At the end of December I thought I would start torturing myself as if being away from my family and Scotland was not torment enough. I thought bursting my ear drum halting all activities in the sea would be great way to finish the year.
We were days away from medical advice and having the ability to blow farty noisies out my ear convinced me it was ruptured, to back this conclusion up, after pouring ear cleansing drops in my lug to stop infection, I nearly fell over with the pain running down the side of my neck.
Technical term – Gubbed.
I stayed out the water as long as possible, only once during the rest of the trip on a beach to hide from a mosquitoe attack at sunset, copying my washing routine with a lump of blue tack to stop water ingress. I got hold of some ear drops and antibiotics a couple of weeks later, the morning I began journey home. My local GP informed me a few days later it was healed a wee bit red but no rupture, ya dancer. Ignoring his next statement about being safe to swim in two weeks time I grabbed my trunks.
There was snow on the hills and didn’t want to acclimatise to the cold weather any longer I wanted to experience what five weeks of tropical heat then smashing through ice to go for a swim with little protection apart from a small pair trunks and that only protected my pride.
Amongst Christmas presents I opened in January were a pair of surfers ears, £30 odd quid for a pair of earphones with expensive noise making bit removed seemed like a luxury, if it allowed time in the water without getting an ear infection potentially losing my hearing and affecting my balance it seemed worth paying for. I had successfully wore bluetack as temperatures decreased for the last two winters but it made the noise of swimming sound alien, and during group swims, conversations were impractical, so for a lot of the time the blue tack stayed in the kit bag and my only protection against infection and surfer’s ear (where bone grows across the ear opening) was crossed fingers.
An hour after speaking to the Doc, I was standing on the banks of the Reservoir above Bridge of Allan my new expensive rubber ear defenders and a big lump of blue tack, belt and braces yeah yeah belts and braces.
Standing trying to catch your breath up to your neck in water less than five degrees, while not swimming is really hard work, at least if your swimming there is an activity to take your mind off the fact that you’re convinced your toes are falling off with frostbite. I lasted a few minutes. Dry ear and slight mild hypothermic shakes, mission successful. I managed to get in the reservoir loads of times and even started to breaststroke a 100m, it was not a distance thing but to keep active so I could increase the time spent in the water, a few times this swim was included in a 11km with 300m ascent run door to door from my home.
It was all good, a few weeks past I fell into a routine of getting in the Reservoir a few times a week. It wasn’t until I accompanied my oldest son to Spain for a basketball trip that I realised how much I missed swimming. The head down, focused on breathing and body form for a length of time instead of worrying if my frozen shaky claw hands would allow me to get changed, which had become the norm recently.
We stayed in a hotel round the corner from Benidorm, sharing the hotel with mature Norwegians and a youth programme for a Swiss football team, the only time Swiss used the hotel pool was for ice baths after training and punishment for losing. Our hardened boys enjoyed the cool afternoon sun and the pool for about 3 minutes every day for the five days we were there. It was the coldest hotel swimming pool I have experienced. I reckoned the temperature must have been close to 10 degrees centigrade the hotel manager who offered me his scarff one morning thought about 15 the maintenance dude reckoned about 12. Positively tropical compared to the international ice swimming championships.
I watched on the shores of Loch Lomond two days previous. It gave me ice cream headaches the first time tried to swim, front crawl (four weeks and double the time the doc advised. I hasten to add).
My first swim was 500m for 30 minutes, that was one length (my GPS watch said 25m) front crawl one length breaststroke trying to rid the brain freeze pain, I think I only managed half an hour because I trying convince myself I was enjoying myself but it was more pride, a few of the boys knew and witnessed me shaking turning up to matches after sneaky swims at away days, and I wanted to prove that I was not all mouth and no trousers to my son’s friends. The shakes after wards were great, intense and long enough to induce the addictive calm afterwards I craved.
The basketball was truly amazing, the Spanish really invest in their sports and youngster’s. The sport centre was great, the boys reckoned it was one of the best, grippiest courts they have played on. To the uneducated like myself who struggle to catch a cold never mind a basketball, knew the hall was good because they had comfy seats, and after 2 hours of watching basketball I still had the feeling in my legs. In Scotland we are lucky to get seats and when we do, a trip to the chiropractors is required after an all day session.
My youngest son also tagged along, he plays for a younger team for the same club. Little did he know when we kissed his mum goodbye at 0430 on Monday morning that he would be the star of the week. The boys were winning comfortably, when the coach put Patrick on the second game for some experience he was close to scoring but ended the game without getting the ball in the net. Before the third and final game with a lack of sleep and a massive sugar come down Patrick decided he wasn’t playing. Bowls of breakfast cereal, Nutella chocolate bars and threats from the coach that he would be barred from the club if he didn’t strip up, worked. Patrick got suited and booted. By the start of the 4th quarter, the sugar had kicked in and excitement was coursing through his veins, he looked apprehensive when he was told he was going on, in front of a full house, court’s seats were full of the local Spanish teams and their supporters.
