The Swimliness of the Long Distance Loner

My Mondays are set around attending the Really, Really Fat Person’s Support Group for the next few weeks.

Today we learned how to read nutrition labels in order to understand what we are putting into our bodies. I try to sit quietly and not be a know-it-all, having been through all this before. And having worked with food labels for years. Hell, I worked with ANZFA (now FSANZ) on this very subject. I reminded myself constantly not to be a prick. But I probably was one anyway. It is hard to sit quietly when the expert in the room is repeating discredited food myths. Still. I tried.

I was back on Bribie and in the pool by 16:15. It is still School Week. In fact, School week is actually four weeks, so late afternoon swims will be the routine for a while. This afternoon over half the pool was still taken up by youngsters doing their thing so I shared a lane until after five.

I had loaded a lot more music onto the MP3 player over the weekend. It now has something like 50 hours of music to randomly play. So why does it keep playing the same tunes over and over? The algorithm that randomly selects is defective.

Because the player is cheap, and must be waterproof, one cannot see what is on it unless it is connected to a computer. There is no screen to tell you what is playing. You can’t actually choose a track except by scrolling through hoping to come upon it. For controls the device has the usual on/off button, volume up/down button, and a next track/last track button. In such circumstances, unless you want to constantly interrupt your swim to choose another track, it is vitally important not to put any music on the player that you do not really really want to hear quite often at any time at all. Because if you do, that is the one the player will choose to repeat over and over.

I love Janis Joplin. I love her rendition of Ball and Chain. But not over and over while I’m swimming, thanks.

The Curragh of Kildare

JThe winter it has passed
And the summer’s come at last
The small birds are singing in the trees
And their little hearts are glad
Ah, but mine is very sad
Since my true love is far away from me

And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For it’s there I’ll finds tidings of my dear

The rose upon the briar
By the water’s running clear
Brings joy to the linnet and the bee
And their little hearts are blessed
But mine can know no rest
Since my true love is far away from me

A livery I’ll wear
And I’ll comb back my hair
And in velvet so green I will appear
And straight I will repair
To the Curragh of Kildare
For its there I’ll find tidings of my dear

All you who are in love
Aye and cannot it remove
I pity the pain that you endure
For experience lets me know
That your hearts are filled with woe
It’s a woe that no mortal can cure

Songwriters: CHRISTY MOORE / DOMINIC BEHAN / HAROLD SHAMPAN

The Wrens of the Curragh’

In 1856 The Curragh Military Camp had been established on the plains of Kildare, and attracted a community of Irish destitute women. The women, mostly in their twenties, lived on the plains about a mile from the camp. Outcast by society, they supported each other within their community and lived difficult lives in furze-covered shelters dug in the ground using any protection from the weather they could find.

Because they mostly iced in ‘nests’ in the ground the women became known as The Wrens. Their choices were limited to either living rough on the Plains of Kildare or in the workhouse where they would have no control and no dignity whatsoever.

Their only means of income was the oldest profession. They sold their bodies to the soldiers of the camp.

The women were ostracised by society, the church, and the local communities. Many had young children living with them but such was the nature of society at the time that they received little compassion. They were beyond the pale of so called ‘respectable society’. They were stoned, spat at, and beaten in the the local communities. Shopkeepers refused them service. Only one business, run by a widow, would allow them to enter and be served.

The army permitted them to buy necessities twice weekly at the camp store and sent water wagons out to the ‘nests’ twice weekly.

There are accounts of gangs of local men who considered it sport to terrify the women and burn down their nests.

There are accounts of incidences of gang rape by groups of soldiers. An incident reported in the town of Newbridge concerns a local priest who attacked one of the Wrens, tore the thin shawl and gown from her shoulders and beat her with his riding crop until her blood splashed all over his riding boots. Though witnessed by many locals, no one voiced any protest.

Another priest was known to attack any Wren he encountered with scissors he carried for the purpose. He would cut off their hair, marking them with the “shame” of the Corinthian prostitutes. No one ever objected or tried to help.

For fifty years, until the end of the nineteen century, the Wrens of the Curragh lived in the ditches of the Plains of Kildare and died there of from disease and exposure. When they fell ill the workhouse usually refused to take them in and those few they did were kept away from sight in conditions no better than those they had left on the plains.

Because of the hypocrisy of religion we Irish, usually renown for generosity, could be just as uncharitable as anyone else.

