Curiosity Kills the Cat

I made as much time as I could to share my mother’s experience of a long – slow – death.

I’m not afraid of dying.

I want to experience it myself.

First I am going to live some more.

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Colditz – Leipzig – the Great Escape

They were more afraid of boredom than fear.

The greatest strength is not to be frightened of being afraid.

Boredom is time wasting

is life draining.

Planning escapes was their secret garden.

Here’s a clue to survival

for alive people in dead places – fantasy is OK.

You can keep yourself going

knowing

that for just a few captives – fantasy became reality.

They got out.

Diving and somersaulting over a gym box to hide a tunnel

– they got away with it because it was so brazen.

It was fun even if they didn’t escape.

How to create freedom in your head when you have none.

Is it enough though?

Boring is background noise.

Privacy and loneliness is creativity and freedom.

Nature boys

My friends are nature boys.

I am a nature girl.

I lived in Margate until I was 6.

I lived an enchanted life in the water and air.

Not fearing the rearing waves.

I could fly.

I had a friend Neil. When I moved to the city I could fly in my imagination with Neil. He faded.

In the city there was no water. I still had the air and the earth. I jumped between concrete blocks and slid down gravel ravines.

Now I have a new imaginary friend. Joy is my muse.

When I climb tors, swim in lakes and dive from heights he is always with me.

When dreams become reality – that is pure joy.

The greatest thing you will ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

Girl Thursday

It’s New Year and the finishing touches to the new me – an exhausting 2 year programme.

I’ve sorted out most things but I still can’t think straight at home because I can never find anything and we don’t have any systems in place for the family that we will all collaborate together to use. I feel panicky and sabotaged.

I feel like I’m wasting my life pairing socks and finding lost items – and the dog hasn’t helped matters because she keeps picking up stick shaped objects of any type around the house, burying them in places like dirty washing piles, and chewing all our headphones.

And – by an amazing piece of synchronicity my marvellous friend Louise has just set up a business to get all the stuff out of my life I don’t need so that I can feel like I’m living a more simple family life. I hate high maintenance activities.

https://girlthursday.co.uk

In the space of four hours Louise and I leave no stone unturned across the whole house making quick fire decisions about what to keep what to sell and what to chuck. Cleaning wipes in hand – shelves are cleared and designer perfumes lined up on display.

In this whirlwind of activity there is a method. Louise is listing items on eBay – checking retail prices and even working through my wardrobe to help me decide what my image is. It’s fun.

Louise works out a practical system that aligns with my lifestyle and parenting values (in my case – benign neglect through encouraging independence).

Louise drives away with a car full of saleable items and I have my house straight for the first time in two years.

For me that is priceless. I have freed up head space and time to get on running my new business.

I’ve worked out that success depends on your environment and with mine zhuzzed up I feel free to press on with work.

I’m waiting for money to roll in from eBay sales.

In the end the money I’ve paid girl Thursday will be a great investment because the sales on eBay will be fourfold that price

When my husband gets home he says ‘amazing I feel like I’m living in a boutique hotel now.’

Men’s pond

This morning I headed on my new bike to the ladies pond for two adventures in one. Only to find that it was iced over and that the ‘churning’ machines were not working.

We have a rare invitation to the Men’s pond.

This gets us talking in our bikini clad stately glide in 4 degree water round the spanking diving board.

How does this feel different to the Ladies only pond?

With our eyes – the obvious thing is that it is lighter and much more open.

With our souls the thing is that this occupation for women is described as ‘mad’ whereas for men its thought of as ‘adventurous’ – hence they have a diving board and we don’t. Or maybe they just asked.

What could we have done with our lives if we had been men? And what could they have done if they had been us?

The question is – which men? These quiet, self contained – surprisingly adventurous men in their changing yard adjacent to ours?

They could have had children – more children if they had wanted.

We could have been more self contained, less eager to please. We could have made a better society, been listened to, been more public, made more of a difference, spent less time cleaning up sick. Could we have done that anyway? Well yes – if we had assertively handed the sick cleaning to someone else. If we had money or a willing partner – if we had asked.

Maybe these quiet caring men would have said ‘yes – I’m not myself when I’m striving in the business world. I’m a locked down version of myself stuck on the straight and narrow’.

Caring for dependents can be very limiting. Wage slavery too in another way. How much should we sacrifice ourselves for others? And for how long?

Avon

Transitioning from the freedom of the beautiful English Countryside. I’ve fallen in love with that too – out of love with the City.

Complete freedom is where you like, when you like with no witnesses. Unlimited options.

The locals say park up in a summer picnic spot. The formula is to walk along the bank scouting for anglers perches and find one with steps down for seclusion.

It’s surprisingly so much warmer than the London ponds. Sunday’s Ladies pond winter swimming veteran says – forget the numbers. My new friend is in Finland and he says they are swimming in the Baltic today at 0 degrees water with -1 degree air. Stop – no more numbers. Just as well as I made a bad choice with my thermometer. I’m a lazy researcher, impulsive buyer, minimalist.

There’s hardly any current and a view for miles down the river to the setting sun. I feel like I could stay for hours although I know I can’t really. My least favourite science – biology – won’t let me.

Now I’m thinking of history. A century and half ago the idea of bathing all winter in this river would have been perfectly mainstream. We think of ourselves as having more options than previous generations. It’s not true. We’ve narrowed down what is normal to less than 10% of what’s possible.

Driving is my second love. It gives me unlimited options. Cross country home through the Cotswolds harmonising ‘you’ve got to hide your love away’.

Refuge

Back to the busy Ladies pond refuge to try out a quality assured 5 degrees. No photos here – teeming with adventurers – nobody must know who escapes here on a Friday morning.

