All posts by christophern.preston@googlemail.com

Granddad’s War – Armistice Day 11.00 am 11 November 2018

George Lockwood 1915 aged 18

I wrote this short play, based on my grandfather, George Lockwood, to mark the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli.  Today seems an appropriate time to share it.  George never wore a poppy nor attended memorial services.

Granddad’s War

A short play

By

Christopher Preston

Characters 

Granddad: (George) 70’s tall and frail with bright twinkling eyes – a gentle man.

Charlie: His eldest grandson 18.  Also plays the young George

Vicky: His eldest granddaughter 17. Also plays the nurse.

Colin: A Quaker 30’s a stretcher bearer in the medical corps.  Also plays Henry, George’s son.

Scene 1:

George Marries Nell

The back lawn of a suburban garden in a small provincial city.   George is sitting in a comfortable chair asleep and surrounded by wrapped presents. He stays onstage throughout. Charlie enters with a sack.

Charlie:         Happy Birthday Granddad.  Here’s my present.

George:        Thank you Charlie.  I wonder what it can be.

Charlie:         You should be able to guess.

George:        It’s either pine cones or sheep manure.

Charlie:         Brian’s got you the pine cones – not so messy to gather.

George:        My tomatoes will be very pleased and Nana will be able     to light the fire. Thank you.

Charlie:         There’s lots of food.  Mum’s done her stuffed eggs, Aunty Dawn’s brought a pav and Aunty Lizzie has made her famous brandy snaps – all the usual.

George:        Good. Any sign of Henry?

Charlie:         No, they were supposed to be leaving an hour ago.

George sighs

Vicky enters with a parcel

Vicky:           It’s here Granddad, your medal that Mum applied for.  She said I should bring it straight out to you.

Charlie:         Can we open it Granddad?

George:        We should wait for Henry.

Vicky:           Oh, please Granddad, they’ll be ages.

George:        Alright, but the presents have to wait.

George un-wraps the parcel

Charlie:         That’s a pretty flash box.

Vicky:           It’s huge.  What does it say?

Charlie:         1915 The Donkey and the Wounded ANZAC. What does that mean Granddad?

George:        Charlie, go and see if there’s any sign of Henry. There’s a good boy.

Charlie exits

Vicky:           (Turns the medal over) Australia and New Zealand 5 stars

G.Barker …  Granddad, what was it like at Gallipoli?

George:        Well, we arrived on boats, there was a beach and we had to line up for kit inspection.  We were supposed to supply various things ourselves.  For example, we had to have three kinds of soap: Shaving, bathing and laundry and were ordered to produce the items when they were called out. There was a small chap, Jones, I think his name was, didn’t have much in his kit.  When the sergeant called out ‘Bath soap’ Jones brought out a small bar of white soap from his kit, held it up and then put it back. When the sergeant called out ‘Shaving soap’, he pulled out the same small bar of soap and held it up. Finally, the sergeant called out ‘Laundry soap’, and Jones, again pulled out the bar of soap and held it up.

Vicky:           I always like that story, it makes me laugh … you never talk about the fighting.

George:        It’s all such a long time ago … there’s nothing much to tell.

Vicky:           Mum says you got shrapnel in your lung …. Not long after you arrived.

George falls asleep.

Vicky:           Granddad?

Fade.

Scene 2:

George and Nell with daughter Joan circa 1922

The camp-site at Gallipoli, It is very cold.  George enters in a great-coat with rucksack on his back. There is sound of sporadic firing throughout the scene.

George:        Hello, they’ve moved us, I think I’m supposed to be sharing with  you.

Colin:            Gidday, you just arrived?

George:        Yes, a few days ago. George Barker, infantry.

Colin:            Colin Levinson, medical corp.

George:        Are you doctor?

Colin:            No, just a stretcher bearer.  You a conscript?

George:        Yes.  What about you?

Colin:            I’m a Quaker … Couldn’t afford the hundred pound fine or going to prison.

George:        I’m an Anglican.  I don’t know anything about Quakers.

Colin:            We don’t believe in war, so this was the only option.

Pause

Colin:            Take your pack off mate and sit down, you’re a sitting duck standing there.

George:        Rightey oh.

Colin:            That’s more like it young fella.  How old are you?

George:        Eighteen, I left school a year ago.

Colin:            Brothers and sisters?

George:        Two older sisters.

Colin:            Only son eh? I dunno. It’s such a waste.

George:        What is?

Colin:            Just … this fight. (Pause) But, she’ll be right if you keep your coat on and your head low.  Bullets and the cold is what’s killing men here.

George:        Are you married?

Colin:            Fifteen years.  I’m just hoping all this will be over by the time my oldest is seventeen.

George:        Over by Christmas they told us.

Colin:            Can’t see it myself, but what do I know?  The British generals are hopeless.  See all those bridges there and the steps over that way.  We and the Ozzies organised all that.  You can even have your hair cut down there by the store.  No, it would be over by Christmas if we were in charge.  Let’s have a look at your chitty.  Nah, you’re not with me, you’re further down the line.  Just remembered, you infantry blokes have to be together, ready to go over the top.

George stands and puts on his rucksack.  There is a tremendous burst of gunfire. There are ricochet sounds of bullets bouncing off cliffs. George is hit and staggers.

Colin:            Hold on there mate.  Where are you hit?

George:        Here, it hurts.

Colin:            Help.

There is another burst of gunfire and Colin is hit.  He falls to the ground. The scene fades into the hospital ship where both men are lying side by side.

Scene 3

Silver Wedding

Nurse:           It’s shrapnel.  The surgeon says it’s in your lung so we can’t operate.  You might have to live with it for the rest of your life.

George:        Live, Nurse?

Nurse:           Yes, you’re one of the lucky ones.  You’ll be able to tell your children about it.

George:        But I didn’t do anything, didn’t fire a shot, except in training.

Nurse:           It doesn’t matter. You were here.

George:        Where?  Where am I?

Nurse:           You’re on the Hospital ship Gascon.  They’re shooting at us as well, but you should be OK down here.  Now try to get some more sleep, that’s what you need just now.

She exits.  George looks around and sees Colin.

George:        Colin … Private Levinson. They carried us out on donkeys …  Are you alright?  Hello.

With difficulty, George gets up and gives him a prod. Pause

George:        I’m sorry mate.

George drifts off to sleep as the lights fade.

Scene 4

Me and my grandparents

George is asleep again. Vicky enters.

Vicky:           We’re all starving, can’t we open the presents?  Uncle Henry might be ages.

George:        Just a few more minutes.

Vicky:           Granddad, what about the food in the war.  What did they give you to eat?

George:        Well, there was a shortage of flour so there wasn’t much bread or cake.  One day, the cook found a sack of flour sitting behind a shed.  He was so excited that he made a batch of scones.

Charlie enters with a bag of pine cones.

Charlie:         Mum makes great scones.

Vicky:           Shh. Granddad is telling another war story.

Charlie:         (whispers) They all tell the story of the scones.

Vicky:           How did the scones turn out Granddad?

George:        Well, they looked great but when the men tried to eat them they were as hard as rocks.

Vicky:           What did the cook do wrong?

George:        The sack of flour turned out to be Plaster of Paris.

