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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.

 

 

Mallorca – Best Swim Centre

Off to Swim Mallorca

Sur Mallorca Hotel

Colonia Saint Jordie is a sleepy resort near the southern most point of the island of Mallorca. The town clusters around a rocky outcrop jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. Having had a day of travel delays, and a missed flight at Barcelona, I’m anxious to find Phil at Palma Airport. He’s not answering his phone or replying to texts or WhatsApp messages. I know he’s been delayed and I want to sort out a second driver for the hire car. I sit and wait. The two possibilities are that he’s fallen asleep in the airport waiting or that he hasn’t arrived yet. Eventually he turns up – he was in the air on flight mode. Phil’s Sat Nav app delivers us to a very swanky hotel just up the road from the Best Swim Centre. Reception has no record of us and it turns out that we’re in the tower block sitting on the end of the rocky promontory a couple of stars lower down the scale. However, I do have a 190 degree sea view.

Best Centre Elite Swimming Training

It’s a short walk to the Best Centre, our Swim Camp home for the next six days, and the Out to Swim guys plus a couple from Y Swim gather at the hotel reception at 10.40. The pool is fifty metres and we have four lanes supervised by James and Ally. As I quite often swim in the same lane as Fernando and Waddaah, I join them in lane three. James asks if we have any requests and a couple of us mention breaststroke – others want starts and turns. The warm up is 200 Freestyle, 200 backstroke, 100 breaststroke then kicks & pull coming to around 800m.

Our training pool

Ben (OTS coach) tells me I’m too fast for lane three. I now have the option to join lane two where James is doing a breaststroke set – his speciality. There are only four of us in lane two – luxury. One of my objectives is to sort out my breaststroke, which I only use in the Individual Medley. James tells me that I’m not bringing my heels up high enough or close enough to my bum to get the power from a circular kick back. It’s a eureka moment and there are also some very useful tips for the arms.

Applying sun block

We do a range of drills, the most difficult being holding the opposite ankle behind with one hand and then swimming with the free arm and leg. I can’t do it and get the giggles. In between attempts I just do my newly acquired kick to catch up with the others. Coach James has figured out that lane one are speaking in gay idiom – particularly when he’s describing the position of the bottom. He’s quickly educated. Ally, who is doing backstroke with lanes three and four is being oogled. Well, he is young and cute. I can’t imagine this is the first time James has had a gay group. Perhaps last years’ Out to Swim group were more decorous.

More sun-block please

Although the pool is heated, it’s not exactly warm out of the water – some are shivering during the instruction and back-chat periods. I’m glad to have sorted out the Breaststroke so early in the proceedings, though it’s still exhausting to do.

First Lunch out
Lunch time sea view

Fernando has booked a mass lunch at a seaside restaurant a short walk around the coast. It’s a beautiful setting but the wind is chilly and some of us have to go outside and stand in a sunny sheltered spot to warm up. Phil and I take off in the car to investigate Parc Natural de Mondrago, just North West of Santanyi.

The countryside is green at this time of year with flowers all along the road-sides. We pass Almond orchards and fields of wild flowers. It’s not really a park as everywhere seems to be farmed, but it’s lovely and we stop briefly on the coast to look at the sea and the limestone cliffs. There’s no time to linger, as we have to be back for our second two hour session at six. Lanes one and two have Ally for a backstroke set. Lots of drills for rotation leading from the hips and getting the arms in the right position to enter the water and push down.

The Natural Park
Coast

Different coaches have varied advice which might seem to contradict with another coach. The thing is that they are all correct – in a way and it’s only when you get the whole picture that things fall into place.  I recall seeing a U tube video where a coach was warning about the danger of over rotation in backstroke. Ally’s tip that one’s side should not come out of the water makes sense of this. Our problem here is navigating in an out-door pool. It’s no use fixing on a point in the sky and on every second length the sun is blinding. Much hilarity ensues with everyone zigzagging up and down the pool and colliding with lane-ropes.

Aloe and wild-flowers

Mostly the lane ropes win and I have the scars to prove it.

As dinner at the hotel finishes at 9pm, we have to dash back and change into long pants before eating. I’m knackered and go straight to bed instead of going out for a drink with the youngsters, who want to farewell James. He’s going home tomorrow afternoon. Tuesday is one two-hour session and there’s a chance to re-visit the work we did yesterday on breaststroke and then we do push-offs and turns.

