Monday, 12 January 2015

Sink or Swim

A few months ago, my daughter's boyfriend stood her up on a date. Instead of cancelling the booking she'd made at the new Mexican restaurant that had opened nearby, she asked if I'd like to take his place As much as I love putting my little ones to bed and having quiet nights in with my husband, I try not to miss the opportunity for the occasional 'girls night out', so I gladly agreed.

The food was lovely and as my daughter was doing the driving, I enjoyed some mexican beer with my meal.

We were not very tempted by the dessert menu but I had a voucher for a free pint of ale at the pub where another of my daughters works as a barmaid, so we decided to pay her a visit. We were spoilt for choice there with the mouthwatering range of desserts.

One delicious cheesecake and a pint of Joules Green Monkey, later I was feeling very mellow.

This was the point that my daughter swooped in to make a proposition.

She wanted to do a triathlon and she wanted me to do it with her.

I have to say that this came as quite a shock. She is OK with the running part but the cycling and swimming ... not so much.The last time she rode a bike she fell off on a main road. She sustained a good collection of minor injuries and a massive dent in her confidence. As for the swimming, like me she is a 'width' swimmer, not a length swimmer!

If she was prepared to put herself so far out of her comfort zone to challenge herself to do something new, the least I could do would be to support her. And if that meant rooting through the dark recesses of my wardrobe to dig out a swimming costume, so be it.

At the start of the new year, we both went along to our local swimming pool and bought into the membership scheme. Just over a week later, I've already done half a dozen sessions.

I have never been a good swimmer.

My mum always had her own unique swimming style. She could swim tirelessly for length after length in a robotic, rhythmic breaststroke without ever getting her hair wet or her mascara running. I don't remember her ever playing with me as a child in the water to build my confidence or teaching me to swim.

My dad was the complete opposite. He could hold his breath for ever and swim whole lengths underwater. His swimming style wasn't exactly elegant or effortless but he had a 'Tarzan' quality about him and I could imagine him fighting alligators with the same ease that he pulled himself through the water. He boasted that he taught his brother to swim by throwing him in the canal and would probably have done the same to me if he'd had a canal handy. He always wanted to throw me about in the water but rather than building confidence, it actually made me very fearful. I would panic if my head went under the water. I'd panic if I was splashed in the face. I hated not being the confident water loving child that would have made my dad happy but it just wasn't me.

My husband is a very calm and patient man and he has helped me to overcome a lot of the fear but it is an ongoing battle.

I have been watching instructional videos about correct technique and working really hard to put the instruction into practice. It is a bit like learning to drive. There are so many things to think about, co-ordinate and get right. I am forever hopeful  that, like driving, one day it will all come together and feel very normal but I am a long way off that yet.

My first big breakthrough was investing in a pair of swimming goggles. I always used to swim with my eyes shut which magnified the rising panic. Being able to see underwater and not having to worry about the splashing in my eyes has helped me so much. I keep calmer and I now swim in a  relatively straight line rather than diagonally across the pool as I have done in the recent past.

The next big breakthrough was the realisation that slowing everything down makes perfect sense. My natural instinct was always to kick and splash my arms around as rapidly as possible to stop from sinking like a stone. Having more confidence in my ability to float and taking time with the strokes means I get less tired and creates more space to breathe. I know I can slow it down even more and really focus on technique. It is this improvement potential that I can see ahead of me that gives me the motivation to keep going back to the pool.

It can be frustrating when I see other swimmers doing so much better than me but I have to keep stopping to remember where I came from. Before I started a week or so ago, I could barely manage one length. Now, I am not even bothering to count the lengths.

I'm still not sure how I feel about actually doing the triathlon. At the moment I have the luxury of sharing the pool with a handful of other swimmers. For the eight lengths of the triathlon I will almost certainly have the kicking legs of other contenders in close proximity. I am trying very hard not to worry about that right now!

If nothing else, all this swimming is bound to have a positive impact on my running. Unfortunately, the only thing that will have a positive impact on the swimming, is MORE swimming. I better get myself back down to the pool!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Oxford Blues

Over three decades ago, I held an envelope in my hand. Inside that envelope was a rejection or offer letter from Oxford University. I opened the letter. It was a rejection.

This was not a devastating blow to me. I treated it all a bit like a game, enjoying the special treatment I got at school during the application process. I wore a borrowed pencil skirt and gold high heels to my interview. I didn't even know that the prime minister at the time had studied the same subject at the same college I applied for. I cringe now to think how flippant I was about an amazing opportunity.

I could never accuse my daughter Charis of being flippant. She fell in love with Oxford when we visited recently and despite knowing how tough the competition would be for a place to study medicine in the city of dreaming spires, she felt she owed it to herself to try.

Yesterday, we sat waiting anxiously for the postman to arrive with the letter that would direct her one way or another in a critical fork in the road of her life journey. It had already been an excruciatingly difficult wait from her interview in December until this moment  I'm sure Charis won't mind me saying that she was not always easy to live with while the weight of not knowing if her Oxford dream would become a reality sat so heavily on her shoulders. Now that the 'knowing' was one postal delivery away, the pressure was intense.