Vicky:           Oh. What was that doing at Gallipoli?

Charlie:         For setting broken arms and legs.

There is a sound of a car arriving, doors opening, greetings and adult and children’s voices. 

Charlie:         They’re here Granddad.

Vicky and Charlie rush off. George looks again at his medal then falls asleep.

Henry enters.

Henry:           Sorry we’re late Dad.  Had to sort out some sheep this morning. Anyway, Happy Birthday … Dad?  Are you asleep again?  Come on, wake up.

He gives him a shake. There is a pause.

Vicky enters followed by Charlie

Vicky:           We can open the presents now that you are here Uncle Henry. Shall I call the others?

Henry:           No, Vicky. Granddad isn’t going to wake up.

Charlie:         Is he dead?

Henry:           Charlie, go and ask Nana to come out here please, and Vicky make sure none of the kids come out.  Find them some games to play out the front … or something.

They exit

Henry picks up the Gallipoli medal and looks at it.

Henry:           You never did tell us about it, not properly, just the funny stories. Now it’s too late.

 Fade to black.

 

 

                    

Slovenia – Sun,thunder & lightning, PB’s and Cake

Morning Swim in Lake Bled – magic

Thursday: I’ve decided to try swimming in the lake and figure that morning is the best time as after a day at the pool, the last thing I want to do is more swimming. Around ten am the water seems warmer than the reported 22 degree to start with, but gets a little colder as I swim out. One hundred meters is enough and works as a pre-warm up. The water is very clear and fish are abundant.

At the pool there’s just time to catch Neal’s 50m fly before warming up. Several of us are doing 100m freestyle and there are fifty-seven heats, but first we have to wait for the thirty-five heats of women.

Kranj Out-door pool

As much as possible the heats are run in their age-groups but I’m in a mixed group heat and get to swim in lane five near the centre of the pool. In spite of a dodgy tumble-turn, it’s a good swim and I’ve done a Long course PB of 1.22 – only one second slower that my short course PB, so what with the sunshine, it’s been a good day.

The Syncro women arrive

Ian has organised an Out to Swim dinner In Bled. It’s an opportunity for the whole team to meet up – the Syncro women have arrived and it’s great to meet some of them for the first time. Our open water swimmer, Rick Snow drops in for a beer so we are all together for a team photograph. We also have Matthew Lue’s birthday to celebrate and the restaurant improvises a cake. I decide, after much hesitation to try the famous Bled Cake. This is a custard base, with whipped cream on top.

The Out to Swim European Masters full team

There’s pastry top and bottom. It looks too sweet for me but I’m assured by locals that it’s not. What it is, is huge. It is somewhat sweet and walking home, it lies heavily on top of my mixed grill main course. Well, I’ve tried it and don’t need to do it again. Most cake-lovers, I think will enjoy this.

Lake Bled -ready for the race.

Friday: Another morning swim in this gorgeous lake. My race today is immediately after lunch. and by the time I get there, the morning session has finished and there are still two hours of lunch break. I time my warm up to end half an hour before the start of the afternoon session. I feel very sluggish this morning and the first 200m is hard work. ‘It’s often like this,’ I tell myself and sure enough in the second 200m I break through the barrier. Then it’s time to concentrate on backstroke, doing a few 50m backstroke kick to make sure my legs are straight. I follow this with backstroke HVOs, front-end to start and back-end to finish in the 50m pool. Again, I’m in lane five with only three other guys of various ages – mostly older than me.

Race officials on pontoon – waiting

Andy is here to film me and I can hear him as I prepare. It’s great to know that someone from the club is watching. The guy in lane four looks younger and faster than me, but he’s not and I win my heat with another long course PB (actually half a second faster than my Paris short course PB) and a 7th place in my age group. That means another certificate. Now is the time for lunch and I fill up on a large plate of spaghetti and treat myself to a beer, because it’s all over. Andy is racing in the last heat of the last event of the competition but while Neal and I are in the dinner tent, a huge thunderstorm breaks in the middle of the women’s 100m breaststroke. They carry on for a while, but there is lightening so proceedings stop for half an hour. Everyone crams into the dinner tent and we wait. The men’s 100m Breaststroke age group 25-29 is tense and hard fought. Andy is pleased with 5th and a PB. There were two other Brits in the 1:09 time. We’re all drained, emotionally and physically.

Rural Food tent

Back in Bled, I wander into town with a sort of plan. There’s a new Gazebo/tent showing off rural foods. Someone is doing snack sized cheese and garlic pizzas – that goes down well with a local pint. At the far end of the tent is a stage and there’s what looks like a police melodrama performed by local actors. Moving on to my planned dinner stop, one of the street food tents, I order chicken drumsticks with roast potatoes and vegetables and decide to try the local wine. It’s OK and I settle down in the semi dark to work my way through it all. The huge portion of roast potatoes defeats me and I move on to my last planned stop – a wine bar. I ask for a nice glass of red wine (un-chilled), I try it and it’s good. I put my credit card away when I find it’s only €2.30 for a large glass.  I also try a more expensive wine, which is even better and I’m surprised to find it’s a Merlot at €4. I may have that later. I don’t have time as the place is closing.

25-29-year-old men

Saturday: I need to go for my last lake swim early before checking out. After packing, I leave the hired car at the Air B&B place and walk in to look at the 3K open water swim which will start at ten am. The lake looks very organised and I can hear the commentator warming everyone up over in the out-door lido-in-the-lake. I stay and watch the first wave of 25-29-year-old men start, swim towards me then round two gigantic yellow markers before heading down to the other end of the lake. Next, it’s the young women and I make my way around to the enclosure for a closer look at the start.

30-34-year-old men prepare

By the time the 30-34 year-old men start, the first of the young men are returning. It’s won by a Russian, who when asked ‘at what stage did you know you were going to win?’ answers that he had prepared himself to win in his training, which garners a few wry smiles at his confidence.

30-34-year-old men jump in

He entered the race expecting to win. The Italian who came second and gave him a run for his money just comments that the 21 degree water was too cold for him. I’d spoken earlier to a Croatian couple who were not looking forward to the temperature – they’re used to 26 degree in the sea.

The Russian wins

Time to retire to a café in town coffee for an early lunch and to catch up on the blogging, keeping the autumnal wasps at bay and reluctantly feeding the cheeky sparrows crumbs of bread from my mozzarella and tomato with pesto. As I make my way back to collect the car, the Open Water Swimmers are still going and the officials in boats are doing a great job in aquatic traffic management – the lanes are all colour coded so not too much can go wrong.

30-34-year-old women prepare
White Garden, Bled

It’s been an amazing week in a fantastic setting. Two PBs and three certificates for being in the top eight in my age group. There’s one last encounter at the rental car return. A woman from the Black Country in my age group has come away with a load of medals. She turns out to be a great fan of the Out to Swim website and loves the coaching tips. She’s looking forward to our GLLAM meet at the Aquatic Centre (hopefully) next year and we’ll meet up at Sheffield in October.

 

Slovenia – Castles, Churches, a gorge and some swimming

St Martin
St Martin

More dreary weather – raining. At 10 am it eases off and I grab my umbrella and head for the Castle. On the way I stop to look at St Martin which nestles into the hillside underneath the castle. It’s part of the panoramic picture of Bled and up-close it’s quite ordinary.