THE CAMP, C 1860

Knee Jerk

The day before yesterday, on my way to the pool I passed a nursery and was reminded of my desire to start growing a new bay tree in a pot.  I had in mind finding a small tree and trying to bonsai it.  I turned aside to see if they had one in stock. Unfortunately the turn was rather sharp and I ran the front tyre of the bike off the path into soft sand. The wheel went down.  I was tossed immediately.  Apart from a graze on the side of my knee I was unhurt. No one witnessed the incident so my pride was intact. I picked myself up and furthered my enquiry at the nursery.   Unfortunately no bay trees.  I carried on to the pool and went for my swim.  Then I rode home. My knee seemed fine so I applied some Betadine to the graze and I thought no more about it.  By bed time, however, I was quite stiff and sore.  I put a pillow between my thighs and went to sleep.  At 4 am I awoke in severe pain with a hot and very swollen knee.

I could barely move. But I got up and limped painfully to the loo for a pee.  On my return I took a couple of paracetamol with codeine, prescribed by the doc for just such an occasion. Washed down with a tot of Kraken rum.  Not prescribed, but it seemed like a good idea at the time.

A magpie began its predawn call as I awaited the kick-in of the painkillers.  It was well after five before I could crawl back into bed. I may have sipped a little more rum than I intended but at least I managed to get some sleep. I awoke at 10:30  and knew I would not be pedalling far today. I was still in pain and too unsteady on my feet to be sure I’d be safe riding.  But I thought I could still swim so I drove the cruiser to the pool.

The relief from gravity was heavenly.  With good music to listen to I swam steadily and completed 120 laps, 3,000 metres, in 165 minutes.  Slow and steady.

Another bad night followed, but I managed without the codeine.

Yesterday I was still swollen and unsteady on my feet so I did not ride, but took the cruiser again to the pool.  The relief was again immediate once I was in the water and this time I swam on for 175 minutes, completing 3,200 metres.  My 5,000 metre goal is looking more achievable, but I am still going to have to swim over four hours.  I could easily have done that either of these two days. What caused me to end my swim both days was not tiredness or boredom, but extreme hunger to the point I developed the low blood sugar shakes.  Feeling wobbly when one is already unsteady and in pain is not a good idea.  If I want to do a marathon swim I need to have a better breakfast and perhaps bring some food along with me for a mid swim snack.  And perhaps I’d better wait until my knee subsides.  It feels odd to be favouring my left leg rather than my right.  Emerging from the pool after nearly three hours of weightlessness I could barely walk to the changing room and shower.

Today I can still barely move.  I want to swim if only to experience the relief given by the support of the water, but I have prescribed myself another rest day.

Water Music

Today I swam 3,175 metres in 167 minutes. That’s 1.14 km per hr or 0.62 knots. An improvement, but still slow. I swam slowly, but continuously the whole time, stopping only once to adjust my mask strap when the pressure on my upper lip became uncomfortable.

At this speed my goal of swimming 5 kilometres is still a way off. Not because I can’t do it, but because of the time it will take. Today at the end I did not stop because I was tired, or even uncomfortable. I stopped only because I was hungry. So hungry in fact I got the low blood sugar shakes, and had to go buy an ice cream and a cappuccino at the pool shop. I must have a better breakfast if I’m going for a marathon swim.

I have found the perfect accessory to help me get along while swimming a long time. When I went to Solomon Islands in 1984, I bought at the duty-free on the way out of Auckland a new-fangled Sony Walkman Sport cassette player and was delighted to learn it was waterproof. So back then I used to go snorkelling with it. There is nothing more delightful than the slightly surreal sensation of swimming over a gorgeous coral reef, surrounded by colourful fish, while listening to Beethoven, Mozart, Pink Floyd, Rolling Stones, and all my other favourite classical and classic rock music.

The Walkman cost me $300, which was a lot, back then. Of course it is long gone. It is the only possession of mine that has been stolen twice. It was recovered the first time, but not the second. Obviously.

I wondered what the modern equivalent MP3 player might be like. I Googled, and found a lot to choose from on line in a range of prices from the sublime to the ridiculous. I finally chose one I thought the most suitable for my purpose. It cost less than I would pay for a pack of cigarettes, if I still bought them. With free postage.

