THAMES SWIM

I sat on the edge of the little jetty. The rowing boats for hire to the right and the small motor boats to the left jostled quietly on their mooring ropes. The sloping beach of the old ferry landing place opposite was empty now; the dogs, horses, bikes,children and their parents had gone home at the end of a long hot afternoon.

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I could see the gravelly bottom with one largish rock maybe a metre under my feet. It looked alright to land on but I wished I was wearing some reef sandals. I was a bit nervous about pushing off and sliding in as I hadn’t done that for years and years and hoped I wouldn’t scrape my back.

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Right! It’s time to do it!

Aah! My feet touched bottom, the water came to just above my waist,the gravel was a bit slimy but alright and I was IN. The water was soft and cool, not even ‘bracing’, and I whooshed out away from shore past the undulating waterweed to the right. With feet off the bottom, I was weightless, floating and bobbing and all the heat and humidity of the day vanished in that moment. I rolled onto my back, kicked and paddled, then ducked under to feel the water on my scalp. A swim is not a proper swim if I don’t feel the cool water all over my head and feel my hair floating.

 

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I did hold my nose to do this, as I wasn’t entirely sure of the cleanliness of the river. People had been swimming opposite and the water didn’t smell so I thought it would be clean enough despite its rather solid greenness. When I looked at it closely, the water seemed to be packed with vitamized greenery like a very thin breakfast drink of kale and other green leafy vegetables. And then a blob of swan poo floated past at eye level. ‘Well’, I thought, ‘there’s a lot of water to dilute that’, and swam out further towards the middle.

And here was the living river. It pushed against the whole length of my body, no teasing bits of isolated current, but a strong, steady pressure which definitely got my attention. It was time to concentrate on swimming as I was already down past the motor boats. It felt good to head back upstream against it- a whole ten metres- and move in out of the current and enjoy the experience of actually swimming in the Thames.

I’d always wanted to be in a house on the banks of the Thames, in its freshwater state, to see what it would be like to be so close to the water all the time. The descriptions of an English river in The Wind in the Willows and the adventures of Ratty, Mole and Toad had had an astonishing dream like quality to a Australian child with no familiarity with fresh, flowing water or soft, green plants. So when I found a National Trust cottage, Ferry Cottage, on the towpath beside the Thames, on the Cliveden Estate,, it seemed a perfect opportunity to satisfy that dream. And it did.

I will remember floating in the water,looking across that famous and beautiful river stretching at eye level to the banks with their huge soft green trees leaning right down to almost touch the water. I’ll remember sharing the water with the two swans (I have to fight not to say ‘white’ swans in England) who lived on that stretch of water and would occasionally regally visit and with the flocks of Canada geese whose raucousness at night rivalled sulphur crested cockatoos.

Mostly, I’ll remember my astonishment and delight at finding myself swimming in the Thames.

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A Thrilling Blog About Vegetable Gardens In The Alps.

I like looking at veggie gardens and had good scope for doing this in the Alps. In each village, Pralognan, Grindelwald and Zernez, the paths down to the shops, cable cars or station threaded through houses and their gardens. Nearly always there was a vegetable patch, often at the front if that’s where the best sun was.

In early June it had been hot and dry in Pralognan and the gardens seemed to be slow and suffering a bit – rows of tiny forlorn lettuces, thready onions and beans only just starting to clump up. The peonies in the borders were doing well though.

About a week later in Grindlwald, the vegetables were looking much better: beans and peas were starting to climb and lettuces starting to fill out. It had been wet there for weeks. The difference was enough for me to start noticing and take photographs.imageimage

But what a surprise Zernez, on the edge of the Swiss National Park, was a week further on. The gardens were luxuriant and thriving. A patch of lettuces full and shining in the corner of a front garden,beans climbing high in a small front garden and a larger garden mixed with borders of peonies and delphiniums.image.

I wondered if Zernez’s gardens did better because they were on a valley floor which had better soil than the other gardens which were on sloping valley sides.

I warned you that that this was a particularly thrilling blog.

Tango,the Mountain and the Entrega.

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Picking my way along narrow, steep mountain paths in the French Alps, I found that I was being accompanied by tango music from our Melbourne Sidewalk Tango classes running through my head. The beat gave a rhythm to my steps which were often up and down and around awkwardly placed rocks. My peripheral vision was of an ongoing rock garden filled with Alpine flowers or snowy peaks or the valley below.

However, my attention was always on my feet and the path they were about to walk on – too much scope for accidents otherwise. So I’d stop and stand still if I wanted to look up from the path.image.

It came to me gradually that I was dancing a sort of tango with the mountain as my partner. I embraced the mountain leaning slightly forward, feet placed firmly and cleanly. Grasping the walking poles , I took care to plant them one at a time in a steady balancing position. There is a direct contact with the mountain. The gaze varies according to the difficulty of the path.

In the Open Embrace, when the walking is fairly straightforward with the poles used quite lightly, the gaze is centred in a widish circle slightly ahead of the feet and monitoring where to step.image.

The Close Embrace is used when the path is steep and rocky. Here the gaze becomes intent on the actual area of the feet and path and the pole grip is firmer and closer to the body. It’s intense and focused.image.

I realized that when I was lifting my foot and leg cleanly and neatly over and around rocks so as not to trip, I was actually doing Decorations.

There’s a closeness between me and the mountain path where I have to be attentive to its every configuration and follow its lead. Sometimes it leads me in a steady, smooth walk, sometimes it will ask me to step over a rock, or, with more complexity, ask me to choose a series of short, safe foot places in a short rock climb.

My body and mind are totally engaged in this tango with the mountain.

You’ll note the dress code is very different for mountain tango.