Parish house St Martin

The Parish House next door offers coffee and accommodation, but nothing much is happening in there except souvenirs for sale. Onward, up the steep hill the clouds clearing as I climb. I emerge to a great view of the still mist- shrouded lake, but the sun is now shining through intermittent spots of rain and there’s coffee here.

bled Mist
Clearing
The surrounds
Bled Castle
Bled Castle

Like most castles, this one has been rebuilt and developed since the 10th Century. Slavs and other so-called Barbarians settled in this remote and fertile valley after the Romans. It’s fairly cut off – backing onto massive mountains to the North and West. The Museum is curious and not well curated but there is a strange exhibition of an artist who seems to be depicting Bled Cake. The work is strategically placed around the museum. There is little explanation but it seems that the area was also a centre of iron production. Gift shops are in just about every other room in the castle: the old forge, the printing press and so on. Only the chapel with its charming frescoes is till- free. The views are, however stunning. For lunch, I try out the traditional smoked sausage, once again holding back on the available Bled Cake – there’s no room after the sausage.

Bled Castle
Bled Castle
Castle Chapel
Castle Chapel

I could have spent an hour walking to the Vintgar Gorge. It’s been raining again but I need to get going and decide to drive via some of the local villages.

St Janez Zasip
St Janez

I pass through charming green farmland and arrive at Zasip where I can see a church. Once again, it’s picturesque from a distance. A very young couple walking, are more interested in playing and photographing the local cats who will no doubt appear on Facebook. What is different about St Janez is the recent flower bedecked graves which crowd around the base of the church. No leafy adjacent crematory here, that would be a waste of farm-land.

Graveyard
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge

Rain still threatens as I approach the Vintgar Gorge. There’s a free car park and it’s only €5 entry to the 1.6Km walk-way. Apparently, the gorge was only discovered in 1891 (I’m sure the Romans found it) and was quickly developed and opened to the public. The post-rain mist rises off the warm waters. The green is delicate, reflecting moss and lichen in the water and the vegetation on the banks. The light is very different from any comparable New Zealand gorge and this one certainly stands out.

Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge stone pillars

The walk-way is narrow and often is nothing more than a wooden platform overhanging the often- turbulent river below.  In calmer stretchers rock towers have been built. They must get washed away regularly by rising waters but look as if they have been there for centuries. I need my umbrella at times. Even though it has stopped raining, water drips down from the cliffs above in places. There is a stream of wet dogs on leads coming the other way. At the end there is another ticket and ice-cream kiosk. The last of many foot-bridges crosses the final waterfall to the toilets, but you can’t get a view of the falls. I spot a viewing platform further downstream and push on down steps past the kiosk, follow the road across a bridge to the path leading to the viewing spot. Magic.  There’s time to review the journey on the return and see it all from a different angle.

Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge
Radovljica

Tuesday: I’m not sure about the timing of everything today but think I’ve got time to have a look at Radovljca, a nearby historic town on the way to Kranj. It has a main street of quite impressive, if stolid 19th Century public buildings but where to park?

Radovljica Old Town square

Eventually I find the Old Town area just up the road where there is free parking for an hour. There’s quite a cute old-town centre. Desperate for Coffee and a few calories I find a café. The cappuccino comes with a huge mountain of chilled aerosol cream and the ham and cheese toastie (the only food available) is plain.

Radovljica
Radovljica
Radovljica
Radovljica

 

I get to the pool before lunch as I know some of the team are racing before me. As I make my way to warm-up in the indoor pool Andy is heading, with a determined in-his-zone look, towards the marshalling tent for his 200 Breaststroke.

Kranj Outdoor pool

He’s the first Out to Swimmer I’ve seen here, but there’s no time to chat now. I do the first part of my warm-up (OTS standard) then head for the race pool to catch Andy’s race on my phone. There’s time for lunch (Salad) before watching the rest of the team splash and dash through the 50 freestyle. Taking coaches suggestion, I have an espresso before finishing off my warm up for

Euro Certificates 6th & 8th

the 100 Backstroke. I’m in lane zero again but manage (maybe thanks to the caffeine) three seconds faster than the June long course Nationals in Plymouth to get an eighth place. This means that I’m now eligible for two certificates. I return to the popular Pub restaurant for rump steak as I need to stock up for the two hundred Individual Medley early tomorrow.

Wednesday: I have to wait for twenty-three heats of the Women’s Individual Medley but hey, I’ve moved up to lane one, leaving the wall at last. I had some weeks off doing butterfly and breaststroke earlier in the year, so I’ve very gently been working them back in to training. It seems to have paid off and the first twenty-five metres of

Church of the Assumption

fly feels really good. It’s a matter of establishing a rhythm and keeping to it. Even though the stress builds in the second twenty-five, I manage to keep the rhythm going – something that team-mate Stephen Lue comments on. The backstroke length tends to be a bit of a recovery and preparation for Breaststroke, which I find exhausting. I make a mental note to really point my toes in the glide. By the time the freestyle comes around, usually my chance to catch up, I’m feeling really tired but am rewarded with a few milli seconds faster than Plymouth. The Team are cheering me as I stagger back to them. Nice. Neal is in the last and fastest heat – he also comes out looking whacked. It’s a tough race.

Church of the Assumption

After lunch and a good rest, It’s time for more exploring in the late afternoon. I’m looking for a boatman to row me to the Island. Further down the lake, near the island are several points where the boats launch. As I approach several seem to be pulling out but eventually I spot one about to leave with one remaining seat. Propulsion is from two oars in rowlocks either side. The boatman, with one foot forward uses his body weight to push the oars forward and twists them to return in streamlined profile. Our boatman is young slim and blond and explains that it helps to have a few extra kilos around the chest to move faster. No one is complaining, there’s a party of admiring Korean women and a tour-guide with a group from Malta. The boatman moves us around to balance the boat – a husband and wife at the front have to swap sides. All around the island there are landing stages and the boats nimbly turn around and reverse. We have around fifty minutes here, it doesn’t sound long, but in fact it’s more than enough.

Lake bled from tower
Lake bled from tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s a charge of €6 to go up the tower and enter the church. I get some good views by putting my phone though the window grills and close to the bird netting. Inside the church there is a bell rope right in front of the alter. An illustration on the floor, forbids swinging on the rope and another one recommends three rings of the bell. The mystery of the random timings of the bell is explained. Three chaps from somewhere in Europe don’t notice the signs and have a prolonged ringing between them. This brings the ticket seller woman running in to look. There is no emergency, so she leaves. You can have an ice cream or a beer and food here, but I don’t want to queue, choosing to go upstairs and look at a curious exhibition of moulded glass figures and some flat glass rectangles.

Glass Exhibition
Glass Exhibition
Glass Exhibition
Boatman and Korean women

The figures are the most interesting, suggesting the holy family, some of them are displayed in the windows so the light can stream though them.  There’s time to walk around the island and wait for the Maltese and Koreans to return from their ice creams.  The Maltese party are dropped off at their hotel landing leaving me and the Korean women, who are avidly photographing our handsome boatman, to continue on.