That is how I these days justify buying these little extravagances; by converting them to cigarette equivalents. I only just the other day found out how much fags cost these days. A frightening amount. Enough for me to rationalise a treat now and then. A restaurant meal costs less than a pack of fags here in Australia.

But I digress.

I like this player, apart from the price, because it has 8 Gb memory, which can store many hours of music, and because it fits around my neck like a Celtic torque. I did not want one that clipped to my mask strap, or to my swimming togs. I did not want long dangly leads to get tangled. Nor did I want wireless earbuds to lose.

It arrived three days after I ordered it from Amazon. I charged it and filled it with my favourite music. Much the same stuff I was listening to back in the 1980s (Despite modern tech, my musical development was pretty much arrested in the eighties – With some exceptions) but instead of playing cassettes which can’t be changed while swimming, it is now all digital and downloaded to my computer. Enough for many hours of swimming without getting tired of the selection.

Today, Thursday, is the first day I have swam this week. My shoulders and back were aching on Sunday so I gave the pool a miss that day. I slept most of the day, awoke out of sorts and found myself sleepless all night. The black dog visited and for the next three days I diverted myself from my existential problems by snoozing or binge watching assorted movies and TV series on Netflix, ABC and SBS on demand. I only left the caravan to visit the toilet and shower block.

On Sunday, in a mood, I deleted my Facebook page. I joined Facebook in 2009 to stay in touch with family and old friends. It no longer serves that purpose. The news and posts are mostly depressing, and I find myself either reinforcing, or being reinforced by others who have similar opinions to myself, or getting into pointless arguments with those who don’t. mostly, however, I have concluded social media is not good for me. And reading that sentence I have just realised I am still uncomfortable putting “is” after a plural.

Media. Data. Criteria. But again, I digress.

I stayed home four days, leaving the caravan only to visit the ablution block for the conveniences and showers. I did not go shopping, so I ran out of fresh vegetables. I turned to comfort food, finishing off the last of the less healthy food choices I still had in the pantry. Pasta, cheese, packet meals, frozen hash browns. I undid some of my positive achievements and gained a couple of kilos.

Time to get back on track. To get back on the bicycle and back into the pool. And back to healthy vegetables. Today after my swim I pedalled to Aldi and filled my little trailer with onions, carrots, green and salad vegetables, fruit and tomatoes.

After my three day withdrawal period, I am quite over Facebook, and have turned my attention to other ways of passing the time. Books. Kindle, world cinema, British TV, and those model boats I started on over a year ago. I may perhaps even turn more back to my blogs.

I spotted some beautiful parakeets while riding the bike home. Now the weather is improving I might start carrying the camera and taking a few photos. I’ve already found a couple of locations I can get to by bicycle where I can settle comfortably and wait for a photo opportunity. That’s always a good way to pass the time when I’m not swimming. I may even try extending my walking time.

Afterthought:
“Cheese is milk’s leap towards immortality”
— Clifton Fadiman

Poor Old Horse

I’m paying for all this activity with extra aches and pains, but I keep telling myself it’s a good thing, and it will get better. As long as I keep my knees from twisting while they are flexing. It happens sometimes while pedalling. That fuckin’ hurts badly. I cannot ride with the ball of my foot on the pedals because the positioning of the seat, handlebars and pedals do not allow me to bend my knees that far. So I pedal with my heels. Because I am a bit splay-footed my knees poke out sideways. I need to be careful to avoid the sideways twinge. Pain is a good tutor.

Now while I ride there is a more acceptable sort of pain developing in my thigh and calf muscles, which tells me they are burning energy and performing work. I am now pedalling all the time, with the electric assist set to minimum. The boost is off, so the accelerator doesn’t work. That means the bike only helps when I’m actually pedalling. I’ve been heading out further afield and encountering some slightly more challenging hills. Definitely need the gears. I know I’m contributing significantly to my own progress because apart from being able to feel it, I’ve learned to read the LED lights that tell me how much contribution the bike is making. Also I’ve used up less battery charge by the time I get home even though I’m venturing further.

I’m still marvelling to myself how much I’m enjoying this effort.

In the water, things are even better. The initial shoulder aches and pains last less than fifteen minutes at the beginning of my swim. After that, endorphins or muscle memory or something kicks in and I seem to be able to just keep swimming. Slow and steady. Today I swam another 140 minutes, yesterday 130. I still resist my tendency to count Strokes and laps as I go, cycling through mantras like “Just keep swimming” “Om mane padme Om” finally, to trying to fit sea shanties into my rhythm. While trying to remember all the verses and versions. To quote Dylan Thomas; “Time passes”.