Scabeous on brownfield site

We have what is known as half board at the hotel, which means only breakfast and evening meal. Most of the guys do a swap and have lunch at the hotel. My view is that indifferent food is the same whether it’s lunch or dinner, but this gives the lads the opportunity to go out on the town at night. Phil and I find a delightful little Bistro with delicious artistically presented food. But we’re not missing out as the WhatsApp group keeps us graphically updated with everyone else’s activities – mostly.

Salt lakes

They are off to the naturist beach Playa d’es Trenc and no one joins us on a three-hour bird-watching walk. Our journey takes us along the naturist beach, but there is no sign of the lads and we head inland past salt lakes and wet-lands. I’m astonished at the abundance of species here. Some of the highlights are sightings of: an Eagle, Flamingos and a Harrier. There are nightingales – heard but not seen, Hoopoes, Corn Buntings, various warblers and of course Sparrows everywhere. On the water are Shell ducks, Stilts, Avocets and many more. Phil is in heaven with his binoculars and bird identification phone app. He’s texting a mate in France who is also bird-watching. It’s a bit of a competition.

wld flowers

Along the way we see plenty of wild-flowers in full spring bloom. They will all be gone by mid-summer and the resort tourists will miss out. Colonia St Jordi seems not to have grown much over the years. Vacant lots are still to be developed and while the market waits for a boom, ecology has taken over and wild-flowers, birds and feral cats make temporary use of the land.

Off to Swim Prague

Aquacentrum Prague

‘Because I can’ is what I tell people who ask me ‘Why?’ I’m unencumbered these days, responsible and answering only to myself, so why not make the most of it?

I’m off to swim for a while – a Saturday afternoon in Prague for their Rainbow Spring Multi-sport event then to Mallorca for a six-day swim camp with twenty Out to Swim club members. My body is a bit apprehensive – I never quite know which part will complain next – but I know it pretty well by now and it tells me when to stop. It’s just a matter of listening, which I don’t always do.

River Vltava from Charles Bridge

I was last in Prague in 2014, so I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with this beautiful and historic city. On the flight from Stanstead is a huge party of guys going to a stag do. Apparently, it’s the new place to do that – excellent beer and cheap. Sounds like they have a weekend of all inclusive (to save bother) activities including the mandatory strip show. Interesting to observe straight men in a group away from wives and girlfriends – a completely different animal.

Government buildings – Prague Castle

A three-day travel pass purchased at the airport takes me by bus and Metro with speedy efficiency to my hotel. Hotel Alba is modernised in a spartan, Eastern European version of IKEA – except that it is solid.  It’s still light so this is the only opportunity to explore the Prague Castle area – not done on my 2014 visit. The hotel receptionist advises that I need two days to see it all, so I will just have to do a recce for next time.

Busking harpist
Busking Violinist

Prague is a city of classical music so it’s no surprise to come across young musicians busking all the way up the stairs to the Castle. These days I travel on VISA and haven’t even got any local currency, so the buskers are out of luck as are the beggars, who kneel in a praying position with caps outstretched, taking sneaky looks to see if anyone is paying attention.

Cathedral

Yes, I’m people watching again and note the out-of-condition younger family men huffing and puffing their way up the steps. Even though I’m still recovering from various Winter-related conditions, my lungs manage the steps easily – the leg muscles, not so well.

At the top is a whole village of palaces, most of which are now galleries and museums. It’s all very grand, but at this time of day everything is closed.

 

Prague view

The view of the city is, however, stunning in the late afternoon sunlight and by now the tourists have thinned out. In one deserted square a Chinese wedding photo shoot is in progress with a lighting guy holding up his silver disc to reflect light on to the faces of the happy couple.

Chinese Wedding Shoot

I head down the other side towards the Charles Bridge, which is still crowded. The portrait artists are still there – probably the same ones I saw in 2014.

