Perfection in an afternoon

I adore swimming at the best of times – throw in sun, warmth and naturally occurring water and I am like a fish in, well, water…

An idyllic spot discovered on Sunday.

The Texan hill country has all three of these, in abundance. Oh to live in a land where you can pull up by the side of a river and swim to your heart’s content! To be told that the programme for a Saturday afternoon was an afternoon by the river was delightful news – discovering that the precise location was a Christian conference centre was less delightful.

However, happy times, Presbyterian Mo Ranch turned out to be nothing like Swanick or High Leigh (destination for many a Christian conference I’ve attended in the UK). For a start, it was big; there was a river; a waterslide; canoes; and possibily the most idyllic place in which I’ve ever swum [excluding Pacific islands].

The afternoon began with the women swimming in the deep water – floating around in tubes and treading water. It was chilly, but not unbearable, which was perfect given the warmth of the sun. While we floated and swam, the men picked up canoes and headed upstream. Just as I was about to lose my dignity (and my swimsuit) attempting to climb upon a floating raft, one canoe returned and one of its occupants insisted that I jump in the boat to experience what they’d just found.

Three of us paddled upstream (with varying degrees of success and several bank-crashing incidents) and pulled the canoe up onto a smooth beach, beyond which we found streams of fast moving water, shallow pools heated by the sun and basically, a beautiful spot. Rapids carried me down a natural waterslide (well, once I gave up resisting the pull of the current having been shamed by several small children) and I then cautiously stepped over slippery rocks to get to a natural jacuzzi. There the three of us sat, watching buzzards fly overhead in a perfectly blue sky, hearing nothing but running water and occasional snatches of laughter.

We took it in turns to have a natural jet bath and ponder the world. I had a deep and meaningful with a new friend – putting the world to rights, praying and generally meeting with God in the midst of awesome surroundings. I think each of us experienced something profound in that place of peace and beauty. With regret and longing we headed back to the canoe and paddled back. The others must have wondered what on earth had happened to us – days later it was still being cited as a highlight.

The thing with open water, swimming and canoes is that it’s not particularly camera or iPhone friendly, so we have no photos with which to remember the afternoon. That’s one of the reasons why I had to write it down, so I couldn’t forget it. But I left with memories that I’ll treasure for a long time to come – oh, and some physical reminders…

…the thing with rocks is that they can be both smooth and rough. When you’re sliding down a stream you can’t always tell what you’re going to hit and at what speed. Thus, I left that beautiful place with rather beautiful grazes across my posterior (I guess I should be thankful that my swimsuit remained intact). For 36 hours afterwards, sitting down was something of a trauma, not to mention foolishly climbing onto some rocks while swimming the following afternoon.

And the thing with the internet is that sometimes you can find other people’s photos of special places. This is the view looking back down the river, at the top of the natural water slide.

Lower yourself into that pool by the rock and whoosh! 
Driving back to the ranch, there was only one possible soundtrack, or really song, that we could listen to –  O Brother Where Art Thou and As I Went Down to the River to Pray. Apt music at its best.

Friday Fun frolics in the sun

This week I did something I haven’t done in years – I bought a non-sporty, actually attractive (in terms of fabric) swimsuit. I think it was essentially part of my ‘buy stuff now before you’re a student again’ strategy, but it was also an impulse buy while watching Wimbledon. For years, I’ve sworn by Bravissimo in the bra department – now I can swear by them in the swimsuit department too. Lush. [In case you’re wondering, the genius is that they sell swimsuits by bra size rather than dress size which makes soooooo much more sense.] This might not sound like Friday Fun, but in honour of my purchase and the fact that it’s summer and we should all have the opportunity to wear attractive swimsuits, I give you Literary Greats in their Swimsuits

…sure, Sylvia Plath looks good on the beach; turns out Hunter S. Thompson was quite a hotty, as was Truman Capote; but Ernest Hemingway? Not so good. Not to mention the unfortunate swimwear Virginia Woolf’s era provided her with.

 Virginia Woolf in an all-in-one & F. Scott Fitzgerald (and his wife Zelda, yes, Zelda!) in theirs.

Tenuous link time: you know what female literary greats often are? Spinsters.

In case you’re a spinster and have been wondering for quite some time as to how you ought to behave, fear not – there’s a book that explains how. Published in 1901, Myrtle Reed’s The Spinster Book tells all the single ladies how they ought to behave, especially around menfolk. Fortunately, thanks to Google, 21st century spinsters can learn the lessons of over a century ago – and they’re gems. Just the list of chapters makes for delightful reading:
Notes on Men
The Lost Art of Courtship
The Natural History of Proposals
The Physiology of Vanity
The Consolations of Spinsterhood

If you read any of it, check out ‘Love Letters Old & New’ first – delicious! Or, just read part of the exchange shared in The Hairpin article that alerted me to this gem:

All this talk of Bravissimo and single ladies and you might think we were on a girls’ weekend away – except there’s been no mention of Mooncups. But wait! Ladies (and it is probably exclusively female readers who will find this fun) one of this week’s discoveries was the awesome Camp Cranky – a website for girls on the brink of puberty. There are videos of puppets telling the stories of girls’ first periods, random cartoons, an interesting international angle and a charity project – oh, and a lot of squirrels. I have no idea why the squirrels are there, but I highly recommend listening to ‘Girl Squirrel’ on the lower right-hand side of the bonfire homepage – I hadn’t realised that squirrels were Mexican…

The etiquette of getting naked with colleagues

I’ve often wondered how people with workplace gyms cope with seeing their colleagues at inopportune moments – sweaty on a treadmill, doing an inelegant stretch, mid-change of clothes, in the sauna, in the shower…depending on your colleagues (and your own appearance), it can’t be a good thing.

