I got into open water swimming about seven years ago when I decided to swim the Bosphorous, although most of my training was actually done in a swimming pool. Then I discovered Vobster Quay, a disused quarry with diving facilities and a 750m swimming loop, where the water is clear, blue and beautiful and you can swim among fishes and ducks and watch the divers bubbles float to the surface around you, and when the sunshines, watch the shards of light disappear into the depths below. This is where I trained for the Dart 10K, getting up to ten laps in about 3.5 hours (I still can’t believe I managed that!) and since then, I’ve completely given up on pool swimming instead opting for the open air option twice a week.
Back at the start of March, my swimming buddy and I were celebrating the fact that we had managed to swim all year round for an entire year. The temperature was 7 degrees and I was looking forward to the water warming up. Cue the pandemic! As March ended and April ran on into June, we saw the most beautiful and unseasonably warm weather - an absolute godsend for sending the kids outside, but also the most perfect conditions for getting in the water! And yet I couldn’t! Thankfully, Vobster was back open by the summer and I took every opportunity I could to go there. Things had changed with social distancing, no indoor changing rooms and mask wearing, but I was still very grateful to be back swimming.
With autumn settling in, the temperature is dropping (today’s swim was 13.5 degrees C). Some days I dread getting in (like today) and then I go on to have a wonderful swim. And as we progress into winter, the temperature will continue on down to about 5 degrees C. It’s certainly a challenge getting into water that cold, even with my wetsuit and thermals on, but the thing about swimming though the winter is how much it affects my mood and helps with my mental health. I guess it’s the amount of daylight I get in the middle of the water. Plus the buzz from a cold water swim is amazing. I think it’s because I’m so present when I get in. I can’t think about anything else when the cold is stabbing at my shoulders, running down the back of my wetsuit and giving me numb trout lips!
I’m all for trying to swim through the winter again, even with the lack of hot shower facilities and I’ve adopted some coping strategies to get me through:
1. Wrapping my clothes in a hot water bottle
2. Thermals, onesie, dry robe and hat are essential
3. The all important hot chocolate to warm up and contemplate the water afterwards.
Long may it continue…
I’m a twin. My sister Julia, is six minutes younger than me; a fact that makes her the baby of the family and me, the middle child. Something I used against her many times when we were kids! We don’t know whether we are identical - the placenta was damaged - but we did used to confuse the patrons of the bar we worked in, when we worked the same shift! We both love the outdoors, including wild swimming and are creative, passionate and determined women. But we are also very different. For example, she’s a dab hand on a sewing machine and took that passion by going into television costume. I, on the other hand, am utterly useless at anything practical with my hands! Though I too did venture into television but on the post production project management side of things.
When I was younger, people used to ask me what it’s like to be a twin and I’d always quip: “Well, what’s it like being a single child?” My point was that being a twin is normal to me and that I didn’t define myself by it. However, as then, society still has a fascination with multiple births, obsessing over the idea that we might be telepathically linked and that we might have some special insight into each others feelings where single children do not. Personally, I don’t go in for that at all. The eeriest thing I can claim to have happened is that we’d often unknowingly buy exactly the same birthday presents for each other!
In Fig Swims the World - Fig is taken under the wing of an old lady called Sage who belongs to a swimming group called the Mermaids. Sage has a twin sister called Myrtle, something that Fig soon realises when she starts swimming with them, and both soon become a much needed support network for her New Year’s resolution of swimming the world. Being a twin meant that it was easy to write Sage and Myrtle’s relationship and which at times (no spoilers here) made me cry.
However, when I sat down to write this blog post a few months ago, all I could think about was the negatives. The fact that I somehow was deprived of my individuality by constantly being referred to as ‘the girls’ or ‘the twins’. The way friends couldn’t cope with our impenetrable friendship (and believe me they tried). The loneliness of not being in any of my sister’s classes at school (we were put on opposite sides of the year that made it impossible). But today, it suddenly hit me - I love being a twin!
So, here’s me shouting from the rooftops how good it is to be one. The companionship, the support, the best friend on tap. Someone I can bawl my eyes out to, rant down the phone to, and who won’t tell me to shut up or change or judge me. I love that we get to share the joy of our birthday together - Ju’s always the first person I will think of. She’s my best friend and we will always be there for each other. And those negatives? Well, they’ve shaped me. They helped me realise who my true friends were. They made me loyal to the friends I’ve made since. And in terms of my individuality, it’s something I constantly strive for. Question is, can you tell which one is me in the photo?
“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…