Saturday, 30 July 2011

It's no wonder I swim: life in the madhouse

I live in a madhouse. This is partly because I have one mad (as a meat axe) daughter, The Hiss, who spends the weekend working herself into a hysterical lather because of an impending maths test (on other weekends replace 'maths' with science).

Because the logic of the square root eludes her she vents her anger on Spanner and me. I try to keep out of it but her wild rants inevitably suck me into her whirlpool of rage and bitter recriminations.

"What would you know about maths, Mum. Keep out of it. Leave me alone." This is delivered in a scream as I try to intervene to protect Spanner, who has attempted to break down the mystery of Pythagorean theory into a simple sentence. He fails miserably because The Hiss listens to no one. All she hears is the crashing of numbers as they threaten to smother her in their infinite configurations.

Poor Hiss. If only she realised that maths is just numbers and that accountants can do the hard stuff once you're my age. But she doesn't get it. So we all suffer. Even the poor dog covers her ears and follows me out of the room when the books, pencils and pens start to fly.

It could be worse. I guess.

Back to the pool where my efforts to follow the clock induce the same level of panic that I'm sure is experienced by The Hiss.

Like mother like daughter.   

Friday, 22 July 2011

The hierachy of the swim squad: from the fast lane 6 to the slow lane 8

I've learnt a lot about the human condition since I started to attend a swim squad.

Social researchers would benefit from observing the hierarchy of my squad. In so many ways it fits the model that defines school playground and office politics. Life really.

When I first joined, I sensed resentment from a couple of my peers in lane 8. I often wondered if it was just me as I tried to find my place in the gang. Initially, I failed to endear myself to one woman - easily my age - because I didn't understand the 'clock', red and black caps and time repeats. She gave me the cold shoulder but didn't offer to educate me. And no one bothered to acknowledge let alone talk to me. 

It was the same in the change room, where all the lanes merge to queue for the showers.

I felt like a fish out of water, way out of my depth. 

Then, slowly, I ingratiated myself into the lane 8 'inner circle'. It's taken this long, but I've worked on my image as an easy-going sort of sheila who likes a joke and plays by the rules (no cheating the clock). Ha ha!

The woman who originally hated my guts now chats to me and I'm mates with the blokes who make sure I never catch up to them (men - but that's another story). I know my place in the group.

Of course, lanes 7 and 6 are out of bounds to those in lane 8. These are the faster swimmers (many in lane 6 are elite triathletes) who don't even glance at the motley lot in lane 8. 

However, the lane 7 swimmers in particular have to guard their territory because lane 8 is not immune to ambition. For some in 8, 7 is the impossible dream, sort of like Everest but nothing like it at all. 

Being in lane 8 is like the first year of high school. The older more experienced students who've been at the school longer know the ropes and have mastered the skills of survival. They abhor the newbies who haven't proven themselves worthy of inclusion in the exclusive upper eschelons. 

Lane 8 is uncool. And worst of all, we're slow.  

One day I would like to be in lane 7, and when that day comes I'll let you know. 

PS: I'm thinking that if everything goes according to plan and I maintain my current three days a week, it will take around 12 months. 

PPS: I also have to take into account that I'm no spring chicken and the average age of the women in the squad would be mid-20s. For me, those days are long gone and so is the energy!

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The key to swimming faster is to join a squad and stick with it, I think

This morning the wind howled and the rain slammed down as I crept out of the house at 5.42am and bolted for the car. 

I'm now in the habit of doing this three days a week come rain, hail or shine.

My partner Spanner does all he can to sabotage me. Why? he asks. It's so warm and cosy here. Don't go. 

Spanner is jealous (that's what I like to think - I must mean more to him than 'bed warmer'). But I don't care. I'm heading off to 6am swimming squad and he can't bear it that I have a hobby I love (not more than him but it is a toss of the coin).

My addiction to swimming squad has grown since Christmas, when I first joined and attended intermittently. Then things got serious. I befriended several of my peers in lane 8. We agreed we were relaxed about squad and carried on about how we loved the slow lane and had no aspirations to move into lane 7 with the faster swimmers (there's also the 'elite' lane 6 but that's the impossible dream).

After a while I noticed my mates' times were getting faster while I stayed the same. And it transpired that they were putting in the hard yards while I was tucked up in a cosy bed with Spanner whose attempts to undermine my swimming career have become far more sophisticated and devious.

Now the gloves are off. I've decided the only way to improve and prepare for the summer ocean swimming season is to do squad three times a week. 

Let's see how long this lasts!

