Thursday, 12 November 2009

Swimming with Polar Bears

Location: In bed
Mood: Buoyant
Listening to: Soldier
Reading: Spilling the Beans, Clarissa Dickson-Wright
Playing: Uncharted 2

Ok, so I wasn't actually swimming with polar bears.

On Tuesday I went to the gym but simply couldn't face doing any more sodding running, or cycling, or getting hot and sweaty. Sometimes I just reach an impasse and can't go on. So instead I went for a swim, which I haven't done in yonks. I recognise that 1km front crawl isn't really enough exercise, so I decided to do a bit more. I always divide my swim into sets of four lengths, which not only gives me 'baby steps' to help psychologically, but helps me keep count. Basically, I recommend this practice to anyone who struggles with boredom during exercise. If you divide your workout into manageable sets, it keeps you from giving up. If I start a swim saying "I'm going to swim 60 lengths, it can seem interminable. But saying "fifteen sets of 4" works much better. As for the counting, I find "1 of 1, 2 of 1, 3 of 1 etc" is more likely to keep me from losing count. (The first number is the length, the second is the set number - obviously).

It was a crowded pool. There was a kiddies' swimming lesson going on behind a cordon, which was no problem at all and is always something I'm glad to see. On the other hand, it did mean that any kiddies who just wanted a swim were doing so in the section I was trying to do my lengths in. In actual fact, the kids weren't a problem at all. They tried hard to keep out of my way. The adults, on the other hand ...

First there was a woman who insisted on having a conversation with her friend, who was sitting on a sunbed at the side of the pool. No issue there - but I'd purposely put myself in a corner, out of the way of everyone, right next to the rope that was dividing the pool. So where does she decide to stand? Yep - right at the end, next to the rope. I kept ploughing up and down, figuring that after the first couple of times I'd had to swerve to avoid her before touching the end she'd decide it was courteous to move. But no. She continued to stand right in my path, and this time hung on to the rope. I was damned if I was altering my path, so, as I was approaching, I grabbed the rope myself and gave it a tug. She turned, startled, and apologised. I gave her the ghost of a smile but otherwise ignored her, continuing on my painful way. At last she got the message and moved. But for the love of God - why did she decide to be there in the first place? All she had to do was move a couple of feet to her left. I know, I could have moved too, but the pool was pretty crowded. There were 2 other people doing lengths, and the person nearest me was doing breaststroke, which always takes up more room. Also, for Christ's sake, I was there first! I was plodding up and down the same strip, well out of the way of everyone, trying to make life easy for all - and why she had to stand directly in front of me was anyone's guess.

And that wasn't the only example of poor adult behaviour. I've often found that women are quite unobservant when it comes to someone doing proper exercise, while men are more likely to give you your space ... until it comes to the kiddies. I've never been in a pool with a man in charge of children without him glaring at me like I shouldn't be there. This time a guy got in with two boys, one of whom immediately swam as fast as he could after me, trying to beat me to the end. That was no problem at all, as far as I was concerned. I kept my same steady pace, hoping he'd prove speedy enough to overtake, as I approve highly of children pitting their skills against a target. He didn't, but put up a good show, continuing his determined crawl for a second length before deciding he wasn't going to come off better. His brother, meanwhile, was enjoying a game of splash and wrestle with his father. Again, no problem there - except that the kid was getting perilously close to me. I kept my line. By this time, all the other swimmers had got out and there was a large space to occupy in the 'adult' area. I was still trying to keep to one side. The father and his sons had the whole rest of the pool to play in - so why, I ask you, WHY, was it necessary to thrash about in my path? And each time I passed the father gave me a glare, as if to say "my children, my children, how dare you obstruct my children?" I ignored him for several lengths, but I was getting really fed up with having to keep such a vigilant eye out, and often having to slow or speed up to avoid their little game. So I moved to the other side of the pool, which is annoying because there the corners slope inwards, meaning I have to take a few strokes to the left at each end to ensure I swim the right distance. But, you know, whatever. Pretty soon, two other men got into the pool to do laps, and lo and behold, the man and his sons immediately started playing in a very small area, vigilantly keeping out of their way. Perhaps he thought that, because they were men, their right to exercise was a serious matter, whereas some woman doing lengths was just a silly bint flapping about. I hope I'm being ridiculous.