Street food stall

I’ve had my eye on the food stalls one the lake walkway and later, veal shoulder with vegetables and delicious roast potatoes all washed down with a beer is perfect, even if the lighting under the dining gazebo is too dim to really see the food.

Swimming in Kranj, sight-seeing in Bled, Slovenia

European Masters Swimming Kranj Slovenia

Iconic Bled Castle & St Martin

I’m beginning to wonder how much longer I can do this independent travel thing. I’d never been to a European Masters meet and the fact that is was in Slovenia (where’s that?), a country I haven’t been to before, clinched it. You have to have entry times and the only one I couldn’t enter was the 200 Backstroke – I think they made a mistake as it was incredibly fast. I had the usual trouble finding out information, like where was the accreditation? I had no reply from my enquiry and I’m a bit past the stage of delighting in the unknown. I like to be certain of what’s

Kranj Out-door swimming pool

going to happen and when.

Booking the coach to Stanstead Airport was a bit strange. Nowadays you have to register before buying anything on-line (so they’ve got your details and can bother you later) and it can take some time to recall a long-forgotten password. In the end I get to Stratford, have my usual coffee at Pret only to find the bus stop has moved, five minutes away, due to road works. The Coach is waiting but I’ve managed to book a return fare from Stanstead, not Stratford. It doesn’t matter in the end and I’m allowed on the bus which is leaving five minutes later than I’d calculated. Just as I wonder what else might go wrong on this trip, an accident on the M11 slowed us down, but I was still on time for my flight. Phew. I can just about manage Easyjet and avoid baggage charges by packing everything, including the laptop into one carry-on bag and dashing to the gate the moment it’s called. Weather over Austria and congestion in the air delayed us an hour.

My Air B&B is underneath this home

Two things worry me now sitting in the plane, at the gate – I have to get to the Accreditation Centre to register before 18.00 to confirm my place the 800m freestyle tomorrow morning. Fortunately, I’m sitting next to other swimmers (the plane is full of swimmers and hikers) who suggest I phone them, while we are still on the ground. I somehow manage to find a phone number on my downloaded hand-book which involves getting the lap-top out of the overhead locker. Amazingly I get through, but have no idea of my registration number. In the end it’s ok and I’m able to follow up with a text to Slovenia. Stress levels reduce significantly and I breath deeply;  technology can be wonderful. It’s good to chat to the couple from Nottingham about swimming though I quickly fall asleep for most of the flight. The Airport at Ljubljana is small and two flights have just landed, so the passport control area is crowded. There’s a sign pointing left for European passports and this moves rapidly.  I reflect once again, that I’ll be in the other queue next year. Finding the car hire place is easy, there’s no queue and no extra insurance thrust at me. The shock is that there’s no 4G for my phone to hook up with google maps and take me to Kranj.

Bled Island

Fortunately, I’ve been studying maps of Slovenia and more or less have the gist of where to go. It will, I tell myself, be just like the old days when I found my way around the world without a phone. I know that Ljubljana is East and Kranj is West but all roads lead to Ljubljana so I just carry on in the opposite direction from Ljubljana until a sign to Kranj appears.  At Kranj there are suddenly signs to the Masters Games parking and all is well. I actually manage to find the Accreditation tent, next to the outdoor pool, pick up my stuff and have five minutes before 18.00 to double check that I’ve been entered in the 800m. I have. I spend some time checking out things like the marshalling tent and changing rooms before continuing on to Bled. Road signs helpfully take me there via the main motorway, but there is still no 4G for navigation. I take a wrong turning and end up in the town centre and bus stop. There’s a travel information place and it’s closed, but a hotel has a local map at reception – they always do – and a very helpful young woman points out where I should go. Bled is a small place and it’s really easy.

Lake Bled

My hosts are out walking, leaving their teenage son Greggor to check me into my cosy and well-appointed basement bedsit with en suite. Armed with instructions on where to find a supermarket for breakfast things I set off to explore. It’s getting dark, but my first impression is that the lake and surroundings are incredibly romantic – like Disneyland, only real. Bled Castle high on a rocky outcrop becomes floodlit as does St Martin’s, nestling below. At the other end of the lake is the famous island featuring the Church of the Assumption. The place seems very quiet for a Saturday night, but I find a busy pub restaurant up in the old village near the bus stop. It looks popular and does traditional Slovenian food. Three large slabs of roast pork floating in gravy with mashed potatoes seems a suitable fill-up for tomorrow’s swim. The portions are huge and with a mixed salad, I am defeated.

Grand houses around the lake have been converted to tourist accommodation

Sunday: Up before the lark, breakfasted on fruit, bread, ham and cheese, I set off for the pool. Rain threatens, it’s cold and I’ve been allocated Heat 2, side A, lane 0 in the 800m freestyle. I hate lane zero, it’s right on the edge of the pool – almost out of the race. Lost in translation, side A and side B refer to the ends of the pool and we will swim two to a lane with end B starting off ten seconds later from the other end. I’ve done a reasonable warm-up but although the promised rain hasn’t quite arrived, it’s still not warm. I pile on layers and line up in the marshalling tent where we are given different coloured swim caps. I get a yellow one (they are not compulsory, but they would like us to wear them) and Side B get white ones. It’s actually all well organised and there are large laundry baskets which take  all my bags. Organising and paying for a locker key for one race, just seems to be one hurdle too far. Even though I’m swimming up against the pool wall, the race seems OK and I attempt to implement coaches notes from the Paris Gay Games. The score board at the end has me 6th with an improbably fast time. I decide not to get excited until I see the results. It’s a long treck to the indoor pool to warm-down, it involves going right around to reception and through the changing rooms again. Time for a coffee and croissant at the small café. My Nottingham friends from the flight are there and we talk about teaching and coaching stuff. The results are live on-line (4G is working today) and I find that the time displayed on the board at the pool was actually my 700m split time, so no PB, as I suspected.

Lake Bled Waterfront

I have the rest of the day to explore so after stocking up on breakfast stuff at the supermarket, I find a posh café overlooking the lake. Their Salad Nicoise featuring fresh seared tuna, is perfect with a pint. The place quickly fills up with tour groups all booked for their mandatory portion of the famous Bled Cake. It looks hideously sweet – a custard base with a layer of whipped cream and pastry top and bottom. I shall have to work my way up to this later in the week. The Sun is out and perfect for a walk around the lake; everyone is doing it.

Bled Island and the Church of the Assumption

Tour boats rowed by fit looking men are taking tourists at quite a speed over to Bled Island where lies the Church of the Assumption, making the lake extra photogenic. At the bottom end there is a popular swimming area and every now and then a white Disney-like train pulls tourist with their phones on sticks filming the experience. For the more traditional there are pony trap rides around the lake. Two elderly ladies on one such trap, are having a great time looking at their mobile phones.  By the time I’ve finished, my legs are telling me that they’ve had enough work for the day. It’s time to lie down before finding another Slovenian-style restaurant. I can have a glass or two of wine tonight as I have the day off tomorrow.

