The Swim

We left Shiplake on Friday and hastened to Reading. We had to get there as we had tickets to see Twelfth Night. Again it was in The Ruined Abbey. The posters were all around in the abbey surrounds and park. There was a dramatic picture of a ship. I had heard it had sea shanties throughout and the era was a bit more 18th century than 17th century. Twin confusion and shipwreck appears – confusing non identical male and female is quite a stretch, but adds to the farce.

That the twins themselves believe each other already drowned adds more strangeness to love stories and comedy. It is most remembered I feel for Malvolio’s yellow cross gartered stockings…..not that I am obsessed by yellow stockings. That’s not why we arranged to see Twelfth Night. It was because someone we knew was in it. He used to volunteer in the youth group Woodcraft Folk that both Bryn and Nye attended in Edinburgh and had lived in Panama for three years. I don’t think any of us would have predicted meeting up again by a boat in Reading.

I wanted to get cotton to make a sunhat since I am more knitting obsessed than yellow stocking obsessed. I was approached by someone to ask about wool colour. She was trying it match with a shade she had and wanted a second opinion. The colour she was asking about was also a different thickness of yarn so I tried to find out more about her project to discuss it. I had advice to share about her yarn choices but no advice on her crochet project. I could see her getting a bit swamped by the amount she needed to know as she was a beginner. I noticed a pair of women knitting at a table in the shop. This was unusual so I asked one of them what they were doing and it turned out she was someone who was there to provide knitting help. She also ran a bunch of other help groups and ran courses on knitting and crocheting so I found the young novice whose confidence in her project seemed to be sinking and directed her to the expert and hope they might help her get her head above water again.

I had messaged Zac to tell him we were coming to see the Friday night performance. We were delighted when he popped his head in before the play and came and had a catch up. We hadn’t seen each other for almost a decade so it was a potted life summary. He had to dash to help set up the scenery and asked where we were sitting. We really enjoyed the play and Zac came up into the seating during a shanty and since our seats were handily next to the aisle, he took the opportunity to clink glasses with us, or rather “clink” his tankard with our plastic cups. It didn’t rain either so a very successful open air theatre outing.

One doesn’t get the impression there could be much hope of survival in those days in a ship wreck with no radio control or rescues or motorised life boats or life jackets and people couldn’t even swim. One gets the impression that death by accident, infection, war, disease or drowning must have been all too common. I was surprised to see a memorial in the nearby graveyard of St Laurence’s church, which had been repeatedly renewed. He must have been a well regarded young man, yet there is no word of his family.

Memorial to a 24 year old man, Henry West who died in a whirlwind in 184O

The weather has been squally but not full whirlwind so we felt safe to travel. In a rare socially packed weekend we had another event the very nex day and set off early for Henley. This time it wasn’t to see boats racing but to see an outdoor swimming event in the Thames “From Club To Pub”. We had seen a group of three swimmers in the river the day before on our way to Reading and they had been surprised to see several boats arrive a once in a normally quiet space. One swimmer suggested it was because people had seen the weather forecast for Saturday. Forewarned we made sure to travel on Saturday morning as the rain was to arrive relentlessly in the afternoon. We found a mooring just as the rain began.

My niece, Kirsty, who was taking part in the swim event was arriving for around lunchtime by car. A combination of rain, school holidays starting, a event for 100s of swimmers and a rail strike meant they hit very bad traffic. It was good they planned to get here very early. The event was not until the early evening so once they had made it to Henley we had some time to chat in the dry of the boat before heading down to the registration process and a quick drink.

Now I gained my minnow when the rest of my class were in seal and life saving badges so this was not the event for me. A one and a half kilometre swim in a river, the first third being upstream. Kirsty has done it before shortly after heavy rain and said the upstream part can feel very heavy going. I am in awe of anyone swimming a mile even if it was just in a pool.

She was well prepared with a dryrobe for after as it was far from a scorching summer day like the event organisers might have hoped for. The swimmers go in batches and each batch wear the same coloured swim cap so even though she showed us her exotic cockatoo jungle swimsuit and had a bright orange watch on, she was hard to spot at the start.

Swimmers at the start, setting off

Kirsty reckoned she would take 45 minutes to complete but that passed pretty quickly. Anne and I got burgers from the barbecue stall at the pub where the swimmers finish. It is free for swimmers but not for their fans. I say free for swimmers but they have to pay to enter the event. Shane and Richard went along to see if they could cheer her along the way while Anne and I waited at the finish. We didn’t have a long wait and we recognised her and cheered her on to the finish.

Kirsty swimming strongly in the final stretch, wearing green cap just in front of the blue capped swimmers
Kirsty at the finish line, far right green cap

Rescue boats and canoes and paramedics were in prominence and we did see one person being brought out in a dinghy but all seemed to go smoothly. Despite not wearing a wetsuit, Kirsty wasn’t even shivering. Each swimmer received a mayoral medal as they emerged.

Congratulations Kirsty!

Afterwards she told us she had overshot the upstream makers so done slightly more of the hard bit than intended but she had still beat her estimate by a few minutes. She didn’t even seem breathless. A hug, a hot dog and a hot shower back at the boat and she was right as rain – oh no don’t mention the rain!

She didn’t even even keep her free beer (by some definition of free as above). She gave it to Shane so he can pretend to be the stellar swimmer. Well he likes the water and had a short dip in the warm Amazon and cold Bristol channel but he didn’t look that keen on The Thames. We can drink to Kirsty and clink bottles another night.

Swimmer’s tipple, if you are into amber ale