Through the magic of social media, I found out about the ‘Between The Tides’ swim-lit festival happening in Whitstable. It was a swimming literary festival, I had to go!
This festival helped me to put into words what I have been feeling about swimming for a while now and why I have made it a focus for my year.
All of my experiences of outdoor swimming (aside from formal organised swims), have been with women. I have never part of a group of women before, aside from Guides a long time ago, but I think it is something I have always wanted and never realised. I have tried to join groups such as Red Tent, but found them to be too intense and delve straight into the deeps of emotions much more rapidly than I am comfortable with.
For the most part these women are late thirties upwards, and it is deeply freeing to be with women who will happily strip off and get into the sea in their cossies. Not worrying about body hair, make up, hair or the shape of their bodies.
This is deeply freeing. Since I became ill, I have been on a quest to accept my body more and more, which is rather difficult to do when it betrayed me one day and stopped being able to walk for no apparent reason and I had to use a wheelchair for a couple of years.
Even before that happened, my body and I have had a difficult relationship for years, and part of the magic of open water swimming is the feeling that I suddenly love my body – look at what it can do! It can plow through the waves, in deep, rather cold water! There is a strong inner connection with myself which happens in open water, and especially the sea, which just does not occur in the pool.
Listening to a variety of writers talk about their experiences, as well as those of the audience make me understand that many of us need this, and being with other women, being able to talk lightly about our every day lives, and being in the sea is fabulous.
Katherine May, the organiser of the festival and writer of The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club, amongst others, said words along the lines of that she now feels she has a duty to have photos taken of her in her swimming costume as part of the press around this book and say – yes! This is my 42 year old body. This is what that looks like.
Yes! We need to be seen and accept our bodies as they are. There is a photo of me on Facebook in my swimming costume, from when I met up with Imogen who is doing 60 swims for her 60th year in 6 months. Somewhat of a step up from my 40 for 40. At first I was horrified and wanted to ask her to take it down, but I decided not to. I certainly don’t look comfortable and am gripping my tow float in front of me, but none the less I am in swimming costume. You can see me. But yes, this is my body. It does fantastic things, this is what it looks like.
The whole festival was deeply inspiring, from meeting others, to listening to the authors and I took part in a creative workshop with Zoe Gilbert, which I greatly enjoyed and hopefully has encouraged me to get on with the novel I wrote during NaNoWriMo quite a few years ago now.
So many of us yearn to write, to share our stories, either as ’narrative non fiction’, memoirs or fiction, but we just can’t. Many of the women in the room had been through a period of illness and it had changed how they saw themselves and their bodies.
I hope all of us in that session start writing and sharing our stories. And all of us above all, swim, accept our bodies and create community.
This was an utterly wonderful festival, I enjoyed it greatly and I hope it returns for a second year.