now for something completely different

As the Church of England and much of the media world are focused on the vote on women bishops today, I’m turning my attention to a different challenge.

I’ve put myself into training after rashly deciding to enter for the Bay2Bay swim in about 10 days time. It’s an open water swimming event of one nautical mile (1.9km) from one bay to another on the other side of the island. It happens very early in the morning and everyone wears hats, goggles, long legged serious costumes and lots of Vaseline. Last year I watched my son head into the water amidst the crowd, like a waddle of penguins (yes, that is the official group name), they rushed towards the water and soon became a blur of white water heading out to sea. It looked a bit like a mass shark attack – but that wouldn’t be a happy thought. At the time, I thought, I should do that next year – although it did look a slightly scary and a long way round the cliff lined bay to the next.

So, 12 months on I have been training – after finding myself committed late one night in the bar, it had seemed like a good idea at the time. But I’ve always enjoyed swimming and thought I was probably OK at it. That was before I joined a couple of mates at the pool. As I launched into the water attempting my very best breaststroke, I was a little put off to find them passing me on either side, heads bobbing up and down rhythmically at a speed I couldn’t hope to match. ‘Oh dear’, or words to that effect, I thought, maybe I shouldn’t be doing this…it will take me all day.

Back home in a smaller pool I attempted to perfect my breaststroke. Someone was on hand with lots of tips… my knees weren’t coming up tightly enough, I needed to push back with my feet flat against the water… kick harder, pull the water with your hands… I swear I got slower and more uncoordinated. There was even a video of someone doing breaststroke to watch. It didn’t help.

Next session, I tried to kick harder and wider and pull more with my arms. I ended up nearly disjointing my hips. I decided to risk it and try front crawl instead – the stroke most of the swimmers were ploughing up and down the pool with. After three or four strokes I almost drowned, I couldn’t breathe… so it was back to my tortoise-like breaststroke.

Last week I was pleased to be able to complete 50 lengths in 50 minutes – that was progress. My goggles had stopped leaking…someone pointed out I had them on upside down! There was a bit of a set back when we discovered the 64 lengths we had been aiming at had turned into 78… as a nautical mile is longer than an ordinary mile. The real test, we were told, would be trying to swim in the sea.

So on Saturday I set off as early as possible to a nearby bay, to see if I could go the distance in the waves. A line of marker buoys marked the route across – which was 400 metres – I would need to do this four and half times to cover the equivalent distance for the Bay2Bay. This time I had a hat, goggles and my secret weapon ‘natural buoyancy’…

Strangely enough, because I float so easily, swimming in the sea was easier. Apart from swallowing a lot of salt water and the waves pushing me in the wrong direction, I soon got into a rhythm. My spotter from the shore hardly recognized the white cap bobbing up and down as it moved across the bay – Michael Phelps eat your heart out. Although I don’t think his bottom was quite as high out of the water as mine. I did it. But that was just the practice.

The challenge now is to keep up the training and my nerve for the event next week.

In the meantime, I’m hoping and praying the CofE rises to its own challenge and finally agrees to allow women to become bishops. If it does, I’ll be tempted to marker pen a mitre on my swimming cap as a tribute next Friday.


hot spots

According to Cypriot weather forecasters, last weekend was the start of a heat wave…what’s a heat wave like in Cyprus? Very hot. Almost don’t go outside hot. It’s been about 40 degrees today. I knew it was hot because the bread took less than half an hour to rise in the sun and the terrace is too hot to walk on with bare feet. The ceiling fans are working overtime and the cat is either hiding under our bed or flaked out on the tiled floor… but I’m not complaining. Where I come from, it’s probably raining!

