One of the compensations of this pandemic has been increased appreciation of friendship and solidarity, and it is well-documented that us open water swimmers are a friendly and supportive bunch.
During the first COVID lockdown most of us weren’t swimming but as restrictions eased people started finding others to swim with, as it’s much safer not to swim alone.
So were born the Happy Old Cows (HOCs), COWS being group that spawned us- the Cullercoats Open Water Swimmers. We are six women and mostly Old, including 5 grandmas, with one person who we have welcomed in despite her being so young and glamorous. We all scrub up well, mind.
At the moment we’re only actually in the water for 10-15 minutes, as the water temperature is dropping below 10 degrees. While the swimming itself brings huge benefits for our mental and physical well-being, the experience of ‘place’ here has been equally therapeutic during this tough old year. Being ‘held’ by the ever-changing sea; watching the skies- sunrise, sunset, moonrise, the clouds, colour and light, rainbows; the wildlife- people, dogs, birds, sometimes seals and dolphins; the workers; the stories; the ships out at sea, especially our favourite, the DFDS ferry boat- all the very opposite of boring.
The company is just as important. Regular conversation, support and (lots of) laughter are all so precious, especially for those of us who live alone (including me). We swim almost every day and share news, ideas, thoughts and feelings, ups and downs.. So… hanging about while we warm up, with hot drinks and cake can be a drawn-out delight too.
We keep having ideas to do stuff together- Heels Out to Help Out, a fundraiser involving us going in to the sea in party frocks and high heels; a swim under the November full moon, complete with fairy lights, various ‘challenges’ involving targets for frequency and duration of swims throughout the winter, ‘in skins’ (i.e. without wetsuits); we are currently planning a Winter Solstice celebration.
My art practice has included a technique to record movement, so far this has covered waves in the sea, walking and running. It seemed a good idea to try and record our swims in this way so I got the necessary kit together. First a rigid cardboard tube is lined with paper. Each of us choose chalk pastels to put inside, then the tube is taped up and made waterproof inside a sealable plastic bag. This goes inside our swimsuits so that it is horizontal and can’t escape! After the swim it is taken apart and the paper lining, by now marked by the movement of the pastels (originating in the movement of the swimmer), is sprayed with fixative and stored safe and dry.
Here are the results of our first test run (appearing in the order Elisa, Viv, Charlotte, Angie).
This trial run will be discussed by the group and repeated (with everyone). My first thoughts are that more oomph is needed- bigger chunks of the chalk pastel, and maybe more colours.