Charles Bridge

I find the Charles Bridge Restaurant where the Rainbow Spring registration is happening. ‘No, I don’t need a free travel pass, I bought one at the airport.’ There is a look of consternation from the young man handing out the bags and event invitations.

the Steps down

I might go to the party on Saturday evening but sadly can’t do the picnic on Sunday afternoon as I fly out in the morning. I am dying for a beer, something the Czechs do well. I sit in the downstairs restaurant overlooking water where the pedalloes are being returned. The kitchen is struggling and even though the waiters are running around looking efficient, my Salmon pasta, is only just warm and too small to carb up enough for tomorrow. I have to order a pear in pastry but when it eventually arrives floating in a thin caramel, it is also tepid – not recommended.

My Out to Swim team-mates have spent all day walking around the city and have fallen asleep – so we don’t meet up. I’m remembering coach Nathan’s advice to get a good night’s sleep before a race. The trouble is the hotel mattress is super firm and thin. It’s unable to embrace the sticky-out bits of my body.

The best pool in town

It’s an eleven o’clock warm-up at the ‘Best pool in town.’ This leaves plenty of time to fill up the tank at breakfast. It’s all a bit of a shock to the system that there’s no fruit, but I’ll cope. Once again, the public transport carries me to the Sutka Aquacentrum, high in the suburbs and overlooking the city. I’m recognised by guys who were at the  Amsterdam Valentine’s meet earlier in the year and that’s a nice feeling of camaraderie – one from Frankfurt and an American living in Switzerland.

Out to Swim team – trio

Paul and Rory have been hanging out with two guys from Paris Aquatique – apparently the rest of their team are in the Canary Islands on a Swim Camp preparing for the Gay Games in August. The pool here is amazing. It has a stainless steel adjustable bottom and sides and there are clear Perspex walls at each end to protect officials from being splashed.  The water is nice and cool and the lane ropes have no sharp spikes to lacerate my wrists in backstroke. There is speculation that they won’t calm the water so well. I think it’s marginally more choppy.

Europeans
Netherlanders

There’s a good European turn-out here today, especially from Spain, The Netherlands and Germany. Certainly, there are more than in 2014 so I guess that everyone is getting ready for the Gay Games. I always hate starting of a race meet with 100 metres backstroke. It’s a tough race and I do better starting off with freestyle. The backstroke hurts and is a bit slow. By comparison the 400 freestyle is more comfortable.

Berliner?

The younger guy next to me is level pegging for the first 100 metres, then he takes off and I let him go. To my left I glimpse a guy turning after me so I’m safe. There is no electronic board, so no way to tell how we did in the heat.

After the swim
The Out to Swim Paris Aquatique relay team

Both Paul and I are collecting gold medals. He has competition in his age group so he’s pleased that some of Out to Swim fast swimmers are not here. He has a great meet with all Long Course personal bests. Rory and Paul have formed a relay team with the two Paris Aquatique guys to do the 4 x 50m Medley and Freestyle. This is all great experience for Rory, who has only been swimming for six months and its only the second race meet in his life. We don’t know yet how the relays did but they looked good.

Pink Flamingo and medals

The announcer is a jolly fellow, speaking Czech first, then English – the common language for Europeans. He spots the gaps in the hearts as they line up and calls out the missing swimmers. There’s also a DJ with a great play-list (According to Paul).  The day ends with a fun relay with teams pushing inflatable flamingos up the pool. Back in town, I find a pub restaurant for a beer – outside. It’s all tasty – grilled sirloin and chicken breast in a creamy green peppercorn sauce and bright orange sweet potato chips. There’s nothing green in sight, so I’m looking forward to a Spanish salad.

Swimming for My Life

London Aquatic Centre

I’m involved in Out and Active, a project to encourage over 50’s LGBT people to engage in a sport so that they can lead healthier lives.  I’m the writer on the project, interviewing people from different sports clubs and my long-time friend and fellow swimmer, Vicki Carter is leading the project for Out for Sport

My story, Swimming for My Life, along with the others I’m collecting will be on the website, hopefully inspiring older LGBT’s to get active.

Me and TAMS team mate – Auckland at Mt Roskil meet New Zealand

I was Sixty-one when I joined Out to Swim in 2012. As a teenager in New Zealand, I’d belonged to the local swimming club.  We had a key to the town outdoor pool and trained before school – only in the summer – doing kicking and pull, but mostly just swimming up and down.  Our parents organised a swimming coach to sort out our style and technique and he also taught us butterfly – unheard of in our part of the world.  I won the championship at our small rural high school and so thought myself a pretty good swimmer, going on to compete at University meets where I came last in everything. For the next forty years I’d go swimming maybe once a week, do twenty lengths and then get out.