I’ve now found a place in the house where it’s slightly less hot and as it’s a year and a month since we moved out here, I thought it was time to blog about some of my favourite spots – discovered over the past 12 months. So in no particular order, here goes…

Karpaz Peninsular – more particularly, Burhan’s Golden Sand beach
I woke up here yesterday morning and I wasn’t dreaming. Stepping out onto the wooden balcony, the only thing dividing my view of the golden sands, turquoise sea and cloudless blue sky was a small herd of wild donkeys grazing amongst tufts of dried grass in the sand dunes. A few hours later, climbing a sand dune at one end of the deserted sweeping bay, we laughed as a stray dog skipped round a gorse bush in an attempt to catch a lizard. Hopping down the dune as the sand was too hot to walk on, we were so relieved to plunge into the crystal water at the bottom. Our very own natural swimming pool. This is the kind of place I used to dream about and now it’s only a 2 hour drive away from home.

Troodos Mountains – the view from the kitchen window
On our first stay here, having arrived in the dark, I padded into the kitchen first thing in the morning and reached to push open the shutters. The view through the window was mesmerizing. All I could see was wall to wall pine trees, some with huge trunks, others more slender, but all silhouetted against a vivid blue sky. The cabin was built on a slope so the window was almost at ground level and the floor of pine needles and cones looked like an inviting brown bed. It felt like the forest was part of the house and the aroma of pine and fresh mountain air was intoxicating. This view always reminds me of Narnia and even when there’s no snow, it’s a magical place, with adventure in the air.

Famagusta’s old city – Monk’s Inn
This is one of our favourite haunts. And you never know who you’ll meet. This fascinating stone building in the heart of the old city is full of surprises. Its huge dark wooden shutters fold back to reveal a lovely bar, with elegant stone arches and an imaginative cocktail menu that is best read by liberal minded drinkers. A couple of gay Belgian archeologist were among just a few of the characters we’ve come across. They were amazed at the ancient remains all around and did a lot of flirting with one of us, especially when they realised he wore uniform. Outside directors chairs spill out onto the pavement and the whole side street is cordoned off after 6pm, when the South African-born owner wheels out plant pots to the middle of the road to stop cars interrupting the party. Here we always enjoy a bottle of the local beer – EFES – served in chilled glasses. It can’t be beaten.

Nicosia – a cafe off Ledra Street
I love just sitting watching the world go by at this small cafe in the back streets of the capital. Usually bustling with local Cypriot students, the cafe’s traditional wicker and wood painted chairs, have a lovely Greek feel. The atmosphere is relaxed, no-one urges you to take a seat. An ancient Greek Orthodox Church lies opposite and a series of benches line the square outside. Last time we ordered our usual medium frappes and the friendly waiter, who eventually appeared at our table, bought us a backgammon set. A little while later, a girl from the nearby table and the waiter were giving advice on setting up and game tactics. People were engaged at various stages of play on tables all around, some smoking, others sipping at the tiny cups of coffee, smiling and laughing, then sighing. One man removed his glasses and polished them, never taking his gaze off the board. Cypriot life slows down here and it’s a joy to return again and again to this hidden gem.

Potomos – the fish restaurant
Imagine Mama Mia, but a bit flatter. This little restaurant nestles at the end of a tatty river estuary lined with fishing boats in various states of disrepair. Bumping down the rough stone track by car, there are glimpses of the snaking river and boats tied up to jetties, which look like they are about to collapse into the water. Made from what appears to be a jumble of recycled bits of timber, the roughly made piers are decorated with old plastic canisters, tangled ropes and uneven planks of assorted wood. Towards the end of the track the glistening Mediterranean comes into view. Parking outside the restaurant we weave our way across the sand between white painted trunks of trees, around to the restaurant where the blue and white checked tablecloths complete the Greek look. At our favourite table beside the water, we gaze out to sea across the small mound of rocks and the mini lighthouse marking the entrance to the estuary. There is a smile of welcome from the waiter, “hello again, how are you?” Waves crunch rhythmically onto the shore and the white sand at our feet is punctuated with boulders and stone troughs full of pink geraniums. A glass of cold white wine is essential.

If this list of favourites makes you think I’m always eating or drinking – you’d probably be right!