Gay Games supplementary – the build up to Pink Flamingo and my results

The warm-up end

All Christophe’s hard work is coming together and every group, having rehearsed their routines separately are now making use of every moment to do extra. I discover that I’m not hearing the beat of the music very well and am getting ahead. Then there are last minute discrepancies which have to be altered to go with the majority.  Some of the cues are linked to the lyrics, but I haven’t noticed any lyrics in our piece of music.  Admittedly I’ve given up on pop lyrics over the last ten years, considering them unintelligible. It turns out that what I hear as ’ee  oww’ is actually ‘in out’. Perhaps time to book an audiology appointment. I’ve bought a bottle of Bordeaux for the picnic and get some useful help drinking it from Oliver. Some are going on to another party or event, but I’m heading to my local café for late night glacé.  The parties here start at 11.30 pm and end around 5-6 am – not really compatible with where I’m at, these days.

one gold and two silver medals

Thursday continues with team success and I have a very good 100 metres freestyle, stretching out more, engaging my core and kicking regularly – I hope. It’s a good time and Sarah, who is watching the live results on her phone say’s I’ve got a Gold. The event is not even over yet and there will be more in my age group to race. It’s difficult to get medals in the 100 Freestyle, but five Americans drop out of the event and I end up with a sliver – 13 seconds behind the winner. It’s been an amazing result for me – three medals and three PB’s.

Gay Games – Culture from Klimt to Pink Flamingo

It’s the last day of the swimming and I’m leaving the long-distance heroes to slog it out in the 1500m as I’ve booked a ten am slot to see the interactive Gustav Klimt exhibition at Atelier des Lumières. I’m early and having over an hour to kill, find a healthy-looking breakfast place overlooking a small garden square. I sit just outside, shaded from the morning sun and enjoy and egg with spinach on toast with coffee while the world in this deserted part of the city trickles by. I’m shocked, but not surprised by the numbers of homeless and derelict human beings, many clearly display mental health symptoms, around the city. It seems that every metro station has its regulars, sleeping, begging – mostly men.

The Atelier des Lumières has opened its doors and the early birds wait until two queues are organised – those with and those without tickets. I enter a cavernous space with some seating. There’s a projected notice on the walls and remains of some industrial fittings, which announces that the show will commence in a few minutes. We are clearly waiting for the space to fill up, and it does, but not too much as when the projections begin they cover every part of the place, walls floor and ceiling. Even the audience is part of the surface. Klimt is most famous for his gold period but we begin with neo classical work and move through his wide-ranging styles. This is the most exciting exhibition I’ve ever encountered and it helps that I’ve seen some of the work in galleries around the world, particularly when the purists ask – ‘but have you seen the originals?’ Questions like ‘Would Klimt have approved?’ are irrelevant. He’s not here to comment and I’ve been emotionally engaged. That’s my criteria for art. The thirty-minute presentation of moving Klimt images is followed by two short pieces featuring Hundert Wasser and something called Poetic_AI a stunning digital experience. Music accompanies the exhibition, cleverly heightening the emotional engagement.

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m tempted to stay on and watch it again, but I’ve got a Pink flamingo Rehearsal to attend.

 

 

We’ve been called for 12 noon in the park next to the swimming pool. Some of the guys wear their costumes as quick changes have to be rehearsed and last minute brushing up of routines achieved. Red and pink balloons have to be attached to a giant mouth and lips for the finale.

The balloon Mouth and Lips

They can then be carried to the pool and stored for later. We’ve been promised a twenty-minute rehearsal slot in the pool, but everything is running late and after a demonstration by the winning Syncro team there are two Water Polo finals to be played.

Last minute rehearsals

We manage to get about eight minutes in between games. It’s all chaotic, but we get acquainted with our small storage room to the side, where we will enter, exit and get changed.  All we can do is wait and get into our costumes.

they guys just love to show off their pecs & abs

The theme of the Pink Flamingo this year is ‘The French Kiss’ and we are act number five. Team New York Aquatics are after us – they are next year’s IGLA hosts and the current hosts, Paris Aquatique are last. There’s quite a lot of simulated sex in the various acts and weird sea-monsters. Sydney Wet Ones have Marie Antoinette losing her head and many clubs have impressive syncro teams doing amazing things.

Opening dance group: 2 Italians, 2 Spaniards, 1 American, 1 Kiwi, 1 Frenchman and an Englishman.

It’s our turn and the sound system is a bit rubbish so our opening number begins slightly out of time but we recover. We are the only act with an actual script. It’s a pre-recorded presentation with mimed action, explaining the French Kiss interpolated with choreographed dance. Christophe has to take over the syncro slot at the last moment as Steph has to catch a train. Miraculously we manage to spread ourselves over the dance area and the raised paddling pool area. It’s a huge space to fill and connect with the audience.

Paris Aquatique – chic

There is a long pause before Paris Aquatique’s act, as the judges have to decide the winners as they, being the hosts are not eligible to win. They also won last year in Miami.  When they do come on, it’s fantastic and goes on for much longer that the five minutes the rest of the clubs were allocated.

Waiting

As the results are announced, the tension mounts. There’s a prize for the best technical performance (beheading of Marie Antoinette) then the best costumes. Tel Aviv win the consolation prize then to our utter joy, London is announced the winner. There is a roar from our team and I overhear Stephen Lue quietly say ‘Thank fuck for that.’ We all pour out of the stand down onto poolside to collect the model Pink Flamingo. Most of the  Out to Swim team dive into the pool and swim to the other end for a final photograph.

We won the Pink Flamingo

I’m exhausted and it’s time to calm down and relax for the evening. The youngsters will probably go off to the party at 11.30pm – 5.00am. It’s too late for me and I have a train to catch in the morning. At Gar du Nord, there’s a sign directing European passport holders around a pillar into the Business Class lane. There is no queue at baggage security scanning; automatic passport recognition gates allow me to leave France and another set of gates let me into the UK. I don’t think that will happen next year after we’ve left the European Union.

Christophe and the Pink Flamingo

Back in London, there’s a facebook frenzy of photo sharing. When news comes out that Out to Swim is the top swimming club in the Gay Games, getting twice as many points as second place Washington DC AC, the facebook posts erupt. We took 79 swimmers to the games and everyone who competed earned points. There are lots of people to thank, coaches, organisers and just everyone for participating.

Out to Swim and the Pink Flamingo

We are all so proud of our International LGBT club. We have swimmers from all over the world, from every continent, reflecting London as it is now. I hope this will continue through the years ahead. Who knows what will happen?

Gay Games – Medals and Relays

Tuesday. I’ve stocked up on croissants, salami, camembert, bananas and other fruit so I can have a 6 am breakfast in my hotel room. There’s tea bags and a kettle and I’ve got my cereal bars and also fresh milk.  Entry to the Swimming pool is at 7.30, so it’s my first opportunity to warm up in the competition pool. Amazingly the legs are still holding out although I think they may be in shock, having had a week off kicking two weeks before the games. What I do have to remember for the 200 metre Backstroke is that it’s eight lengths of this pool.

