Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Getting through Christmas

It's the end of Boxing Day and we did it.  We made it through Christmas without Felix.  I think I got through because a sort of numbness and disbelief set in again, like when he first died.  I had a sense of disconnection from the whole thing.  Perhaps it's because Christmas is all about age-old rituals and these rituals are strong and definite and bring into relief whatever is happening at the time. Here we were again doing things we always do at this time of year, getting a tree, going to Mass, eating turkey, singing carols, it just didn't seem possible that Felix  wasn't there.  Christmas highlighted and accentuated his absence, and I went into numb mode again. 
On Christmas Day we went to see him at his burial place which my brother James calls 'the green hill far away'.  Alex, Lucian and I stood there in the roaring gale and opened our present to him, and left him some mince pies under his tree.  Earlier I had had a morning dip with Yaara at Ladies' Pool, which was pointy-daggers cold, our limbs pricked by the icy water.  Today I swam in the West Dart, in a swollen, fast moving pool.  As my body entered the water I felt myself shrinking back to a sort of visceral essence of being, rewinding back to Felix when he was part of my body, part of me, grown from me. Momentarily I felt connected back to him, then there was nothing.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Puppies and swimsuits

Above Butcher's Cove
We've recently got a puppy, who is of course, totes adorbs.   She's a black woolly bundle of joy called Tarka. This week she was allowed to be taken out properly for the first time, so I decided to introduce her to the joys of the Devon coast.   It all fitted in rather well, because the lovely people at UK Swimwear (link here) had asked me to review a swimming costume for them, so it was the perfect chance to get out and head to the sea.  We headed for Mothecombe and followed the coast path west, with Tarka sniffing at pretty much every blade of grass, and also annoying Buddy,  Yaara's endlessly patient black labrador.  We climbed down to Butcher's Cove where we immediately found about 10 Portugese men of war jellyfish stranded on the beach which we we buried because we were worried about the dogs picking them up.   I then got into my costume (link here), which was beautifully made, with fabulous ruching, and lined with lovely soft material. As someone with a full figure, I'm always looking for a costume that both supports and flatters, and this did both.  It was very comfortable to swim in. Yaara also tried it out, and she is at least two sizes smaller than me, but it looked great on her too!  At a touch under £90 it is not cheap, but in my experience, with swimsuits, you get what you pay for, and if you pay more you get better quality, which was the case here.  It felt like a very well made suit.  We swam out towards the mouth of the cove and then back and around the rocks, keeping an eye out for the dreaded PMOWs but there weren't any.  Buddy joined us in the water but Tarka was far too tired and flopped out on the beach in order to regain energy for more pestering of her fellow canine on the return walk.
Trying out the costume 
Setting off 
It looks fab on Yaara too
a gratuitous pic of Tarka 

Thursday, 19 October 2017


Approaching the cove
"Are those what I think they are?"
Rachel and I set off  from Little Dartmouth, following the coast path around towards Sugary Cove.   As we approached the headland we followed a track towards the edge that we hadn't gone down before.   We spotted a path winding down to an intriguing-looking little cove, and could see steps at the bottom. The water below was enticingly blue and we scrambled down the path and made camp on some big rocks.  The cove was perfect  (it is called Western Combe Cove).  About 50 yards offshore was a double island, with a cave in the middle, and to the right and left, whole processions of gullies and shark fin rocks.  I felt really excited about exploring this new territory, and we swam enthusiastically off towards the island.  Suddenly, Rachel stopped in her tracks. "Those aren't Portugese Men of War are they?"  She pointed towards some bubbles on the surface between us and the island.  My immediate reaction was "of course they're not" but on closer inspection, yes, indeed that's what they were.    Reluctantly we got out, and continued on our walk.  The sun came out, and it was very warm, and it felt like summer with the sunshine glinting on the rocks and on our faces. We stopped at a rock platform near Blackstone Point and had another, more successful swim, with the sun low in the sky.  It was only afterwards when we were getting changed that Rachel revealed she'd spotted the most enormous seal approaching me in the water.   When we were both safely on shore it popped up again,  raising its neck high out of the water.   

Remarkably well camouflaged PMOWs -just like bubbles

The only thing we need to worry about now is seals

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Some amazing news

My niece Ruby Pierce, who is 17, has been awarded the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival Creative Writing prize, beating off competition from hundreds of others, most of whom were adults.   She won it for a poem she wrote about remembering Felix.   She came down to Devon for the award ceremony, not knowing if she had won, and we were totally overwhelmed, not just at her brilliant achievement but because something beautiful had come out of his death.   Afterwards we walked along the seashore in the fading light, and remembered him.  Here is the poem.

Being There
(One Summer's Day)

There’s a sudden shift in the air.
The first note prises open a crack in time and all in a moment I’m standing in the heat of one summer’s day.
A searing warmth nearly as deep as the red in my cheeks.

There’s an August feeling.
Stepping onto the balcony, eyes skim and stop on the horizon, sinking slate.
Buddleia, heavy with a scent so sickly sweet the layers of butterflies become tacky like our fingers, doused in a honey glaze.
In the shallows of the sea we dive for oddities uncovered with such an instantaneous glee shown in the arcs of our mouths as we swim back home.
To escape the chill we fumble with the showers until the hot pellets graze in burning streaks.

There’s a sudden shift in the summer.
The boundaries have fallen on the shoreline.
Waist deep we wade, rigid as the sea frigid
But he stops and sits on the sand.
This is how it would normally be but something is different.
We retreat, pack up, drive off, move forwards
But he just sits and looks, then picks up his daily book.