As an aside, by sheer coincidence, today was “Talk Like a Pirate Day”.

Yaarrrr!

Poor Old Man

A poor old man

Came riding by.

And we say so,

And we know so.

O, a poor old man

Came riding by,

O, poor old man.

Says I, “Old man,

Your horse will die.”

And we say so,

And we know so.

And if he dies

we’ll tan his hide.

O, poor old man.

And if he don’t,

I’ll ride him again.

And we say so,

And we know so.

And I’ll ride him

‘Til the Lord knows when,

O, poor old man.

He’s dead as a nail

In the lamp room door,

And we say so,

And we know so.

And he won’t come

Worrying us no more

O, poor old man.

We’ll use the hair of his tail

To sew our sails

And we say so,

And we know so.

And the iron of his shoes

To make deck nails,

O, poor old man.

Drop him down

With a long long rope

And we say so,

And we hope so.

Where the sharks have his body

And the devil takes his soul!

O, poor old man.

Another Version

Poor Old Horse

They say, old man,

your horse will die

(And they say so, and we hope so)

They say, old man,

your horse will die

(Oh poor old man)

And if he dies then we’ll tan his hide

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and if he dies then we’ll tan his hide

(Oh poor old man)

And if he lives then we’ll ride again

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and if he lives then we’ll ride again

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s after years of sore abuse

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Then we’ll salt him down for the sailors’ use

(Oh poor old man)

He’s as dead as a nail in the lamp room floor

(And they say so, and we hope so)

He’s as dead as a nail in the lamp room floor

(Oh poor old man)

Aye and he won’t bother us no more

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and he won’t bother us no more

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s Sally’s in the garden and she’s picking the peas

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and her long black hair’s hangin’ down to her knees

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s Sally’s in the kitchen and she’s baking the duff

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Aye and the cheeks of her arse are going chuff, chuff, chuff

(Oh poor old man)

And it’s down the long and the winding road

(And they say so, and we hope so)

And it’s down the long and the winding road

(Oh poor old man)

It’s mahogany beef and the weevily bread

(And they say so, and we hope so)

It’s mahogany beef and the weevily bread

(Oh poor old man)

And I thought I heard the Old Man say

(And they say so, and we hope so)

Just one more pull and then belay

(Oh poor old man)

Just one more pull and that will do

(And they say so, and they hope so)

For we’re the lads to kick her through

(Oh poor old man)

A Modest Proposal

At University, so very long ago, we learned about the PTC taste test. We all took test papers home and charted our families’ ability or inability to taste the bitter chemical, which is apparently not found in nature, though the story circulating at the time was that it was derived from horse piss.

PTC stands for phenylthiocarbamide. Also known as phenylthiourea, the chemical structure of PTC resembles toxic alkaloids found in some poisonous plants. The ability to taste it would be an evolutionary advantage. Roughly 25% of the population cannot taste it.

Informally, amongst ourselves, we also discovered there was a small proportion of people who actually liked the taste. Most of us didn’t. I was reminded of this many years later when my younger daughter developed pica, and was prescribed a nasty tasting iron solution to be dispensed only a drop at a time due to its toxicity. I was expecting to have trouble getting her to take it. To me, it tasted Nasty. Very Nasty. On the contrary, she begged for more.

What I am leading up to, is that people are Different. And Different is not necessarily Wrong.

There is a huge difference between liking pineapple on pizza or being gay, and being a paedophilic cannibalistic serial killer. The line is crossed, to my mind, only when someone is harmed.

The problem is that too many people draw the line in ridiculously arbitrary ways. Religion and other erroneous beliefs, such as those held by believers of feng shui and by antivaxxers are only of importance when someone is harmed as a result of those beliefs.

Increasingly, the failure to accept ANY difference of opinion or of lifestyle is becoming a serious problem in society. The line is becoming so blurred that it is now my opinion that it should be firmly placed by law, at the place it should be; where beliefs and practices cause harm to others. Intolerance of racism, paedophilia and homicidal behaviour must be encouraged. Intolerance of sexual identity, the telling of Irish jokes, or belittling those with a fondness for pineapple on pizza should be considered as hate speech and acted upon accordingly.