Team Captain, Andy – exhausted after winning gold in Breaststroke

I’ve been known to mis-count and get disqualified. My other worry is that the ending in this pool feels different and I decide to take a quick peek as I approach the wall. It all seems to go well, particularly with the new pre-race breathing to stock up on oxygen. The competition is tough and I manage fourth place again but also another personal best.  Coach is not so happy though – worried that my look over the shoulder might be interpreted by the referee as being on my side – leading to disqualification. The other thing is that my knees bent and came out of the water. It’s interesting the difference between what you think you are doing and what is actually happening. There’s something called kinaesthetic awareness – the position of the body in relation to one’s surroundings. It’s important in dance and if you are ever walking backwards in a crowd. I’ve been working on my straight legs in training and when I do a second warm-up before our medley relay I check that they are straight – they seem to be. We’ve got a relay team adding up to 240+ years and I’m starting off with the 100 m Backstroke – concentrating on straight legs. I can feel them wanting to bend in the heat of racing – reverting to old habits and I have to force them to behave. My 100 Backstroke is one second slower than Sunday, but I have swum quite a lot already today and it’s enough for us to get a silver medal in our age-group.

Our senior swimmer at the Games, Hillary just won another gold

It’s been a wonderful morning watching so many of our team do 200 Fly, 50 freestyle and 50 Breaststroke and getting medals. I reward myself with a beer and lunch at the bistro by the local Metro.

Wednesday. I have enough victuals for a repeat early breakfast as it’s the 800 metres freestyle which is first up in the schedule. We’re racing two to a lane – two in the time of one. I’ve done this before in New Zealand, setting off at the same time and I’m not thrilled about the idea. This time, we are set off at different times so that we hopefully touch the electronic pads alternately. This turns out to be OK and I’m able to keep an eye out for the guy in the next lane who is around my time.

Vicki looking good in the 800

It’s a while since I did 800 in a twenty-five-metre pool so it’s great that one of our team mates (Paul) has volunteered to operate the counter and cheer me on at each turn. It’s a much-improved time and another personal best. I’m fourth again and grrrr – only three seconds away from a bronze medal. Nothing is ever perfect  and my notes from Coach tell me that my kick was sporadic and hence my bum too low in the water. I can also extend my reach further to push more water back to the other end of the pool. There’s always room for improvement and at this age, getting the technique right is the only way to get faster, or at least hold ground. I think that unless you are in an Olympic Squad, the only way to train for some of the longer distances is by competing often.

Out to Swim team (most of us) at the pool.

For the 4 x 100 freestyle and 4 x 50  medley relays, we drop down an age-group to 200+ years. In this bracket the competition is fierce and we manage 9th and 6th respectively. Team Captain,  Andy Benson’s clever pairing up means lots of medals in the relays.  The drama is intense in the 120-year men’s 4 x 50 relays and our teams are spectacular with some lightening-fast tumble turns. Our mixed medley 120+ team are just fantastic and take not only the gold but an IGLA record.

Parc Buttes Chaumont

I have time to snooze before buying picnic stuff and making my way to Parc Buttes Chaumont. We’re having a Pink Flamingo rehearsal followed by a picnic.

 

Gay Games – Openers

St Pancras Eurostar: Maria Jay Michael & Christopher

Saturday, the day, the opening day of the Gay Games, my first ever. It’s full of queues and standing around. I’m wearing my Out for Sport Team LGBT top so I can greet and be greeted by fellow sports people. St Pancras is a constant throng of travellers and as I have fifteen minutes before my train lane is opened, there’s time for a coffee and Pain aux Raisin. When I do join the queue, it’s stretched way down the shopping concourse. I narrowly head off a large tour party who is approaching from the other direction to join said queue. A woman wearing my Out for Sport top is looking for the end of the queue. She’s pushing a large suitcase with a hockey stick protruding.  Our eyes lock in recognition and even though we’ve never met, greet each other like long lost friends so she can join me in the queue. Maria plays for the London Royals Hockey Team. Amazingly the queue moves quickly and we are seen through the barriers, security, where our bags are scanned and passports checked – automatically. Michael and Jay (both not competing due to injury) join us. Others from Out to Swim hove into view and we find ourselves in the same carriage and others not far away. The Out to Swim women behind me have packed a healthy- looking brunch with Prosecco. Our amazing coordinator, Christophe and team are at Gare du Nord to hand out our accreditation packs which they have collected for the team.

Wilting around the flag

I’ve got time to check into my Hotel and sort myself out, have some lunch at the Café over the road, before making my way to the Opening Ceremony at the Stade Jean Bouin. There are handy signs outside the Metro directing us to the Stade and there are other athletes heading in the same direction. I arrive at the suggested time of 5pm. It’s stinking hot and not spotting anyone else I know, take up a position in the shade and unfurl the Out to Swim flag, which I’ve volunteered to transport. It acts as a beacon and gradually team members gather. It’s a long hot wait with nowhere to sit but on the ground. An MC gets everyone involved by identifying countries, encouraging cheering and the like.

Coaches

Various countries are summoned up onto a small make-shift stage and it’s interesting to note that China is invited up before Taiwan. China has apparently objected that Taiwan are controversially using their flag, so going first reduces the likelihood of a protest. Hong Kong (the next Gay Games host) is also represented separately. There’s a group of Australians quite near us and when their call comes to come to the stage, they just stand there talking. Only a handful of Aussies make it to the stage.

Vincent

When it’s Great Britain’s time to mount the stage, there’s a general barging past, interrupting conversations and someone trying to photograph Thai drag queens. Two hours and a disgusting burger and chips later, it’s time to line up in alphabetical order of country, to enter the stadium. Étais Unis are caught unawares by their move up the alphabet. Furthermore, they are supposed to be parading in alphabetical order of States. The announcer is constantly telling countries to ‘go to the Access area’ but from where we are, there are no clues as to where this might be. People from Alaska can be seen dawdling in the wrong direction. Eventually the MC gives up calling out US states and just pleads for anyone from the US to just go to the access area. This area turns out to be a tallish flag just out of view to the side.

Stade architecture

At around 8.30pm – three and a half hours later, we enter the queue (some of the team are exhausted and have gone home to rest for the races tomorrow) and it’s a relief to be walking, even if it is only around the back of the Stade. We enter waving our Team GB white balloons which Vicki has organised. We zig-zag over the rugby pitch on a white plastic path which protects the grass. There’s a lot of noise and announcements in French which I don’t understand, and then we exit, not far from where we’ve been waiting to enter into the seating area. The French are, as host nation, the last to process and they seem to go on forever. In the meanwhile, our British balloons have escaped, some onto the pitch and several get trapped by a portable fan.

Christophe waves our flag

Like harmless bombs, they sneak around the place and one even makes it into the French procession.  While we wait for everyone to enter, attempts at Mexican waves are tried with varying degrees of success. The entertainment begins with an impressive gymnastic display of cheer-leading, except it’s on the other side of the stadium and played to the spectators/supporters. The next act, a singer with dancers plays to the competitors, but it’s all too small for this vast arena even though it is relayed on screens. When a French comedian comes on and wonders why no one can understand him, so he starts again in English – It’s quite a good joke, but too small for this place – it’s time to leave, have beer and Glacé at  a café near the hotel before retiring to rest my legs for tomorrow. It’s a big ask to fill a stadium this size with entertainment other than Rugby.

