Here we are, close to the depth of midwinter and the Christmas festival. There are less than three weeks until the end of 2020, a year that we can safely call the biggest annus horriblis in recent memory. Or should that be anus? Whatever it is, it is almost over. And despite the clusterfuck of Brexit, with its looming shadow of shit still to come, there are glimmers of hope for 2021.
The miraculous vaccines have now arrived, although it’s troubling that we are reliant on such an incompetent government to distribute them. Who knows when they will filter down to your average Joes and Josephines? Still, we know they are on the way and that gives some hope. I have no truck with the anti-vax attitude; childhood survival rates and public health have improved vastly since their creation, and if there’s a remote chance of having a semi-normal life again, then hit me up baby. My only quibble is the priority lines – surely there should be a fast-track for middle-aged singletons? We need to get out out, preferably to dance and feel the heat of other bodies around us.
Meanwhile, the world awaits the removal of the Cheeto of Hate from the White House. He’ll probably need to be prised from the doorframe, and we can rely on his poor grace and manners for a good display. Let’s face it, most of us will be disappointed if he doesn’t act true to type and make a complete show of himself on his Whexit. Sadly, we in the ‘United’ Kingdom are a few years away from being able to exercise our democratic right to kick the baby Trumpians out of no 10 Downing Street, but we are watching and waiting. We will get the bastards next time.
What else is good? Well, as long as it’s not too wet and windy, I quite like winter. The lockdown has made it hard to socialise with others, but if you are lucky enough to have a safe and warm home, then there are worse places to be of a cold, dark evening. And on the plus side, I don’t have to go out to the office when the weather is crap. It may be cheesy to admit, but I’ve made an effort to be a bit more hygge this year, with extra candles and fairy lights strewn around my living room. I may be spending too much time alone, but at least I can feel better about it.
Despite the compulsory maternal efforts, I’m not the biggest lover of Christmas. My favourite part is having an actual tree in my home, even if it’s technically dead when it gets here. This year I got a great, big fuck-off one, because extra effort was needed to feel seasonal joy. Of course, it will be a massive pain in the arse to get it out again, but I don’t care. Every time I walk in the room, I can smell that wonderful fir, and I leave the lights on all day while working. Looking at the tree makes me feel better and somehow less lonely.
Swimming continues to hit the spot. Daylight is short and the water is cold, so the swims must be shorter to stay safe. I signed up for a winter swimming challenge called the Polar Bear Challenge which has various levels of difficulty, from Jedi at the top (for hardcore nutjobs) to Penguin (wuss level). Only the Penguin level allows any kind of neoprene, so I have had to content myself with being in the baby group. I may still be swimming in a swimsuit (or skins as we call it) but you would need to prise my socks, gloves and woolly hat from my cold, dead hands. Which is a distinct possibility if you are not careful in the winter.
So, what’s involved in the Wuss level? You commit to two outdoor swims of at least 200m each month, from November to March, for absolutely no reward but a wee certificate and bragging rights. Last year I swam on the 1stDecember and didn’t swim again until June this year, when we were allowed to inch out of lockdown. February and March are the coldest swimming months, therefore I have no clue how hard it will become. So far, I’ve found it easy, the only challenge being the weather, as we’ve had periods of wind and heavy rain. Obviously, you can swim in these conditions (if you are insane) but I choose not to. My original plan had been to swim once a week outside and improve my swimming with pool sessions in between. Lockdown put paid to that, so I will continue to try for the magic three per week outdoors for as long as I can stand it. The sea is warmer than lochs at this time of year, but we are not meant to travel there. Some nights I dream of floating on those salty waves.
Sorry in advance, but I am taking a moment to show-off a bit. During November, I completed 12 swims totalling 3,425 metres and I’m proud of that. This is in Scotland where the lochs are cooling down to between 4 and 6 degrees. Even though I saw on Facebook that one of the Jedi’s had done 38k. I mean holy fuck, this woman is doing 40 min swims with bare hands and feet. In comparison, my 15-minute swims are tiny, and I’m a slow, head up, breast stroke swimmer, much like the old ladies in floral swim caps I saw gliding up and down swimming pools when I was a kid.
So, I’m no athlete. But I’m not trying to beat anyone in a race or top a leaderboard; the challenge only means that I made myself do something that was sometimes difficult. Most of the time I look forward to swimming because I know that I will feel better afterwards, but sometimes it is hard. My menopause symptoms are ramping up again, with insomnia and night sweats. Frankly, I’m run down, exhausted and want to cry a lot. On those days I have to force myself out of bed into cold water and my stomach churns with nerves. Once I am in, I feel alive in a way that is rare these days.
What I need is a month at a luxury health spa by the sea, where I’m massaged by fragrant angels and get to sleep for twelve hours a day. Leaving the spa physically restored, I discover that the pandemic is over and that the world has gone back to normality, with the downfall of capitalism and racism as a side effect. Sigh…
Yet outdoor swimming is one area where not being skinny gives you a small advantage. It’s surely no coincidence that most skins swimmers are women, as we typically have more body fat around our core. Only lots of regular practice will properly acclimatise you to swimming in the cold but having a bit of extra ‘bioprene’ (as we lovingly call our fat rolls) is a good thing. I like to think the same about my body hair: this is not the time of year for sleek, go-faster shaving.
How many activities are there – aside from darts – where being small, round and furry are a good thing? That, plus the requirement to strip off and get changed by the side of the water is giving me a level of body confidence without even trying. Sure, I want to lose some weight and get fitter, but I’m not remotely stressed about it, or by the thought of accidentally flashing a tit in public. Speed of changing and getting warm layers onto your core is crucial at this time of year. Occasional exposure of intimate body parts is the price you pay for getting dressed as fast as you can. And it makes us all laugh a hell of a lot.
Despite these positive moments, I can’t help but think that the new year is going to be hell for a bit longer. We are likely to remain in lockdown limbo for a while and things may get worse before they get better. All we can do for now is keep moving forward. Do something that makes us feel alive and passionate about staying in the world, as flawed as it is. And I will raise a glass in hope that 2021 brings us back to a life fully lived.
Until next time,