The first leaves began to fall, it seems like only yesterday. It was a few weeks ago in fact when I drew this one but it somehow got forgotten. I swam in Ullswater with Francine, Derwent water with Jackie. This is the drawing that was inspired by both those swims, though the scene is my memory of the Ullswater swim: there was no denying the leaves really had begun to fall, so had the temperature. We had brought warm clothes, but there was no real hurry to get into them: still time for faffing, still capable of holding a conversation and stringing words into sentences. But winter is coming…
It helps to know when the school holidays are, if only because the traffic is different and sometimes everyone heads to the coast all at once. However, this was a peril I had previously overlooked. On Monday morning The Great Crab Release occurred. At a still relatively toasty 11.5 degrees in the lake, changing back into warm clothes would otherwise have been safe and simple. It was nippier than expected!
By chance, I wasn’t the hapless swimmer exiting the water: I was the one running around with a camera saying ‘Oh Look! Crabs!’ and taking photos of them. It was an impressive haul, the crabs were conscientiously counted out of the bucket and there were over 30 of them, caught in little more than half an hour. They are back in the marine lake now, but some of you may not wish to know that.
On Saturday I swam in Scales Tarn, overlooked by Blencathra, while a crocodile of people plodded on up the tricky way. The tarn was a beautiful azure blue, though in truth you had to be underwater to admire its colour, since the surface reflected the leaden sky. It was cold and wet, but outside of the tarn it was also wet, and quite slippery, and as the people filed past me on their way up Sharp Edge we eyed each other, both safe in the knowledge that the other party was the more foolish.
I’ve been looking at some of my photos taken at Vobster Quay, of swimmers underwater. I take these as an aid to creating paintings and not as an end to themselves, but I thought I would share this with you. The movements of swimmers are always lovely, it’s the weightlessness, but I particularly liked this sweep down, a dive with two leg kicks.
The camera is an Olympus Tough (orange, now obsolete, but there are newer versions), It’s very wide angle which makes the swimmers look quite far away and quite deep down, even if you see just one photo close-up. Click on the sequence and you should be able to see it in reasonable detail.
It’s been a funny time down at Clevedon Beach. Suddenly you can’t go for a swim without tripping over a BBC camera man, so it was about time that a drawing appeared to commemorate it.
So far as I was involved, it all started when a request appeared on Facebook from the BBC for people to be filmed swimming in the sea, on a damp and grey Tuesday in late November. Paying very little attention to what the filming was for, this being the sort of thing that I was happy to do anyway regardless of camera crew, I happily agreed and toddled along on the appointed day.
There was faffing. Much has been mentioned about the ability of cold water swimmers to faff, but let me tell you the combination of cold water swimmers and film crew pushed this to new heights. Which was just as well, since the appointed meeting time was 10.30am, with a high but neap tide due at 1pm. Not one but all 14 swimmers probably pointed out, individually and at various times when action looked like it was about to happen, that this meant that nobody was going to be able to get in the actual sea until getting on for 12. This is the Bristol Channel after all. The ‘sea’ must first come in, approaching Clevedon across sinking mud and rocks, and slow down a bit, before there is any question of actually getting in it.
Time enough for bacon sandwiches, a second round of coffee, and a third check that none of us sported any trace of logos about our person. Time for a trip to the beach and back to the meeting room at the Pier, and back to the beach again. Whereupon I should say that the BBC, concerned for the welfare of their subjects, offered hot water bottles, in fluffy glittery coats (the water bottles had the coats on, the BBC also did, but they were not glittery).
Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was a little surprised to find that come January 1st, I was in most of the newspapers and my bottom was all over BBC1, repeatedly, that we had been photographed by Martin Parr, a famous photographer, and that everyone I know had noticed. And the Twitterati were upset about the loss of hippos. It was slightly surreal.
Since then we have had two more lots of BBC camera people getting us to re-create the scene, partly I think to prove that it wasn’t just a one-off and we really do swim all year. It looked just the same, except for a proliferation of gloves… it is January now, some small concession to the English climate is allowable.
This particular drawing was inspired by Countryfile, on Monday of last week. Traffic on the M5 had meant I was nearly 20 minutes late, but fortunately the faffing was in full swing and I joined in like I’d been there all the time.
And if you still haven’t seen my bottom on BBC1, here you go: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38486283
(I’m in the blue snowflake costume, and for the record, no, I don’t have a bruise on my bottom, it’s dent where I hit a tree, sledging, when I was about 14…)
Clevedon Marine Lake
Quite unlike the Last Swim of 2016, the first swim of 2017 was a mass affair. More shrieking than swimming, especially from those who believe a new year’s resolution is all it takes, to get into 5 degrees as if you like it. They didn’t last. Though to be fair, some might: our Clevedon Lake and Sea Swimmers group is growing all the time, new faces popping up even through the winter and some of them stay, and surprise themselves.
The local media was there too, and plenty of umbrella’d watchers. Determined to have a proper swim, I swam off to the far end, and by the time I got back it was all over. A stiff wind and a determined drizzle had blown a lot of them straight into the pub.
‘Why do you do it?’ said the diver, struggling into her drysuit and eyeing my swimming costume with a tinge of horror. Because this is what it looked like; because being in a wetsuit is not the same as being in the water; because I can.
I do admit to wearing gloves yesterday, I had forgotten that, when I drew this. Particularly good for chilly swims when you can’t help but stop and take photos. I had a slight dilemma about adding people to this picture, so I finished two versions.