LAC ready for Out to Swim’s meet GLLAM in 2017

I’d been on a round the world adventure with my partner getting as far as New Zealand. He died there suddenly and when I returned to the UK. My long-time friend, Vicki Carter, who was going to teach my partner to swim properly, suggested I join Out to Swim.  I’ve always believed that joining a group is the best way to meet new people and I knew I needed some way of dealing with my bereavement, so I looked up the website, chose a session and headed for the first of three free introductory swims.

Representing Middlesex in the inter-county challenge – Portsmouth.

Of course, it was the wrong session and after forty years, I was out of condition. I still had some speed, but no stamina and had to take time out every few lengths. Swimming continuously for one hour was not possible so the coach suggested I got to a development session and come back when I was ready. These days people get assessed and sent to the correct session for their fitness and ability.

For me, swimming is the perfect exercise, aerobic and non-weight-bearing.  Running has never suited me and with the beginnings of arthritis, it’s important to keep those joints moving. I’ve lost weight and being back to where I was at the age of twenty, find I’m getting admiring glances again.  What more encouragement do I need?

Millennium Pool Auckland NZ the World Masters

Non-swimmers have a notion of our sport as being solitary and unsociable, saying ‘Don’t you get bored endlessly ploughing up and down the pool?’  There’s a lot to think about.  ‘Are my arms entering the water at the right angle?  How’s my rotation and am I kicking hard enough?’  The list goes on and there are always improvements to make. Counting the number of strokes per length or the number of lengths swum can be calming. I like to think of it as meditation, where the mind is emptied of all peripheral matters and there’s the added benefit of endorphins released by exercise to produce a great feeling of well-being. Swimming is a great stress buster and I kept training whilst moving house, traditionally the most stressful thing you ever do.  Being in a club offers a range of social benefits from weekly after-session drinks, mid-winter plunges for the more eccentric and the Christmas party.  At training, you get to know the regular people in your lane and the order in which everyone swims. Interaction is required, making it a group activity.  So, ‘lonely?’ I don’t think so.

Ponds Forge Swimming Centre – Sheffield.

I persisted with the club and was hugely inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic games of 2012. The real breakthrough came for me when I raced at the UK Masters Nationals at Sheffield that year. It was nerve wracking, the first time on those high blocks, but once the starting pistol went off, it all came flooding back.  I was hooked on Masters’ competitive swimming at sixty-one.  Age group competing was new to me and one of my memories is of two elderly swimmers bearing heart surgery scars, discussing their operations – inspirational. Entering a competition makes you part of the team and it’s also a great opportunity to get to know other members from other lanes.

London Aquatic Centre asleep.

In an era when longevity rubs up against quality of life, the older we get, the more important it is to keep moving and balanced. Early in 2014, a man who had recently moved into the 100 – 104 age group was going for the world 100 metre backstroke record.  I was in heat two and we had to wait until he’d finished, and he got his record. I have no particular ambition to get to a hundred but I do want to be fit and active until the end.

It is also important for me to belong to a gay or gay friendly club because I feel more comfortable and relaxed.  ‘Coming out’ is unnecessary as we have a shared vocabulary and culture. What is unusual for a gay organisation is the complete lack of age or ability discrimination.  Young gay men in particular can be very ageist, so I was initially bemused to be smiled at and greeted by much younger guys and found myself suddenly valued to take a relay team into a higher aggregate age group to increases the odds of winning medals.  There are not so many older swimmers and even fewer women so we get more points for racing. Not everyone is ready to or wants to race. Some members are non-competitive and just like to keep fit.

My Bronze Medal at the UK Nationals in 2017

I’ve been to LGBT meets all over Europe and the rest of the world, a chance to travel, see new places and make international friends. I also win medals and in 2017 I achieved my ambition to get a bronze medal at the Nationals. I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been in my life, both physically and emotionally and that’s worth more to me than my drawer of medals.  Swimming has now become a great passion with the added benefit of new team-mates and friends.

To read inspirational stories by other older athletes go to Out & Active and scroll down the page.

 

 

Dressing the Christmas Tree

Oh Christmas tree.

