim continuous lengths you use those, and if you are social swimmer who wants to splash about with your loved ones, you stay in the other half of the pool.

This is a good arrangement and keeps everyone happy, but there are a few occasions when a couple of the ‘social’ swimmers decide to pretend to be ‘serious’ swimmers. They generally enter the swim lane in pairs, and hang about for ten minutes chatting, blocking the end of the lane. They will then swim one length and hang about at the other end of the lane, chatting for another ten minutes, before doing another length and then deciding they’ve had their exercise quote for the day.

Now, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using swimming as a social activity. But as the lanes are there to allow both ‘serious’ swimmers and ‘social’ swimmers to use the pool without hindrance, it’s only polite to stay in your designated section. After all, the social swimmers get very annoyed when the lane swimmers use the other bit of the pool, and start barging between them and their offspring.

On the other hand, the social swimmers causing congestion in the swim lanes may well be intending to be serious swimmers, and taking on board the well-known recommendation that exercising with a friend makes it more fun. I’m not disputing this either, but if you exercise with a friend, you do need to remember that you’re there to exercise, not to chat.

Me, I tend to exercise alone. I get a bit grumpy and wouldn’t be very good company. I prefer to keep my exercise sessions separate from my social activities.