[Incidentally, nor is running into colleagues in your pyjamas. At this year’s Greenbelt I was emerging from my tent first thing in the morning – in pj’s & bedhair – when a voice said “Liz! George thought it was you and it is!” and I discovered two colleagues were camped in adjacent tents. I had to watch my tongue and my outfits for the rest of the weekend.]

This morning I appeared almost naked in front of a colleague – but it’s ok because…
(i) I had a swimsuit on
(ii) It was a colleague who isn’t likely to get lecherous

Swimming with people is a risky business as it’s quite literally frightfully exposing. It’s not something to be done with male friends you’re remotely attracted to and even hanging out in a sauna with a good female friend is a little daunting.

Staying at a hotel with a pool last night, the plan this morning was to have a swim before breakfast and a vague time was arranged. In a fit self-consciousness, I decided to make my way down early so that I’d already be in the water when colleague arrived. Thankfully, colleague seriously overslept and I was in the jacuzzi after completing my 40 lengths by the time he appeared. I’m pretty sure he was then more interested in his own swim than the sight of me walking from jacuzzi to sauna to steam room and back to the jacuzzi again.

Occasionally I complain that my office didn’t install a gym/pool/hot-tub when it had a major refurbishment two years ago. Then I remember moments like today’s and realise that really, my colleagues are the last people I want to be sharing a changing room with. Sometimes perfect strangers are just, well, perfect.

Postscript on Saturday morning:
Last night’s accommodation was in an old university college in the north of England. Quaint rooms but no en suite facilities. Somehow I hadn’t fully realised this when packing and therefore didn’t have my most communal bathroom friendly PJs with me. Even worse, my neighbours weren’t office colleagues, they were a collection of national ‘experts’ (in a field that I’m definitely not an expert in).

I figured I could possibly make it to the shower and back without being spotted, but failed on both counts – jumping spectacularly when I opened the shower door to leave and bumped into one of my fellow delegates (she was in slightly more respectable PJs, I just had a towel on…plus she was at least someone I’d been drinking with the night before). Next time, I’m bringing a dressing gown.

The best things in life are free

It’s not often in life that you get really good stuff that costs absolutely nothing – especially in London. True, we get a fair number of free live events (West End Live being a favourite) and a certain amount of tat handed out at train stations, but otherwise it’s pretty much the most expensive place you could live.

When you do stumble across an excellent freebie it therefore tastes all the sweeter. Who’d have thought that I’d manage to get a morning at a delightful spa utterly gratis? Plus, any of you people reading this in Britain could benefit too. All I had to do was hand over the lid from a water bottle and voila!

Yes…a water bottle lid.
Not any old water bottle – Schweppes Abbey Well (available in both still and sparkling). It’s not the most common brand, but I’ve found it in my local newsagent and it was the water provided at Conference last week (I went round collecting lids from unattended bottles, I’m a total menace).

Schweppes currently have a promotion (amusingly named Schwim Free) which enables you to have a free swim at selected pools across the country, Monday to Friday. The cunning thing is that some of the pools are in rather swanky health centres, so you can get on to quite a good deal.

The friend who introduced me to this scheme had discovered a particularly classy venue in Canon Street, complete with decent pool (we did 40+ lengths before doing anything else), jacuzzis, steam rooms, saunas, relaxation area and a balcony adjacent to the river. Beautiful. A particularly amazing facility was a jacuzzi in which you lay on a submerged sun lounge type thing and were then pummelled with jets of water. An utterly delicious experience. Definitely the perfect way to start my final day off, especially when accompanied by a friend you can natter with in the steam room, sauna and while lying on sun loungers…if only there’d been a cocktail waiter too.

Sadly not hi-res, but that would be the laned pool. On the left is the jacuzzi with the loungers in, below is another, smaller pool. Directly opposite is the ‘relaxation area’. Yummy. 

A word of warning: some of the venues have very specific times when the offer is available, so check thoroughly before you try it out. But, I’ve had a bit of a look around a few locations (other bits of London, Tewks and Brum) and there are other spa-associated pools, so it’s definitely worth investigating.


Today I went swimming. Not an unusual occurance, in fact, I usually go once a week at my quiet, secluded, overly-expensive gym. I love swimming (apart from the odd incident of lane-rage) and wish I were better at it.

But today I had a child in tow. Yesterday, before I left town for the Shire, I had a text from my host suggesting I bring my swimming costume with me as Doris (7) usually went on a Saturday morning.
So, meeting an excited 7 year old fresh from an hour’s roller skating, I launched myself into an alien environment – that of being in loco parentis in quite a lot of water.
Fortunately, Doris’ swimsuit came equipped with flotation devices, so I was pretty sure she couldn’t drown in my care (and besides, that’s what lifeguards are there for, right?) but what I hadn’t realised was the level of power that I had suddenly acquired…
Saturday morning trips to the pool as a tween and teen were always somewhat traumatic. The combination of swimsuits that leave little to the imagination and hoards of teenage boys determined to wreek havoc in the water was simply something that had to be endured in order to swim – there was no alternative.
Today, the same teenage boys were there (ok, not the exact same ones – their descendants) getting in the way & generally being obnoxious. At one point they crashed into Doris and I fixed them with a glare; they backed off immediately and apologised.
That’s when I realised. Inside, I might be the same girl with insecurities about swimsuits and teenage boys that I had as a 14 year old, but on the outside I was a grown-up, with a small child in tow, and all of a sudden that meant that I deserved respect.
It was a stunning revelation and one that I ended up exploiting later on, when Doris decided that she fancied playing with a larger float than the one we’d acquired. Getting a bigger one was no problem at all and we had heaps of fun.
Suddenly I’m coming over all maternal…