Wednesday, 5 June 2019

In the swim...

I enjoyed my first sea swim of the season over half-term. (That makes it sound as though it's something I do regularly which - although true once - is not quite accurate now.) But we were in Weymouth on Bank Holiday Monday and the sea looked loverly...

During  my first year at university my parents moved to a small seaside town on the Yorkshire coast. That summer I spent most of my time in the garden reading my course books and sunbathing. Then, at about three o’clock, I’d wander down to the sea for a swim. It became a thing. Without really intending to I went swimming every day that summer, whatever the weather—including one memorable afternoon during a thunderstorm. It was like a longer version of the summer holidays we used to spend in Scarborough, swimming either in the sea or in the old sea-water South Bay Lido, now sadly no more.

Then October came and term began and I was once more reduced to the calm, chlorinated sterility of the indoor pool near the university. I started out with the intention of going daily, but it soon became every other day and then trickled to weekly before fizzling out completely. The swimming wasn’t the problem. It was the pool. There was nothing to match the salt-spray and the waves and the open air. True, the sea was cold, even in the middle of summer. But the cold seemed good. Invigorating. Inspiring. I’d return to my books with an increased resolve and get far more done in a couple of late-afternoon hours than I’d probably achieved all day until then. I really should have gone swimming every morning.

My love of outdoor swimming never left me but burned lower as the years went on. Taking the children swimming usually involves the local indoor pool (it's warmer) though there's a really excellent Lido not too far from here, at Woodhall Spa. And it's featured in this excellent (just-published, lavishly illustrated) 'practical guide to the outdoor pools of UK':

Two books have really inspired my newly-restored determination to swim outdoors. And this - The Lido Guide - is one of them. It's full of all the kinds of practical information you need to plan your swim (postcodes, parking, payment information and so on) but also written in a way (and accompanied by photographs) that makes you want to just strip off and dive in. It's wonderful. Inspiring. And  highly recommended.

And the second book? That's a secret as it isn't written yet. It's one I'm working on, one about the chronic pain I suffer from and one in which I investigate the alternatives to analgesics. And yes, you've guessed it, one of them is cold water swimming.

Watch this space!

Saturday, 25 May 2019


Yes, they’re back. Which means (as Ted Hughes one wrote) the globe’s still working.

You’ll have to take it from me that this is a genuine picture of one, spied today. I’ve seen swallows, too: they’re suddenly all there, filling the summer skies when just a day or two ago, here in Lincolnshire, there were none to be seen.

As you get older I think you get more excited by the nature’s annual rounds... at least, I do. As A.E.Housman wrote: “take from seventy springs a score/It only leave me fifty more.” In my case, take from seventy springs two score and ten and that really doesn’t leave very long.

So, forgive me for being just a little bit excited...

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Slow moment...

It was on this day in 1950 that the world premiere of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs was given at the Royal Albert Hall. They really were his last: the composer died in 1949 a year before the first performance.

Kisrten Flagstad was the soloist on that occasion, with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler.

This performance os September - the final song to be written although not the final one to be sung in  a complete performance - is by Lucia Poppyseeds,, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas...

Sunday, 5 May 2019


A brother is as easily forgotten as an umbrella - James Joyce

UmbrellaUmbrella by Will Self
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to say about this. It takes your breath away and twists your brain, delights, frustrates, amazes and baffles in pretty equal measure. But you soon get into an easy rhythm of not letting anything, any of the abundant details, get too distracting, of simply absorbing the text, absorbing the tale, soaking up the story until you realise you're in another world and the world is very much like your own but at the same time, totally different. Reading this book is a bit like having a dream: you know it's not real but it still feels real and you react as if everything was real. Writing my own book about the Great War I was so immersed in some of the research I did that it sometimes leeched into my dreams, with facts and images reflected in the sort of distorting mirrors you used to get at fairs. Umbrella is in some ways like one of those dreams, the machine-gun Stanley Death operates is "their new love – Vicky. Death and his section were taught to dash forward when the whistle blew, release the ratchet that secured her front legs so they could be swung open and then fixed by tightening it again. Sitting there, as Death, Stanley removed the pins from her raven hair, and the Number Two ran up and placed her body on top of her legs, her body – her death-dealing body, her 28-pound body"; with Vicky Stanley Death is "raining down death on a Daimler he cannot see but which he is busily disassembling, his bullets methodically shearing off one mudguard, then the next, drilling out the spokes from the wheels, unbolting those wheels from their axles, hammering the chassis into scrap, and finally pulverising its engine into all its component parts". In a way it's all Craig Raine's Martian and his postcards home, but what a Martian. What a series of successive observations of war, time, memory, family, mental illness, society. Umbrella isn't billed as a war book because it's so much more than that. But it is a war book and as good a book about the Great War as has probably been written.

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