L O U  A B E R C R O M B I E

Fig in Lockdown

“Lemony, where are you…? Hello?  Hello! Are you there?”

“Yes, Mubla,” I sigh.  She still can’t get used to calling me Fig. I don’t know why. We had an agreement.

“What was that?” she asks.  “Speak up.  Why d’you sound so muffled?”    

“Because I’m wearing a face mask,” I retort.  “I’m out shopping for Myrtle.”

“Oh,” she says.  “So, you’re not swimming in the sea pool then?”

Chance would be a fine thing!  And in such perfect weather too. I dream of swimming in that water.  It’ll be getting to a nice temperature soon, what with all this sunshine. But no, I’m landlocked and I hate it. 

“Of course not, Mubla,” I say.  “We’re on lockdown.”

“Yes, I’m well aware,” she retorts.  “Come home soon.  I have to go. I have a Zoomba call coming in.”

I resist the urge to laugh. “I think you mean Zoom, Mubla.” Zumba is something different entirely and definitely something I can’t imagine her doing…

“Yes well, remember to keep 2m apart,” she says.  “Wash your hands when you get back.  Oh, and don’t buy Dab Dabs any more cake.  He’s been piling on the pounds since the start of all this.”

That’s because she doesn’t let him go out for his daily runs anymore.  Not since she saw the images of crowded city parks.  The fact that we live in a sleepy seaside town where you can easily jog for miles without seeing a soul was completely lost on her and I think Dab Dabs has lost the will to make her understand.

When I get home, I head straight for the basement, the smell of the disinfectant hitting me from the top step.  Mubla has insisted that Dab Dabs thoroughly clean his workroom every day, just in case.  Not that Old Mare has had any cases yet.  Not officially anyway. But I’m not letting anything go to chance so Maud, Stella and I have all been shopping for the older members of the Old Mare Mermaids, much to Mubla’s chagrin.  She’s worried I’m going to run off again.  I’d hardly do that given the current situation.  And besides, I have those swimming adventures alive in my memories and the Boss has been in touch more than is comfortable.  I think she’s lonely.

            “Fig,” says Dab Dabs.  He’s looking tired and pale.  Hasn’t seen much daylight since this all began.  I think Mubla’s taking the social distancing thing too far and hasn’t let him, or me, anywhere near her because we have contact with the outside world.  She tried it with Jago, but he was having none of it.  He’s a cuddly sort of boy.

            “I bought you the cake you asked for,” I say.  “Was the last one on the shelf, so it’s not your favourite, I’m afraid.”

            “Oh, thanks,” he replies, grabbing a slice and wolfing it down, sending a shower of crumbs over his latest client. Not that they’ll mind.  They’re dead. “Don’t tell Mubla will you,” he says.

            “What on earth’s that noise?” I ask, as clomping sounds threaten to bring down the ceiling above us. 

We rush upstairs when there’s a massive thud followed by a low moaning and I’m shocked to see Mubla in a sweaty mess on the floor, clutching at her ankle.

“Mubla,” I gasp.  “What on earth are you doing?”

“Zumba, Lemony. Zumba!”

Dab Dabs and I exchange looks.  Oh god, I really hope things get back to normal soon…


The mother of all resolutions…

New Year’s Resolutions sit at the heart of Fig Swims the World.  By having Fig’s mother choose her resolutions for her, it was an easy way to create the rift that I wanted, with Fig growing ever more frustrated that she’s being controlled and for this to be the drive as to why she takes on something so big.

Now that it’s June and halfway through the year, it’s perhaps the perfect time to revisit our resolutions.  Research shows that around 25% of us will fail after just one week while only one in ten make it to the end of the year.  In fact, it’s got to the point where many people vow not to make them at all.  The fear of failure being too much of an unnecessary burden.  But we really shouldn’t think that just because we haven’t started them yet, that it’s all over. We do have until the end of the year after all!  And by revisiting them, we can amend them to be more achievable and perhaps more indoor based, in light of the current Coronavirus situation. 

I like setting goals for myself.  It gives me purpose and I like the feeling of challenging myself.  So, here’s a few ideas on how to succeed in your resolution:

1.     Start with what you enjoy

I’ve always been a swimmer, albeit a pool one, so when I saw a photo of a massive swimming event in a warm country with deep blue sea, it naturally spoke to me.  I gave myself a year to train toward it, found myself a swimming coach and used the opportunity to swim more.  And it being something I already did it didn’t feel like an insurmountable challenge.