The stadium
Piscine Georges Vallerey

Sunday. It’s the usual dilemma, when to eat and does the hotel do breakfast early enough? Fortunately, my only race today is early in the afternoon, so I opt for the full breakfast at 7.00, hitting on the idea to prepare a small filled baguette with salami, camembert, cucumber and a lettuce leaf to eat later. I arrive at the pool hours too early and decide to test out the water by doing a pre-warm up. Everything (in the body) seems to be working as it should except that the roof of Piscine Georges Vallerey is open and the sun is streaming in. Recalling the navigation problems in the Mallorca out-door pool, not to mention the blinding sun, I ask if the roof can be closed for the backstroke. No, it can’t, because it’s made of corrugated iron and heats up. I then get a lecture from the official about how they held international meets here and how to count stokes from the flags and look at the lane ropes. ‘Yes, I know all that.’

The warm-up end

I reply tartly. So, no luck there. There’s an afternoon warm-up session and it takes me a while to break through the wall and get going again. I’ve got my eye on the sun on Lane 4 now and it all seems manageable. Suddenly I discover I’ve been moved up a heat and to lane 1 – not my favourite. On poolside there is an announcement that backstroke starting bars are available. Suddenly everyone is asking me about them. I explain that they prevent slipping on the wall of the pool, but because they stick out a few millimetres, the toes must be above the bar touching the electronic pads. Guys look dubious, so I say ‘If you are not comfortable, don’t use them,’ and they cheer up.  For the first time, I remember to stock up on oxygen by breathing deeply several times before the start and have the most comfortable and enjoyable 100 M Backstroke for a long time with a 4th place. I knew the Americans were fast (1st place 20 seconds faster than me) and so are the Canadians.

Donna with Anna and her medals on day one
Lizzie and Andy breaking records

Out to Swim seem to be collecting loads of medals, particularly our women. At the end of day one I’ve already lost count of our team medal count. It’s been a long full day, cheering everyone on – time for beer and dinner at a café near the hotel.

With Christophe

Monday is another late start for me and again, only one race. Looking at the preliminary sheets there are three guys ahead of me entering forty-five seconds. Over a year ago I entered forty-six, so I have to swim faster than at least one of them to get a bronze. It’s time to focus and this time I don’t arrive too early and spend thirty minutes carefully warming up with backstroke kick and drills included. I try a fifty backstroke, but this is not a good idea as there as there are no backstroke flags in the warm-up pool. I whack my arm on the end of the pool – ow! Fortunately, no serious damage is done so I end up with a few HVO’s to get the blood flowing. High Velocity Overdrives involve a fast push-off and max effort for about six strokes followed by easy to the end of the pool. Back in the stands, a few distractions cause minor panic as I’ve got to change into my Arena Skins for the race.

Gold for 50 metres Backstroke

As they are literally skin tight – this can take a few minutes and I need to sit down in a cubicle and roll them up my legs to start with. All goes well and I’m below the forty-five seconds entered by the guys in the next heat. Amazingly, in a field of Americans three of the guys don’t swim that fast and two haven’t turned up so I get the gold medal – fantastic and unexpected, with a personal best thrown in.

I’m dining Chéz Robert Jolly and his partner Gerrard near Port D’Italie this evening. Robert sort of belongs to Paris Aquatique, but is swimming for Australia – his home country this week. He turns up at a lot of the international meets as well as the British ones. He’s invited a couple from West Hollywood aquatics to make up five for dinner. We are all in the older age-groups, so there’s stuff to talk about. The Californians have quite a few ‘interesting’ things to say about their current president. Gerrard is a charming host and Robert has done us five magnificent courses. We can’t stay too late as we are all swimming in the morning and I have a very early start.

Out to Swim Backstroke medals

Gay Games Paris – the preparation

Out for Sport Team GB tee shirt

It’s the day before the day before and I’m supposed to be race-fit and ready to swim fast. We’ve been tapering for some weeks now which apparently means swimming hard, swimming relaxed and getting quite a bit of rest. Hmm – last night’s session was tough and my glutes are feeling it today. That’s because I’ve been off kicking for a week – using a pull buoy – to get over a last-minute hamstring injury. The old legs got a bit of a shock.

I’ve just qualified as a Swimming Teacher’s assistant and am full of the theory and mechanics of swimming. Coach got us to do big arms – no polite ‘ladies’ swimming – to move that water out of the way. Then there were endless lengths with full lungs for buoyancy – no breathing. Finally, the instruction was ‘no splashing’ – it increases drag. I like no splashing. Apparently, we looked much better by the end of the session, but will we be fast enough to beat the Americans in Paris?

Once a month we all converge from our various pools to a semi-outdoor food hall and I thought a Mixed grill had been earnt – protein replacement as a reward. I got talking to one of the guys from Lessons who is having difficulty breathing out and wanted to know if going to the gym would help his fitness. I’m a great believer in breathing out – seriously – but have no experience of gong to the gym so I could only help on the first count.  I got home late to find the heat sheets for the games had arrived and spent hours on my phone scrolling through hundreds of pages of heats to find my events and to sus out the competition. Yep, the Americans are coming and it’s going to be tough. One ray of hope is that I entered over a year ago and some of my times are better than then.

Out to Swim Official top designed by our own fabulous artist – Dermot Flynn

There’s been a lot of hype around the games from within the club and endless newsletters from the Federation of Gay Games. Then there’s been offers of things to do in Paris: shopping, sightseeing and social activities. It will all take a week – longer than any other swim meet I’ve been to. Inevitably with such a large organisation, things go wrong and the policy of feeding out information gradually over the months has upset travel bookings, accommodation and created logistical nightmares on how to get from a, to b. to c. in time. Somehow it should all come together on Saturday evening for the Opening Ceremony. At the end of the day, it’s just another LGBT sports meet and I’ve done a few around the world in the last seven years.

The Day Before

My first priority is a last-minute check-up with Robbie, my magician, Sports Masseur and Osteopath. He manages to keep this now Sixty-seven-year-old body in shape and he did miraculous work on my hamstring earlier in the week. I always feel on a high afterwards, so it’s a slow relaxed ride to Sainsburys to stock up on cereal bars. It’s too hot to do anything much but lie on the settee – resting – snoozing – reading, having lunch followed by more of the above. Boring really. I’m up-to-date with home improvements and anyway, DIY doesn’t agree with my swimming muscles. A few weeks ago, I complained about it to my friend Ros. ‘You’re more of a racehorse than a donkey, aren’t you?’ she said. Looking at the start sheets now, I don’t feel much like a racehorse. The times submitted by the American swimmers make me realise that I’m heading for a world class Masters competition.

Red Balloons wait in the park for their rehearsal.

Then there’s the Pink Flamingo. We’ve been rehearsing our five – minute routine of entertainment on the theme of The French Kiss. I’ve unexpectedly found myself in the opening dance routine – something I haven’t done in over twenty-five years. Fortunately, the dance is only fifty to sixty seconds long and I don’t have to do any double pirouettes.  We’ve been rehearsing in car parks and public gardens around London, to the entertainment of passers-by.