Here's some trivia for English and Irish readers of this blog (I'm sure there's thousands of you out there): I guarantee there are more Poms and Irish in the pool (and in my squad) than there are Aussies. And they're mad. 

They come to Australia and throw themselves into outdoor sports like they've only got a minute left to live. My theory is it's because they've existed for years in a dark and gloomy climate and now they feel they have to make up for all that lost time spent in a cosy bed. That's what I call jealousy.

PS: This is a photo of the English swimming team training in Edinburgh for the 2012 London Olympics. Brrrr.

PPS: I'll keep you informed of my progress. Don't hold your breath.  

Monday, 18 July 2011

Winter blues in Sydney with dreams of swimming in Fiji and the Dardanelles

If I were a rich woman with time on my hands I'd do a couple of the overseas ocean swims to break up the monotony of winter in an overcast, cold Sydney.

The website promotes several fantastic looking excursions to faraway places, with adventurous swims included in the deal.

While I should be working, I've been dreaming about swimming in pristine conditions in the South Pacific. From August 25-27, the Beachcomber Island swims in Fiji offer a 19 km relay, a 2.7 km and 1 km swim. The prices seem hefty - it costs $175 to register for the 2.7 km swim. I think it's bumped up another 100 bucks if you want to add the relay. Maybe you get a nice lunch after? Dunno. But it's a lot.

After all this is over, and you are really rich with not a care in the world, you can hang around for the Yasawas SwimCruise from August 14-19 (see below).

Still in Fiji, from September 16-18 you can do the Mana Island swims and then stay until September 25 for another Yasawas SwimCruise. The Yasawas are a an "island chain"* and this trip is a non-competitive swimming holiday where lucky lucky participants do a different swim every day.


Also on the ocean swims calendar is one swim I would like to attempt before I fall off this planet and into the arms of the cosmos. It's the Dardanelles swim on August 30, which happens to be Turkish National Day. Swimmers cross the 4.5 km stretch of sea from Eceabat on the European side of the Dardanelles to Canakkale on the Asian side. The water temperature is 27 degrees Celsius, but the conditions are unpredictable and last year's swim was a doozy - I don't think I would've made it.

Here's the link:

I have borrowed the pic of lucky chickens swimming in the Yasawas from the Ocean Swims website. I think you have to see how beautiful it is to understand why I am thumping my head on the keyboard in order to dull the pain of knowing I won't be in that pic this year. Maybe 2012 - the year of great possibilities for all!

*This is the Ocean Swims description, which reminds me of a sparkling emerald necklace.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Crying: when is the right time to shed a tear?

My youngest daughter Miss Hissy (aka The Hiss) is at a leadership camp. As if that isn't funny enough, The Hiss has sent two text messages from camp HQ that have caused much merriment in our household.

The first came after I asked her, via text message, how it was going. 

She wrote: Everyone here is so emotional but in a good way. 

In a good way? I immediately imagined a gathering of precocious teens locked into a group hug after each had made public some tragic aspect of their cossetted life.

My response: Emotional? Gawd! 

You may think I'm being harsh but let me put you in the picture. In our house there has to be a good reason for tears. For example: death of dog or other pet variety (though you're stretching it with gold fish and axolotls), broken bones (fingers and toes don't count, only important bones) and the final episode of MasterChef for 2011. 

My mother's advice was to stop crying over trivial matters. For example: acrimonious divorce, loss of job and frustration from dealing with ungrateful spouse and selfish children.

I'll admit there is stuff that makes me spontaneously cry like today in the supermarket when the man on the PA system told shoppers the grocery packers at each checkout were scouts raising money to get to the world jamboree in Sweden. That sense of community touched me and I got all teary. 

And there are certain songs that make me cry like U2's One Love, which was also playing in the supermarket today and probably caused me to toss into the shopping trolley items I wouldn't usually buy. 

This 'empathy for others' type of crying is acceptable. It's the 'woa is me' type of crying that gets my goat. 

For sure, I bawled my eyes out during my acrimonious divorce but I didn't bore the rest of the world with my venting. In fact, I did a lot of it while I was in the car and found that driving and crying works a treat for downloading excess 'woa is me' grief. 

Seriously, try it. In January, I drove in a highly-charged hormonal state from Sydney to Belmont and sobbed all the way from the start of the F3. By the time I arrived I felt great.

The Hiss's second text message was: Yeah, everyone is crying except me! 
My response: Ha ha, go girl!

I realise teenagers are over-emotional creatures and the world revolves around them. But it won't always. My point is if a child falls over and it's just a grazed knee there's no reason to cry. Get back up, check everything's OK and get on with it.