Anyway, I did my front crawl click in just under half an hour, which is incredibly slow. I was trying to take it steadily, as I've not swum for ages, but it's a pathetic speed. The pool is 17m long, which means I have to turn more often, and I try not to kick off too much, but a decent time for 1k (in a pool) is about half that speed. In the sea, elite women do 1km in 15 minutes or so. But why beat myself up about speed? I know I should swim faster, but at least this time I did another 5 sets - or 20 lengths. 340 metres. I did them breaststroke, in 12 minutes. 36 seconds a length. Again, so slow it's daft - but the distance was an improvement, so I was quite pleased overall. And it's only when you get out of the pool that you realise how tired you are. It's nothing like as immediately satisfying as running, or any of the other out of water activities, but it gives you a slow burn and gets rid of a satisfying amount of calories.

Enough of exercise. Yesterday Fisher decided she wanted to go and see the polar bear from Edinburgh zoo, who's been re-housed near Aviemore. We were both distressed at seeing her when we took Gemmill to the zoo a few years ago. She was walking mindlessly backwards and forwards, obviously distressed by her small enclosure. I was horrified to think such a thing was happening in our country, in a prominent zoo, where the welfare of animals is considered a point of moral pride. It transpired that the zoo was well aware of the animal's distress and that steps were being taken to amend her condition. Those steps led her to the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie, where the colder climate and 'tundra like' environment is more suited to her. She was rescued from Canada where she was scheduled to be shot, after making a nuisance of herself raiding bins and scaring the populace. I think she had a mate in Edinburgh who died, and she pined for him (but this is information from Fisher, so don't quote me on accuracy), which didn't help her mental condition.

So, anyway, off we hopped. We stopped at Bruar for some lunch (disappointing) and arrived at the park about an hour before they closed. It was just enough time to drive round the open park, nervously avoiding herds of wild horses who can damage cars, meeting an enooooormous moose (elk) and various deer-like creatures, before heading to the enclosure where you can follow an on-foot trail and peer at other beasts. A delight for me was red pandas, one of whom climbed up a tall tree, then down again, then across the walkway above our heads, stopping and posing for photos like America's Next Top Panda. Fie-rce! as Ms Banks would annoyingly say. They really are about the cutest things you ever will see, with their fluffy fat faces and rusty red fur. We also saw tigers and their cubs, who are proud and beautiful and not a little terrifying. The mere sight of those massive shoulders and ferocious heads puts you bang splat in your evolutionary place. Meeting a tiger in the wild is not something I have on my wish list.

It was a very pleasant hour or so, and seeing the polar bear made the long(ish) trip worthwhile. Before, she'd been pacing, rocking, shaking her head. Now, our first sight of her was a mound of dirty white fur cuddling a branch as she snoozed contentedly. She continued to nap until the last minutes of our stay when, approaching kicking-out time, we watched a keeper come by to start the slow process of feeding her. Hearing his arrival, Mercedes the bear got langorously to her feet and started padding her way down to the water. She moved slowly, comfortably, and was a totally different bear, obviously content. Unfortunately we didn't get to stay long enough to see her feed, or see if she went for a swim, as the park was closing, but it was great just to reassure ourselves she was better off.

So that was yesterday. Tonight we're off for a Cheeseboard meet, sans Koios, who has a work do. Most excitingly, it's going to be a meal cooked by Blarney. So, if this is my last ever blog, let it be known that I've had a good life.



MF said...

Have you been spammed, or is that a real person??

Anyway, when I visited the zoo a couple of year ago the little sign up at the polar bear's enclosure said that they used to have a second polar bear, they didn't get on very well and that Mercedes was noticably happier when the other one died!

Hopefully she's even happier now she's in a bigger space.

Seshat said...

Yeah, definite spam. So I'll make sure I veto all the companies mentioned.