December in the Northern Hemisphere and I’ve decided to have a Christmas Tree this year. Summer in New Zealand rapidly wilts the local Pinus Radiata and anyway, I have no decorations there. In London, stored in boxes is a history of baubles, fairy lights, buntings and assorted miscellaneous decorations, bringing with them memories and musings on this most pagan of festivals.

My mother in her later years shocked me by admitting that she dreaded and hated Christmas. She detested the drunkenness and rows associated with the family business owned by my grandmother and managed by my father. Somehow Mum never let on about her Christmas misery. Dad would go out on the road side and cut down a Pinus Radiata seedling – later, we were old enough to do it. The tree was decorated then my brother and I awoke on Christmas morning to a litter of presents.

Santa cowers in his green cave

There were presents from Father Christmas addressed to us boys in Mum’s distinctive hand-writing and offered with a wry smile. We were in on the joke and I don’t think I ever believed in Santa. I’d worked out pretty early on that there was no way he was ever going to get down our chimney.

It was not comfortable to have maternal and paternal grandmothers in the same room so, like many families of the age, we compromised. Paternal Grandmother came on Christmas Eve and being Scottish, preferred Hogmanay. We went to my maternal Grandparents, to meet up with cousins, aunts and uncles, sitting on the back lawn in shorts and bare feet recovering from the heaviness of a traditional Christmas dinner. There was always roast chicken with the usual vegetables, which we were expected to eat, followed by hot steamed pudding secreted with silver threepenny and sixpenny bits. We forced down the hot desert just to get the money. Somehow it was contrived that every child got a coin.

Brass camel from Egypt
Three sandalwood camels from India

We weren’t really a church-going family – nominally Presbyterians – I’d decided around the age of eleven, that the teachings of Jesus pretty much didn’t match up with what was happening in the world and in particular, Christianity. We went to Sunday School and Bible Class to meet up with other youngsters in the village. There were little performances in church – the Strang Brothers, Alan and Jack sang Silent Night while I, wracked with nerves and a lack of talent, accompanied them on the piano. Somehow, I got through it. Some years later I sang Mary’s Boy Child accompanied by the church organist – weird.

A glass ball

In London, for many years, Christmas was about choral singing. I belonged to the Actors Choir and our conductor, Anthony Bowles, would have us perform the Nine Lessons and Carols – inspired by Kings College. Anthony would reluctantly allow us to do a preview only of the carols at the Actors Centre in the week before.

‘Christmas ends in Oxford Street on the twenty-fifth. In the Anglican Church it begins after Christ’s birth.’ And so, we did a tour of churches on the four Sundays after Christmas. We always started with Once in Royal, but there were rules and if we went on too far into January, some hymns could not be sung and we had to substitute. In time, some of the lessons were replaced by readings from Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. We had a high proportion of unbelievers in our choir but somehow the music and fellowship prevailed. Once at Thaxtead Parish Church (the home of Holst) it was bitterly cold. We requested permission to wear our coats. Antony promised that we would be warmed by the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the Spirit failed most of us, confirming my lack of faith. Anthony sadly died from an HIV related illness in the early nineties. He was resigned to be going to Heaven and would greatly miss most of his friends who would be going to ‘The other place.’

The old fairy back on duty after three years packed away

Phillip arrived in my life around the same time and brought with him his box of Christmas decorations. It is this treasure trove which has set me of on these musings, some of them trivial, others joyful, but in the main they have brought a certain sadness. Dressing the tree was a ritual undertaken by Phillip, in a particular way and I’ve tried to emulate that. The tattered fairy on top of the tree is in her late sixties. She was bought from Woolworths in South Yorkshire – a cardboard cut-out dressed in now-faded crepe paper. Her wand-holding hand is missing, so I’ve distracted the viewer with a blue feather. The mostly-glass baubles of varying sizes are now classics going back to the fifties and sixties; modern baubles are now made from plastic.

Buddha contemplates three straw angels

Phillip had a tradition of buying a new decoration every year and we continued that. By the nineties, everything was plastic and expensive so I got into the habit of taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales to buy decorations for next year. There are enough to dress a tree now and I’ve even given away surplus fairy lights.

Whatever your beliefs and customs in these extraordinary times, be kind, remember and hope.

Over My Garden Wall

It’s time to top-up the compost in the raised beds at the front of the house in Stepney Green. A lot of people get pleasure from looking at my garden as they pass by and I like that. Two elderly well-dressed women stop to look and admire my red Phormium Tenax.