PS: I bet The Hiss was desperate to cry and probably did everything in her power (pinched herself, thought of dog dying) to eek a trace of moisture from those stubbornly dry eyes.  

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

A stiff breeze and a stiff drink

It's blowing a gale here in Cleveland, Queensland. Not Cleveland, Ohio.

I'll head out to Manly, Queensland (not Manly, Sydney), later today with fingers crossed that The Hiss has sailed into the record books and not into last place on the final day of the regatta.

There will be dire consequences for Spanner and me if she fails in her quest to dominate world sailing. I fear I will be forced to consume a bottle of red in order to numb the pain of her verbal abuse.

I haven't yet heard from Spanner, and that's not good. If The Hiss does well Spanner is more buoyant than a cork. Sadly, he lives vicariously through his children. In this case it is the second child as his first-born failed to embrace sailing, the only sport on the planet that Spanner cares about.

Geez, I'm freaking out. Why hasn't he called? She must be coming bloody last. Capsized on Moreton Bay. Screaming blue murder. This is a nightmare.

Worse still, we have left our home in Sydney and our dog (I LOVE MY DOG) in the care of my eldest daughter, Precious Princess. She's 20. Say no bloody more.

As 'Anonymous' wrote in the comment section of my last post, it is highly likely that my castle has been trashed by a horde of Gen-Ys with nothing at all on their minds. EMPTY VESSELS IN SEARCH OF FUN.

I sent a text message to PP on Sunday night. Here it is:

Me: 'How are you going?'
PP: 'Balls deep.'
Me: 'What?'
Me: 'Is it OK?'
PP: Sorry, that was Charlotte. Going good. Just having a movie night. Dog is happy in her basket.'
Me: 'If anything happens to dog I blame Charlotte.'
PP: 'She will not be left alone with dog.'
Me:'Dog will tell me everything.'

Realistically, the dog won't be telling me anything. How I wish she could talk.

Arrgghhh, another gust of wind. It's an ill wind that blows no good!

P.S. I've added another post to my writing blog. Click on the shaynesands link to read all about my experience in the Valerie Parv Award.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Sailing not swimming: Manly in Queensland not Sydney

Flying 11s, 29ers and Lasers at the Royal Queensland Yacht Squadron on Manly Harbour 
 When tourists come to Sydney they often visit Manly Beach, an enticing strip of golden sand that forms the backdrop for a surf beach world-renowned for its gnarly breaks. Up until recently, I'd never realised there was another Manly in Australia.

But here I am, not far from Manly in Brisbane, Qld, where Miss Hissy is sailing in a regatta on Moreton Bay. I'm not familiar with Brisbane at all. When I was here two years ago for an RWA conference, I spent most of my time at the hotel in workshops, so only glimpsed the city. It'll be interesting to see how it's changed since the floods early this year that swept away the riverside walk.

We're staying in Cleveland, which is an outer suburb. It's also a 20 minute drive to Manly (it looked closer on the map when Spanner booked the accommodation).

This morning I went for a walk around Cleveland's Raby Bay, which is crammed with mega-mansions that sit cheek-by-jowl and consume every centimetre of the land they occupy.

They come in every style, with the only common factor being that size matters. They are bloody gi-normous - there's no room for modesty here. I can't begin to imagine the resources that were gobbled up in their construction or the energy it must take to maintain them. Bali inspired, US White House, angular deco, Swiss Alps and RSL club architect-designed homes jostle for prime position along the man-made canals. One home for sale boasted a block 2373 square metres with its own private jetty.

The area is flat - excellent for weekend cyclists, it reminds me of Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne in that respect - because Moreton and Raby Bays must have, a long time ago, been filled with mangroves. In Raby Bay it seems most of the mangroves have been tarred over and replaced with sparsely spaced palm trees.

I didn't see a lot of people in Raby Bay and not one car on the tessellated bricks roads, but the few dog walkers I passed greeted me with big smiles (something that doesn't happen a lot in 'sour-puss bum face we're too busy to bother being friendly' Sydney).

However, the lack of human activity led me to speculate that some of the residents may have got lost as they rattled around their own homes and eventually died. The mansions have become mausoleums that will one day sink back into the mud from which they rose.

It's just a thought... 

Back to the sailing: there's not one breath of wind to be had today. So Miss Hissy will 'choke'. She loses her mojo when there's no breeze so she'll be in a foul mood when she and Spanner get back to Cleveland this evening.

I can't wait.