2.     Make sure you’ve got someone to support you

I wrote my first book because a good friend in publishing encouraged me to do so. I wrote a chapter and asked for her honest opinion: Could I write?  Fortunately, her answer was yes!  She even gave me a few pointers on how to change it and what I might do differently, offering me support throughout, and before I knew it, I’d written an entire book!

3.     Write a list

I love writing lists.  It’s my only way of staying on top of everything I’ve got to get done.  From to-do lists to birthday present ideas, book titles I’d like to write to wish lists of places I’d like to swim.  It’s a good way of breaking down a challenge into smaller more manageable pieces and it’s deeply satisfying when you get to cross something off.

4.     Take on a challenge with someone

When I found out about a trip to Lundy Island where you can actually swim with seals, I knew I wanted to do it.  The fact that my sister wanted to go too, made it doubly fun.  It took us over a year to do it, thanks to bad weather, but together we persisted and eventually got to swim, snorkel and paddle-board among the seals, and even sailed alongside a huge pod of dolphins.

5.     Don’t worry if you fail, you’ve still learnt something

A few years ago, I decided to learn to free dive.  Mainly because I wanted to be photographed as a mermaid underwater.  I thought that because I was good at swimming, I’d automatically enjoy free diving. Oh, how wrong I was! My ears hurt, I couldn’t hold my breath for long and I hated it. Even had watery nightmares for months after. And in the photos, I look cross eyed and strange and definitely not mermaid-like.  However, all that knowledge didn’t go to waste.  I can now happily dive down in my local quarry and when I next get to go to a tropical beach, I’ll definitely be there with my snorkel.

The World’s Oldest Swim

IF, in the month of dark December.

Leander, who was nightly wont

(What maid will not the tale remember?)

To cross they stream, broad Hellespont;”

By Lord Byron

In 2013 I came across an article about open water swimming with a picture of a large stretch of blue water full of orange-capped swimmers.  It was the Bosphorus Cross-Continental swim – 6.5km down one of the World’s busiest shipping lanes in Istanbul – which was described as being a swim once completed by Lord Byron. And while I’ve since discovered that this wasn’t factually correct, I was inspired by the idea of taking part in something steeped in literary history.

So, I applied to the Turkish Olympic Committee and duly got my place.  Then the hard work began.  I had to find a swimming coach to improve my front crawl technique and who could vouch for my swimming ability. I had to have a full doctor’s check-up and of course, there was the countless laps of the 50m pool at Bath University. But then…

I got freaked out!  I was getting tons of emails in Turkish and suddenly felt like I’d taken on too big a challenge.  That’s when I heard about Swim Trek and soon discovered that they too run a swim in Turkey – the Hellespont and Dardanelles – nicknamed the World’s Oldest Swim, and this time it really was a swim Lord Byron had done.  I switched over immediately.

The Hellespont & Dardanelles – a narrow stretch of water separating Europe from Asia – is steeped in history, boasting the Greek myth of Leander who supposedly swam the distance at night to meet his lover Hero.  Lord Byron wanted to swim it to prove it was possible and on 3rd May 1810, his second attempt, he did.  

When I signed up to do this swim, I had no clue what I was getting into.  I’d completed one outdoor swim around Burgh island, but other than that, I’d done all my training in the pool.  It was on a boat tour of the route, the sea looking wild and choppy, that I had a sudden understanding that this was going to be a swim that required tactical knowledge as well as endurance.  I knew I had the latter, but not so much the former…

You see the Hellespont is a dangerous stretch of water, with strong currents that if not traversed across correctly, would sweep you straight past the finish line and out into the Aegean Sea.  The slower the swimmer, the more exaggerated route you took in the shape of a curve. I only learnt about all this as I was staring out at the water, gulping with nerves, wondering what I’d got myself into.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.  I listened to what the coaches said as they travelled around by motorboat calling out suggested sighting points.  I chose the most cautious path and it paid off.  I completed the swim in 1hr 17min.  Not bad considering Lord Byron completed it in an hour and ten…

I arrived in Istanbul feeling excited and after a five hour coach journey followed by a ferry to Çanakkale, I couldn’t wait to get going.  Swim Trek were excellent hosts of the non-Turkish side of the event and it’s at the first night party that I learnt more about the history of this stretch of water.

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