‘That’s from New Zealand – flax,’ one of them says. ‘We’re from New Zealand,’ she continues.

‘So am I. I’ve been here thirty-nine years.’

‘I’ve been here for fifty,’ the other woman says.

‘Are you local?’

‘I live in Whitechapel, next to Sainsburys.’

‘That’s handy. I shop there every week. Whitechapel is the traditional place for immigrants to arrive,’ I say with a wry smile.’

She smiles back.

‘It’s great that we have a new woman Prime Minister,’ I venture.

A shadow crosses their faces momentarily. ‘Yes it’s interesting.’

‘I do hope she can fix a few things,’ I’m pushing their boundaries, I can tell.

‘It’s good for Labour to be in power every now and then to make some social changes.’

I adjust my narrative. ‘Yes, it’s good to have a balance between social care and capitalism, I guess.’

‘We don’t really want to get into politics,’ one of them says.

The second one, from Whitechapel adds, ‘New Zealanders live in paradise, they just don’t know how well off they are.’

I look doubtful. ‘Perhaps a demi, semi paradise,’ I say, all the while thinking of child poverty, water pollution, housing and high suicide rates.

She continues. ‘New Zealanders just don’t realise that these issues are all over the world.’

Now this is something I can really agree with. It’s true, New Zealand, in spite of the traditional ‘Overseas Experience’ done by young kiwis, still seems to think that their problems are unique. No, they are not. They are experiences all over the world.

We return to the red Phormium Tenax, a safe conversation. I tell them how I grew it from seed (really easy) brought from my Mother’s garden in Hawke’s Bay. They are amazed that it can survive here in the UK.

‘Well if you’ve been to Otago, (they have) they grow enormous down there.’

They move on down the road and a walnut-faced old man, who has been watching us from his white van parked outside the house next door, approaches. He grins to reveal a front gap in upper and lower teeth between in incisors and canines.

‘You like to have sex?’ He nods in the direction of the parting women.

I’m shocked and surprised on a number of levels. I never consider sex with women whatever their age and briefly consider telling him I’m gay. Quite quickly I decide that it’s not worth the bother and as English is clearly not his first language, he may not get the message. I’m surprised that he has even thought about sex with these women, or has he observed my conversation and confused it with flirtation?

I shake my head and laugh. ‘No, not for me.’ and decide to move the conversation in a different direction. ‘Are you working on the house next door?’

‘Yes, my son. I watch out for parking guys.’

‘If you’re working for the council, why don’t they give you a permit?’

He shrugs. ‘There was not time to do it.’

‘What are you doing in there?’

‘My son, he is fitting new bathroom.’

‘Yes, they are always doing something in there. Where are you from?’

‘Croatia.’

‘Oh. How long have you been in London?’

‘Ten years now.’

‘So after the war?’

He nods and proceeds to tell me all about the former Yugoslavia. I try to show him I know about it and attempt to contribute by naming some of the regions which are now countries, but he’s on a roll. Finally he comes to a halt with ‘Croatians very bad people.’

‘Oh, I thought the Serbians were pretty aggressive.’

‘No, no, Serbians are very kind friendly people. BBC got it wrong, they told lies.’

I’m not quite sure how to answer that, particularly as he’s Croatian himself and should know. Just as I remember the current lot of Croatian military men being tried for genocide, his son emerges from the house next door and he’s off.

A few moments later a woman of South Asian origin, wearing a headscarf passes my garden with her hands, palms together as if deep in prayer. She stops and smiles. ‘I really like your garden; it gives me great pleasure every time I pass.’

 

 

 

Monday in Seville

Alcázar Palace Courtyard

Monday morning in Seville and there are a few breakfast places open for Café con Leché and Tostadas Jamon. Every eatery we’ve been to has had super friendly waiters and waitresses. We’re on our way through the narrow city streets again, looking for the Alcázar Palace. My GPS woman knows exactly where it is, but not how to get in. In the end David suggests we do that very un-male thing and ask someone. Yes we are outside the garden walls, and if we just follow the wall around we will get to it. We do that and find a medium queue. I keep our place while David looks for water and somewhere to pee.