For the first time this is seering. Distract with deconstruction. Where are the pain and gain hotspots – now freeze spots? Below the collar bones where it’s tense, the asthmatic bottom ribs and the thighs.

5 degrees 5 minutes.

To survive I must learn the lesson first time fast. It must work. Hot frustration that my hot frustration is not a quick fix.

The lesson the water teaches me today, is patience. It owes me nothing.

Severn

I believe in infinity even though I know I can never get there. Where will it end? The point of experiments is – nobody knows the end result.

In the pond in London I can be a good scientist – carrying out my experiment in a controlled environment – just one parameter change at a time – the slow progression of dropping temperatures. With the occasional shocking dive. I know the end result already – by January if there is ice – I’ll be submerged under it.

In the Dart with my accomplice my adventure has more unknowns. The current, the temperature, the entry and exit. Lots of parameters – even if we get there – will it happen?

A lunchtime meeting and a gap in the schedule means that there is an opportunity for a secret adventure.

I haven’t had a dip in 8 days and it’s taking its toll in overheating.

The good news is that it’s a mild November day. And I’m unfettered. No equipment. No expert advice. No permission. No judgement. Freedom. Without company, and in an unfamiliar river I am so much more scared and on risk assessment high alert. There’s no Severn bore at least.

A jog along the muddy riverside path takes me to some anglers jetties. I’m in luck – as I always am now – if I don’t plan and just go with the flow. 15 wooden steps down then tree roots into the water – I’ve learnt that’s the perfect exit strategy.

Strip off slip in. How far into the current can I go? Firing synapses in my skin / water interface spread equally over every pore. My mind takes over to intercept the pain panic signals and replace them with calm. I’m going to use that technique next time I’m trying to leave the house, forgetting my stuff and I’m late.

Now for the measurements. How cold is it and how long can I stay in? Seven degrees. Seven minutes.

I’ve gone deeper and colder than my first Kings Cross pond swim now.

Smugglers cove

The best accomplice ever – the enthusiastic researcher.

Now we know – don’t plan – all we need to do is get there. Will it be rough? How cold? Forget that, its sunrise, it will be perfect.

Our whispers echo on the rock carved smugglers tunnel.

Opening out onto pure unsullied bronze sand and a copper sunrise. Sea birds pierce the water membrane. Leathery seaweed litters the sand.

Looking back to my last sea swim two weeks ago it was 15 degrees then – so I reckon 13 degrees now.

I’m on the cusp of learning – with winter swimming – never look back.

Strip off, walk in, reach out to the sunrise. The contrast with yesterday’s peaty river currents – just one degree warmer at 9 degrees, so much floatier.

Now for my accomplice. Implausible with the age gap – I’ve started to feel maternal pride for her. She takes it further than yesterday. I love adventurous fast learners.

Excited dog walkers want to know how it feels. They tell of fairytale pools on the moors with slimy natural rock water chutes. We wish we had another day for that rush. We’re not careful what we wish for.

The salty chill is part of us now and forever. Every shell and drip of cliff filtered spring water is registered crystal clear in our minds. We don’t have to worry about the past – we’ve got it. We never need to look back – we are free to be curious about the future.

The River Dart swim

What would most people with a swimming habit do in a regional English City while visiting a long lost friend?

The conventional wisdom says head for the municipal pool. This one’s burnt out by a sauna fire but even if it wasn’t, our unconventional wisdom says there’s a better opportunity a few miles away on the moor.

I have a willing but inexperienced accomplice. It’s not very safe because the last river swim she did was in August four years ago. Then there were hoards of locals with barbecues , ghetto blasters, dogs with their wild human friends cliff bombing into the river on the top of the moor. We’re planning a maximal experience – because we’re project managers. Without doing any permanent damage. We’re mums so we’re habitual health and safety risk assessors for ourselves and our children. We’re not going to be limited by fear though. And she trusts me. I love her for that.

We bring gloves and a Thermos flask of tea plus fun size Crunchies. That’s it. A few mitigations to warm up fast after an immersion is a sharp idea.

We find lots of kayakers in the car park but we can’t find the spot she remembers from that summer 4 years ago. So we ask. We love him because he is an adverturer and doesn’t dissaprove. The river is running very fast and powerfully.

Following a path along the river and at last it opens out to something that’s more of a pool. The kayakers are slingshotting round the far side of the bend in the river rip tide, just under the cliff.

Strip off. Feel our way in-past the boulders. She is madly excited. I’m assured – holding steady for the maximum intense chill. This is the coldest plunge of the year yet for me. I estimate 8 degrees. I wish I could feel what she feels though.

We cling on to the roots in the water not to be swept away. It’s touch and go.

Our kayaker swings past. He’s delighted we found the place. His kayak is specially designed to slice the water and unlike the slingshotters, he’s a pirouetting spinning top.

The contrast of the expert with 10 years of practice, and the limits of the instant gratification thrill seekers. We’ll get bored soon and by next year want the new high of throwing ourselves from the cliffs. Are men different? I’d like to know. Is there a man open enough to help us experience what its like to be him? There is – and its her man.

We get out and stand semi naked in the November drizzle feeling warm. We’ve been recalibrated. We feel everything differently. A family of wild ponies canter up to congratulate us and passing walkers agree to take snaps of our cross – species celebration.

It’s so different and so much better than we planned. Let’s not plan again. All it takes is to get here and get started.

She’s caught the bug. My original wild swim friend is oblivious – here on this moor in November he has infected another. I was a follower now I’m a leader and so is she. She’s bringing her man with her.