And then I’m back again.
Standing on top of the hill where the wind cuts sharp, like the stark black keys on white
Their contrast a jarring battle waging war with our emotions.
But his brother tames them softly.
He unwrinkles them in a tune so smooth it pierces you in an unwarranted mix of beauty and sadness.

I think about where he is now,
Both below in the earth and skywards above
An encapsulation, safe with the strength of his hug.
I’ve felt this before.
In the cool of the summer night we slipped ourselves into the water.
The world ushered into a drawling darkness, disturbed only by gentle baptism.
Our fingers set the sea alight in tiny fragments like sprightly iron filings.
We carved our way through liquid starlight
a rippling mirror
And as the elements lost all definition the lucidity intensified with a scintillation all around us.
The merging of the sea and sky and he’s with us again,
in the brilliance of one summer’s night.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Finding new territory

Since Felix died I find it helps to find new places to go.  All the old places are full of memories of him, and it's good to visit them, but not all the time.  About two weeks after he died Alex and I went for a walk along the coast path west of Heybrook Bay, a stretch we hadn't walked before, and found a stunning lagoon.  It was the period in between Felix's death and his funeral,  a surreal and unreal time.  The magic of swimming in that lagoon was a moment of sanity in a miasma of madness.  I've had the urge to go back there many times since.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Visiting the dawn

Watching the sun rise is both magical and therapeutic.  You are drenched in beauty, and the inevitability of the sun rising and setting every day, whatever happens in our little lives, somehow puts things in perspective.  A couple of months ago I got up early to watch the sun rise on Dartmoor; it's something I've been doing on the anniversary of my mother's death for a few years, and now of course I've lost Felix it is even more important I do it, as a little act of remembrance and worship. Then a few weeks ago I went for an early morning swim with Amanda in Torquay (ok it wasn't dawn, we were a bit too tired for that) but there was such a sense of serenity out there, it was quiet and otherworldly and the sea held us in its gentle grasp.

Monday, 3 July 2017

The balm of the Dart

The River Dart upstream of Ashburton is so well known to me now it is like an old friend, and old friends provide comfort. During the last three months  I have been compelled more than ever to swim in its silky clear water, sit in its cascades and explore its beautiful rocky depths.  The Dart estuary, below Totnes,  I know less well.   It is a different personality, though of course related to its cousin upstream.   It slips in serpentine langour through the folding fields of the South Hams, gradually widening and becoming more saline as it gets to Dartmouth and the sea.   And now of course this bit of the Dart has even more relevance to me, as Felix is buried in Sharpham Meadow, one of those fields above the estuary.   When I visit his grave I often now go down to the river afterwards and swim below the meadow,  looking up at where he lies.

Friday, 12 May 2017


Swimming is a  way of losing yourself in the vastness of the landscape.  On Sunday I swam at Slapton where everything is enormous - the sky is huge, the sea stretches as far as the eye can see and the shingle is an endless line.   It's a very abstract place, in three colours, three stripes ahead of blue, dark blue and brown, the sky, the sea and the shingle.  The water was clear and I let it move me up and down the shore.  Then I floated and looked up at the sky.  It's that Hardy-esque feeling of being microscopic in the immensity of the world, and it's a feeling I crave at the moment, perhaps to try and make my loss less.  In the last few days I've been in Snowdonia where I climbed a large part of Cadair Idris in a quest to reach a glacial lake called Llyn y Gadair which lies in a bowl under the towering cliffs of the mountain.  It was breathtaking, and I felt a sense of relief on getting there and plunging myself into its icy waters.  

Friday, 5 May 2017

Why I've been silent

At Leftlake, Dartmoor
On March 9th my darling, beautiful son Felix died, aged 20.  He had epilepsy and his death has been put down to SUDEP - Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy, something which is little understood.    His death has been like an earthquake through our family and although I have found swimming helpful in the aftermath I have not had any desire to blog about it.  Since March 9th everything in my life has been, and will continue to be, refracted through the prism of his death.  I will certainly blog about wild swimming again but my posts will probably, for some time at least, be preoccupied with swimming and how it aids the grieving process.  I have been trying to get in the water as often as possible and it definitely helps.  You can find out more about Felix and donate to SUDEP Action here.

By the River Dart

In Greece (Felix was never a fan of cold water!)

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Up the creek

Judy has just moved, albeit temporarily, to Tuckenhay, a gorgeous village nestling by Bow Creek, off the Dart estuary, so it seemed only right to go and test out the water.   We walked along the bank admiring the elegant Jane Austen style houses on the hill on the other side, everything in muted February tones:  greys, browns and dull greens.   The water seemed to be heading out fast but when we got in there was actually not a very strong current (apart from in the middle) and we enjoyed swimming upstream and then floating back down.   The friendly curves of the hillsides down to the creek created a sort of secure feeling as we bobbed around in the middle.   It was chilly, at 8 degrees, though warmer than the Dart further upstream, on Dartmoor.  Afterwards Anna tested out her new rucksack, inherited from her father, which ingeniously combines a seat.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Swimming the stacks

 Looking at a friend's pictures on Facebook I could see the sea was flat calm and gleaming like a mirror: perfect conditions for a swim around the weird and wonderful sandstone stacks of Ladram Bay.  An impromptu plan was hatched, and a group of us met up in the car park of the local holiday camp and sauntered down to the beach, where it was indeed lovely, the sea was shiny and inviting and there was even some January sun.  We plunged into the beautiful clear water and swam round the headland into Wonderland.   The stacks stand like sentinels off the coast, rocky remainders of small promontories. One had a hole through the middle, through which we climbed and then jumped out the other side.  After about 15 minutes we started to get cold and swam back to the beach, leaving the magical kingdom behind.    
Pic: Ron Kahana
Pic: Ron Kahana

Pic: Ron Kahana