Alcázar Palace

The Alcázar Palace, begun in 1364 is a mixture of Gothic and Mudejar. It was built on the site of a former Moorish palace and mosque and incorporates many of those features. Like most palaces, it’s been added on to and altered, but it is a beautiful and serene place. We spend time thoroughly exploring the place, doubling back to make sure we haven’t missed anything. A high walk-way gives us a fantastic view of the surrounding gardens.

 

Alcázar Palace

By the time we’ve seen everything available, it’s time for a late lunch and having identified a nearby street of restaurants yesterday, that’s where we go. Shade is essential as it’s a warm 30 degrees and in spite of asking for ‘blanco’ anchovies, none are to be had today. It’s siesta time again and I really do need to flake out, surfacing later to eat drink and hang about with David.

Alcázar Palace David by the fish pond
Alcázar Palace – raised garden walk
Alcázar Palace central garden
Alcázar Palace outer garden vista
Alcázar Palace
Alcázar Palace Glass ceiling
Alcázar Palace Garden vista
Alcázar Palace
Alcázar Palace David in the garden
Alcázar Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing much happens in Seville on a Monday night, so it’s back to the Mr B&B for an early-ish night. Emelio and Manuel are still up and about, so there’s time to say goodbye. They will be gone to work early in the morning and I’m to just leave the keys on the dressing table.

Calle San Vicente

Tuesday morning and I’ve got my eye on The Belle Arts Museum. It’s just down the road from my digs and I can return to collect luggage and shower before my Ryanair experience later in the day. David is up and about and says he’ll join me, so I have breakfast just around the corner from the museum.

Free entry to the museum

David arrives and also needs breakfast; he says he’ll join me. For some reason, I’ve brought my passport, perhaps in the hope that there will be a discount for being officially old. Actually, my European passport gets me into the place for free. How good is that?

Museum courtyard

I must dash around Europe madly taking advantage of this while I can. I’m just starting off when David texts me in a panic. He’s got his dates wrong and has to immediately go and catch his flight to Bilbao. Just as well he realised in time.

St Michael 1480 (Juan Hispalense) Spanish angels wear black

This building was once a monastery and has gathered together many paintings from religious institutions since 1836, when they were all shut down. Built in 1594, the building has fine ceilings and architectural features. I’m not a huge fan of ecclesiastical painting, but I am interested in how mediaeval and renaissance painters depict the biblical stories and characters according to their own cultural norms. So, for example Seville Madonnas all look Spanish with dark hair and olive skin. German painters portray the Holy Family as fair-skinned and blond. Painters had never been to the Middle-east, their sitters were local people they knew. It would just not be acceptable to portray the Holy Family as Jewish now would it?

Inmaculada – Murillo 1675
Inmaculada Schut 1680

 

 

 

 

 

Inmaculada Juan de Valder Leal 1672 Which one will become Jesus?

I’m drawn to a series of Madonnas ‘Inmaculada’. They are all surrounded by scores of cherubs, some of whom seem to looking for a way up Our Lady’s skirt – as if one of them can miraculously enter her womb and be born as the infant Jesus.

San Sebastián Luis de Vargas 1505-1567

The portrait of Saint Sebastian catches my eye. Traditionally he’s depicted as beautiful and slim, but this portrait has him with tree-trunk legs and a thick waist.

Magnificent torsos approaching hell-mouth

I’m also interested in the homoeroticism of the magnificent torsos and backs of those sinners being dragged towards hell mouth. Murillo is everywhere and paints large canvases. Individually, they don’t do much for me, but en masse in the large hall they impress. Today, his portrait of a young monk looking adoringly at the infant Jesus might raise a few eyebrows. Certainly the monk is a way to close to the child for comfort.

Great Hall
Great Hall
Murillo – centre monk adoring Christ
Cornelis de Vos A woman 1630

There are also more modern paintings. As a freebie and a place to spend a relaxing couple of hours, this is great value. David made it to Bilbao and I dozed upright in Ryanair for two and a half hours.

El Greco – the effete Jorge Manuel 1600
Velasquez 1620 don Cristóbal
Ma Esquivel 1806 – 1857 Marqués de Bejons -cute bear?
José Villegas Cordesa Ercole Monti 1894
Gustave Bacarisas Sevilla Fiesta 1915
José Garcia Ramos Malvaloca 1912