Swimming

Swim the Bay

A 1.2 mile swim in the sea off Weymouth sounded both fun and achievable, so I signed up for Swim The Bay earlier this year. It took place on Saturday.

Of course, after a week of record-breaking heatwave Saturday was chilly and rainy, and the waves were making off-putting crashy noises on the pebbles. I registered in the marquee at the finish line and set off for the start point at 'the stone groyne opposite Lodmoor Country Park', looking, in my towelling robe and competitor's paper wristband, as if I'd escaped from a hospital.

Swimmers doing the full 2.4 miles from Bowleaze Cove were already passing the groyne, their halfway mark, accompanied by canoes and jetskis ready to rescue anyone struggling. I changed into my wetsuit in the rain and stood around waiting for 45 minutes, easily the worst part of the experience.

At last we were given a briefing and called forward to enter the water. We crossed the timing mat in twos and threes and set off for the first buoy looking, in the words of my line manager when I sent him a picture, 'like a bob of seals'. There were huge waves to tackle as we headed out from the beach, then a right turn at the buoy and we struck out for the marquee, just visible across the bay.

We soon separated out. I navigated by the buoys when I could see them, and by following my fellow-swimmers when I couldn't. The waves made it hard to tell if I was making headway, or even going in the right direction, and the salt water getting in my mouth was disconcerting. The velcro band holding my timing chip came off my ankle, and I had to make a grab for it before it sank, wrapping it round my wrist instead. I'd never gone such a long distance in the sea before, but my wetsuit was buoyant and I knew I wouldn't have to go far towards the shore to be back in my depth. And if I couldn't make it, an arm stuck in the air would bring a marshal to help me.

But I did make it, staggering up the beach and through the finish arch in a time of 58 minutes and 38 seconds. I was given a medal and a can of Red Bull, then I got changed and went off with Howard, who had been spectating faithfully and also carried my possessions to the finish line, to have brunch followed by a Dorset Apple Cake flavoured ice cream.

The starting line, looking forbidding.
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The bob of seals sets off.
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Emerging from the sea just like Honey Ryder in Dr No.
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Coffee!!

A New Machine

I write this on my new iMac.

My 2012 model was becoming increasingly slow, occasionally freezing for a few seconds or even longer. It seemed wise to replace it when I could, and I planned to do that at some point this year, funds allowing.

Then Apple released the latest model in various shiny colours, and a new computer suddenly became much more urgent.

I owned one of the original G3 coloured iMacs in Ruby (I still have it in a cupboard, in fact) and I've been longing for a bit of colour in my computing life again. I feel strongly that tech should deliver aesthetic pleasure as well as making one's life easier.

I had a few tribulations persuading DHL to deliver the new one to me, and a few more transferring my data and files across from the previous incumbent, but now my orange iMac with its orange keyboard and orange mouse is sitting on my orange desk while I sit on my orange chair with its orange cushion, and I am thrilled.

It's so fast, and quiet, and slim! And the sound quality is amazing; I stuck on Bridge Over Troubled Water and listened with tears in my eyes. (Of course, back in 2013 I was thinking the same about the old one, which is now worth £200 as a trade-in. I hope this one lasts as long, or longer.)

It feels a little weird not to have USB ports, but then my first iMac didn't have a floppy drive and I thought that would never catch on.

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Swimming

007 Days and 007 Nights

Last Saturday saw my first trip into central London for many months, to see The Man with the Golden Gun as part of the Prince Charles's 007 season.

I stopped off at Any Amount of Books on Charing Cross Road and treated myself to the Folio Society edition of Parade's End in two volumes before meeting a friend from Bond Twitter and his partner. We visited a bar to get ourselves in the mood for flying cars, Sheriff JW Pepper and "Nick Nack! Tabasco!" before the film. It was delightful sharing it with someone who, like me, knew and loved the movie but wasn't above mocking its sillier parts; we did a fair amount of whispering to each other behind our masks during the screening, and afterwards went to a Thai restaurant so we could dissect it more thoroughly over dinner.

On Tuesday, I was punished for these excesses when I got pinged by the NHS app and told to self-isolate for seven days.

I was pretty cross, as I had plans for this weekend, which has been the hottest and sunniest so far this year - not least another Bond at the Prince Charles, this time my favourite The Living Daylights.

I decided to spend my Saturday evening watching it on DVD instead. My friend Hannah is also currently in the sin bin and we co-watched, hitting Play simultaneously so we could chat about it over WhatsApp. My flatmate also joined me for the viewing; we made hot dogs and popcorn for the proper cinema experience, as well as Vesper martinis. Afterwards she declared it her new second favourite Bond after On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which we watched last summer.