Tonight, is the last opportunity to train before racing in Paris and it’s a relief to get of the settee and move the body. The session is quite busy but the coach is kind today so that those of us going to Paris don’t swim hard all the time. At the end of an hour (the session is ninety minutes) we have to swim down and get out, she doesn’t want us over doing it. Those not going to Paris get to swim hard for another half hour.

 

OTS Swim Camp – Crashing Barriers

Pre Warm-up

It’s day three, our second two-session day when Stefano and Katie join the group. The rest of us are just easing through the pain barrier – still creaking our joints, sinews and muscles. This morning we have Pamela from Italy coaching. She tells Stefano , in Italian, that he’s not getting away with anything. She has a loud commanding voice but she looks too small and young to be a real Italian Mama. There’s a lot of work with fins – freestyle mainly. We do lots on our sides, with one arm out front and the other at 90⁰ sticking up in the air. Then there’s various relaxed movement of this arm – touching hip, shoulder, head, water before changing sides. I note that the side kick is faster than kicking on the front, face down.

Katie

I check with Ben for an explanation. When kicking up and down, there is not as much water above the feet to move about, whereas on the side there is a whole pool full of water to move about. This sounds like another plug for rotation. It’s also good to note the difference with the shallow and faster backstroke kick and with fins on I seem to be speeding along at a rate of nots. The relief at taking off the fins after such a long session is dramatic. My feet no longer have heavy things attached, with the result that I kick more and faster. It’s good to get the point though experience.

Phil and I are joined by Ed for lunch – we stumble upon a German restaurant where the set menu starts with tapas, followed by meat dumplings made with loving care and served in a caper sauce and new potatoes.

Starts

Our evening session is Butterfly with Ally. What a time for Dan to finally join us after travel delays. It’s virtually all kicks and drills and I’m glad as I don’t fancy doing multiple 50m lengths of fly.  After all, I only ever do one length of it in the Individual Medley, regardless of the pool length.

Starts

Ally’s speciality is 50m fly and he confesses that he’s never had to pay too much attention to turns.  Fly turns are fairly similar, if not identical, to breaststroke turns. Some people have never done a backstroke turn – they know who

More wild flowers on the beach

they are – so there are a few trials and errors.

On Thursday morning, Pam takes us though drills again, but we do more swimming. Phil and I have an average set menu involving Hake for lunch (the beer is nice) before setting off for the naturist beach to the East.

Growing though the rock
Wild flowers

The map shows a road through countryside where birds might be seen. The road is, however, marked private and we have to re-trace our steps to walk along the beaches and coastal paths. There aren’t many birds in the mid-afternoon and the land adjoining the coast is all fenced off and marked ‘Private’ in three languages.

Coastal route

After an hour or so walking, we reach Playa ses Roquettes and take turns to guard our stuff while the other goes in for a swim. There aren’t many people here – half a dozen at the most. The water is somewhere between 16-18⁰c and very refreshing.

Playa ses Roquettes

Open water enthusiasts might call it too warm but we don’t stay in for long and have to climb over a mountain of dead sea grass to get in and out. There are more birds on the way back and we follow the shore right around to the harbour area and the new part of town. It’s clear that development has gone East and our hotel and the swimming pool are on the West side of town.

Harbour beer

It’s time for a beer overlooking the harbour. The others had returned to the Western Beach where Christophe created amazing human sculptures with the OTS group. Shared with compliments of  OTS WhatsApp.

Body Art – OTS WhatsApp
Body art OTS WhatsApp

Friday and it’s Pam again and I’m finding her drills excellent. Katie and I are getting great feedback. She reminds me that I’m neglecting my push through – I’ve lapsed into short strokes again. There is such a lot to remember. and at this point on the week I’m taking the occasional 100 metres out to rest.

OTS Body art
O-T-S on the sand

Lunch is a group affair – it’s the only time we have the full team together and this is the last opportunity. We return to the same restaurant – Beach House – where we were on Monday. Slivers of roast pork from between the ribs with smoked mashed potatoes are

Fernando

delicious and beautifully presented.

For the evening session we have most of the pool and Ally sets us off on what he calls a ‘Short warm-up’. This turns out to be 8 x 100’s alternating freestyle and choice (not freestyle) then 8 x 50s – drill 25m swim 25m doing all four strokes. I take a rest on the backstroke as I need it and I’m not quite reconciled with the sun glare and the lane ropes. I explain to Ally that the others need the backstroke work (joke) but he tells me that my backstroke is fine. The rest of the session is dives and turns. This is where it’s useful to have OTS volunteer coaches around to give extra feedback. We finish early so we can do a  group photo before people begin to fly home.

OTS Mallorca

Our last day, Saturday is also a two-session affair, but the morning is overcast and cold. This is the fun session with swim caps as prizes and after the warm-up there are competitions for various skills: The longest push-off glide; longest breaststroke push-off to breakout; greatest distance underwater dolphin kick with fins; backwards front crawl – hilarious and impossible. Then it’s relay time. Ally attempts to form three teams of six, but some people are not competing (too cold, too tired, too hung-over).

Waddah

Rory comes to the rescue and rearranges everything. Simon and Paul are persuaded to join my team. The first relay race is freestyle, which we don’t win. There’s now a discussion about the Medley. Both Paul and I are back-strokers but none of the others can or want to do 50m Fly. In the end Paul does the fly and I the backstroke, leaving the others to do 2 x Breast and 2 x freestyle. We win that one, in spite of hangovers. The last relay is with a pull-boy, passed to the next swimmer and both Ed and I are fairly slow at this. The result is that each team wins one relay each.

Katie

I seriously consider not doing the usual cover-up with sunblock for our last evening session as the sky is completely overcast and it’s cold. Someone warns that I could still get burnt and so relent. It’s Pamela again with lots of great drills, kicking on the side with fins and arms in the air are all good. Pam really does pay attention to details and is still giving individual advice. It’s not too exhausting and we only swim for an hour – a request from the Eurovision fans amongst us who ‘have to get ready’. Actually, my body has had enough – time for a snooze before our last night in town.

Spain is singing – Eurovision

Our social secretaries have sorted out a pub/restaurant not far away who can get BBC television. They’ve negotiated a meal (pizza) and drinks deal with the Indians who run the place. Having declared publicly that the only pizzas worth eating are in Italy or Islington, I think these ones are quite good. The more senior of the group gather early on one table as we’re desperate for beer. The youngsters arrive in dribs and drabs.

Drag at Eurovision

Paul and Stephen C have gone to great lengths with their drag outfits and look amazing. I’m not really a fan of drag, but they both manage to look glamorous so full marks. I’ve only ever watched Eurovision once – I had nothing else to do. It is a gay thing – so our table, critical of the standard of composition, lyrics, production etc mumble quietly to each other. There are a few surprisingly good efforts, but my interest wanes and having shared a bottle of rough red wine with Phil and Nick find a moment to drift off and pack for an early drive to the airport the next morning. I catch up on the rest of the evening via the WhatsApp group playing pool and mingling with the locals.

The after party

It’s been a great week and I’ve managed every session – something I didn’t expect to achieve. Some of the guys are talking about a holiday, but I don’t think so, it’s been hard work. Besides, when you are retired, life doesn’t demarcate between work and holidays in the way it used to. Activities line up on the continuum of experience to make the most of and enjoy whatever comes along.