Our coach told our 4 biggest players they were not to shoot only to get the ball to Patrick close to the net. For the first 8 minutes of the 10 minute quarter. Patrick missed passes, dropped it, was blocked, bounced the ball off every part of the backboard and rim, but a basket eluded him. Half way through the ¼, the crowd had realised that Patrick had to score.
Every time he got the ball the whole crowd including 2 Scottish mums and me, were all shouting for the smallest man on the court. If the quarter ended and Patrick went home without a basket he would be broken hearted. I was meant to be taking photos for his mum to relive the excitement but I was too busy jumping up and down and grasping my head every time he got the ball. Eventually after a long 8 minutes, he got the two points the crowd had been shouting for. The place went wild, A minute later another two points, this time he walked up the court taking it in his stride celebrating like a champion.
I have watched my kids play basketball for a few years, it’s the only only sport I watch. Football and rugby do not interest me in fact I was unlucky enough to watch a game of both during their last word cups. Scoring a goal or a try is exciting for the crowd, I get that, but even during the most boring one-sided basketball game if any player throws the ball at the basket and the ball is in mid air when final end of game buzzer rings and the ball goes in the basket the crowd go mental like fever pitch crazy, absolutely off the chart, youtube buzzer beater if you don’t believe me. You can image what happened in that hall when Patrick threw the ball and the buzzer went off and the ball went in the net, it was like one of those Hollywood movie moments, all the players ran onto the park and grabbed the wee dude, there were big massive African dudes running down from their seats onto the court, the place went full on mental for a couple of minutes. I couldn’t take photos for jumping up and down and wiping tears away. What also made it special night was the gracious way his big brother accepted the abuse and having his limelight removed, I honestly don’t think I could have handled the same situation if my brother had stolen the night. Since I am only a tourist In our house, I am Indebted to my wife for bringing up two amazing boys, and Thanks to coach and young men of the team, cheers guys.
Anyway I digress, swimming it’s what you signed up for, after my half an hour stint the first day, I went for a kilometre on the second day, during the boys basketball training. Nothing to worry about, it is not as if it’s in a Loch, if you swim into the middle you’re stuck, I could get out whenever I wanted too with steps and no stony shore side to hurt cold feet.
The ice cream headaches only lasted for the first ten minutes, then I starting enjoying the routine. 1 km is not far for regular swimmers but it had been 3 months since my last decent swim. It wasn’t sore, it just took an age, I managed 1 mile when got out I went straight up to the room and jumped under the covers of my bed after ten minutes I was not getting any calmer with no trusty merino wool layers to fire on I was shaking even harder , I had and quick shacky cup of strong 4 tea bag chamomile tea and headed to the pool sun loungers and lay like the mature Norwegian apart from, I shaking like a mad man in the warming sun, this done the job. I was soon calm and performing stretching, trying ease the tension that had built up in my muscles, I honestly can’t remember shaking for that long ever before. We were leaving the next morning, it was after Patrick’s big night and I didn’t get to sleep until 2 am. I didn’t know if it was a good idea to sneak out the apartment at 7am for another mile. Most of the team were present and laughed at me shaking, returning to the apartment after an easier quicker mile. But I really enjoyed the swim. It made me yearn for longer more open swims.
The day after we returned the oldest son had a yoga class early saturday morning, I dropped him off and left the van in the car park for a quick easy run, but I could not stay away from the Reservoir, this did not leave time to remove my shorts longjohns socks running shoes, I took off my top for a quick three minute dip then raced completely soaking wet but with a smile, back to the car park with keys and phone in my hands. Sunday gave the first opportunity for my first decent swim, 800m straight out at Loch Venachar. I had not, had the chance, time or inclination to get fully suited, gloved, booted and capped in the six weeks I have been at home, my friend borrowed it a few weeks ago and like crack cocaine became instantly addicted on his first hit of cold water swimming.
This was it, first time in 12weeks, will I panic? will I get to middle and have to swim to the closest t shore side because I over estimated my ability? I stopped and looked at my watch and for the first time looked forward at 349m. It’s hard to explain to someone who does not swim or does in a blue lined pool, that you don’t have to look ahead you just keep the head down, knowing you are going straight along the lochside, a hundred yards away as you catch a breath. It’s amazing going forward but not looking only concentrating on breathing and body position after nearly ten minutes you finally look ahead. I managed just over a mile, it wasn’t a struggle or labour. I love swimming in Scottish Lochs.