Adding to the pressure was the fact that she needed to be in Leicester for another University interview by midday. I was driving her there and we needed to leave by 10am to give us plenty of time to find the right building. Ten o'clock came and still no sign of the postman. We waited another 15 minutes before
accepting that this was not going to work out. We needed to leave and no amount of wishing and praying was going to make a postman materialise at our front door.

We agreed that we needed to put it out of our minds, give the Leicester interview 100% and as I would be returning home without her, I would open the letter and let her know if it was a yes or a no after five o'clock when she would be finished with the interview and on a train back to her boarding school. Simple.

Simple, that is, if it were possible to put such an important thing out of your mind. She really did have a face like thunder. I felt pity for the poor, unsuspecting person tasked with interviewing her!

Simple, that is, until I started my return journey and had time to think about the enormous responsibility of opening the letter, knowing the fate of my daughter and having to find a way to tell her if the news was bad.

I arrived home. As I opened the door I had a moment of doubt that the postman may not have called at all but there it was. The letter. The white envelope with the college crest printed in the top left hand corner. My heartbeat quickened. I felt sick. I bent to pick it up.

It did not take a genius to work out that a letter as thick as this one was not going to be a rejection. Dear so and so, you have not been offered a place at Oxford but here is a load of information to show you how good it would have been if we had wanted you. I remembered my letter thirty odd years ago. A single sheet of paper with an apology. I was relaxed and happy as I opened my daughter's letter and confirmed what I already knew.

I did not wait until 5 o'clock to text my daughter with the good news. I didn't even care if her phone buzzed and lit up in her pocket in the middle of an interview. She didn't care that I had deviated from the plan.

She was one delighted young lady with a very bright future ahead of her.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Xmas is Over - Going Naked and Finding the Autoglass Fix

So, after all the planning, preparation and expense, Christmas is over for another year.

Just when is that defining moment when you let go of all things tinselly and infused with Santa's magic and begin to welcome the new start. Is it when the decorations come down or the last slice of Xmas cake is consumed? Or is it when the chocolate excesses are fully converted to waistline expanding extra poundage and can no longer be ignored? I think for me, the one defining moment is when the binman comes to collect the overflowing black bin to relieve me of the seasonal waste destined for landfill.

Waste management over Xmas can be a nightmare. I was doing quite well with it, recyling wherever humanly possible and compacting to the limits of compactability. But then the urge for a post Xmas clear out threatened to overwhelm me if I didn't give in to it. The resulting bags of rubbish were bags of rubbish too far. I was at least able to hide them away in the green bin until such a time as my black bin was emptied of the burden of consumer madness.

The binmen have done their job. The black bin is nearly full again already but at least the green bin is emptier. And Christmas is definitely over.

In a rare quiet moment recently, my husband asked me Have you had a good Xmas darling? I hesitated before answering, In so many ways it has been a wonderful Xmas - a house full of family, friends and laughter, community events that have meant the focus of Xmas hasn't been solely inward facing to our own little bubble of home, great food, warm fires, the joy of experiencing the wonder through the eyes of my little ones and even some snow. So why the hesitation? Why could I not respond with Yes, it has been the most magical of times!! 

I think the problem must lie within me. It is a bit like I am a crystal glass waiting to be filled with the finest champagne. The champagne is flowing freely, my glass is filled ... but there is a crack, a tiny crack that no one can see. Not even I know it's there until the sweet liquid has run slowly away and the bubbles are gone. It doesn't matter how many times that glass is refilled, the result will always be a disappointingly empty glass and a bemused wondering of where all that lovely champagne has gone.

Maybe it is simply because my life moves so quickly. There is always something going on, some new demand made of time or attention. There is rarely a moment to stop and reflect and truly marvel at all the good things happening all around me. When I do stop, it tends to be because I am in a state of exhaustion - not a good frame of mind to consolidate the 'happy' and plug that destructive crack in the glass.

I now have that annoyingly catchy jingle stuck in my head from the Autoglass ad (Autoglass repair, Autoglass replace) Clearly what I need is the psychological version of Autoglass - but what is that?

I used to find that blogging gave me the moments of reflection I craved but over Christmas, our computer took a terminal turn for the worse. Without the convenience of my beloved Mac, I got out of the habit. I am back now with a minimalist set up that involves my i pad and a dinky little keyboard. I could grow to love it but it does seem to be slightly awkward. Maybe being reacquainted with my keyboard (albeit a dinky one) is all the therapy I need. I am definitely prepared to try blogging for my sanity by whatever means available!

Or maybe all I need is a really good rest and a change of scenery. I do understand now why the holiday providers are so keen to advertise exotic destinations as soon as the 'must have' toy commercials have done their best to persuade impressionable minds what they really want for Christmas.

So what did I really want for Christmas that I didn't get? What was the mystery 'must have' ingredient that would have made me answer my husband with a resounding YES when he asked me the fateful question that got me thinking about my dissatisfaction in the first place. It is simply (and impossibly difficultly) more time and energy to enjoy everything that I already have.

I did attempt a few time saving strategies. I will share one time saving triumph and one disaster before I draw a line under Christmas and move forward into the new year.

Triumph - Instead of spending hours decorating my Christmas cake, I made the decision to go naked. No one in my house actually likes marzipan or icing anyway. Naked cake is the way forward for us.

Disaster - Time spent agonizing over what to buy my husband, buying it, wrapping it and keeping it hidden were all saved. I didn't get him a present. I still feel bad about it.

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