Hannah expressed a hankering to watch Licence To Kill immediately afterwards, and since neither of us was going anywhere the next day, we stayed up past midnight doing just that. "I walked past and saw Timothy Dalton looking very wet," said my flatmate in the morning, "and I thought I'd just leave you to it." Very wise.

Otherwise, I have spent a lot of time on the balcony drinking homemade lemonade (when life gives you lemons...) and reading trashy spy novels. Counting down to my release at 23:59 on Tuesday.
Swimming

Tails in Wales

I took a long weekend to visit my vicar friend Miles, recently relocated to Wales, and to meet his dog Poppy, star of TV's The Dog House.

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The weather wasn't great and we spent a lot of time watching terrible Pierce Brosnan movies (did you know he voices a CGI elk in Riverdance: The Animated Adventure? you do now). However, the beach was a stone's throw away so I also took the opportunity to have a swim every day, including when it rained. I brought a lot of sand into the house and used all the clean towels, and felt very relaxed.

On Saturday I went to church with Miles, who conducted Mass with such dignity and solemnity you'd never have guessed we spent the car journey barking at postmen. He was kind enough to include 'civil servants' in the congregation's prayers.

We hung out with our friend Dai, another local furry and aviation enthusiast, which gave me a wonderful opportunity for possibly the worst joke I have ever made:

ME: I hope Dai doesn't cancel on us tonight.
MILES: Oh no, why?
ME: Because if he does...we'll have to see Dai another day!


On Friday, the one sunny day, we had breakfast at a café on the prom, and later went back for an ice cream. A proper summer holiday!

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Swimming

In the Dock

I tried a new outdoor swimming venue last night: the Docklands Sailing and Watersports Centre on the Isle of Dogs. It was a hot, sunny day and I thanked my past self for making the booking.

The area around Canary Wharf still has a strange atmosphere, even though it's been around in its current state for a while now. I rather like it; the neat, clean layouts of restaurants, shops, little squares and hotels make it feel like being in a giant airport.

What I'm learning about open water swimming venues: the website will be all COMPULSORY this and THOU SHALT NOT that, putting you right off, then when you rock up you will be greeted by friendly, helpful staff who go out of their way to show you around and answer all questions. There'll be swimmers in everything from bikinis to full wetsuits, some doing a very serious and efficient front crawl, others just bobbing about. Anything goes and everyone is up for a chat.

The course is 500 metres anticlockwise around the six orange buoys. I did it four times and quit while I was ahead.

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I had a lovely refreshing swim surrounded by luxury flats and office buildings, then got a takeaway chilli chicken donburi and sat in a riverside park for a bit while it started to rain.

I'd particularly wanted to swim here because it features in a Bond film; you can see the watersports centre, the low triangular building to the left of the two cranes, in this screenshot from The World is Not Enough:

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Swimming in Bond locations. It's a whole new silly hobby!
Swimming

Working from Home from Home

Last week I took advantage of the working from home situation and decamped to Howard's. Monday was a bank holiday and Tuesday was my civil service privilege day for the Queen's birthday (gawd bless you Ma'am), and I took my laptop so I could work Wednesday to Friday.

Like a staycation, except I wasn't at home and I wasn't not working.

In fairness, we fitted a lot in at the weekends and after I'd finished work for the day:

A ride with a friend we hadn't seen for ages! Explored some lovely little lanes and had lunch at Compton Abbas Airfield.

The BEACH! Worbarrow Bay, much less crowded than the sensationalist pics you might have seen of Bournemouth and Durdle Door, possibly because of the 15-minute walk from the car park. We were able to observe many dogs, some throwing themselves into the waves with gay abandon, some very unsure about it all.

An exhibition about Richard Chopping, who designed many of the first edition covers for the James Bond novels, at Salisbury Museum. Objects on display included a dead fly he used as his model. Bonus: stopped off at Pimperne to browse a book swap housed in an old phone box.

Open water swimming at Swineham Lake. I did two circuits of the lake, or 2km, which I'm pretty sure is the furthest I've swum continuously (it took an hour).

Post-work ride in the Purbecks. As we were passing Corfe Castle a steam train crossed the bridge ahead of us, and if it hadn’t been pissing with rain it would have been a perfect chocolate box moment.

And finally, I visited callmemadam. We had a cautious hug in line with government guidance (first time since last February), and I even went inside the house to fix the printer.

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Pertwee bike

Things to Do in Letchworth Garden City

There was time for a little local tourism before heading home, and first on the list was a trip past the UK's first roundabout.

Afterwards, we ticked off a longstanding item by taking a look at the giant Cardington airship sheds which once housed the ill-fated R101 and the R100 worked on by Nevil Shute and Barnes Wallis.

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A little extra excitement in the form of two hares (two! both at once!), which you can just make out facing each other off in this phone photo. (I hoped they might start boxing but I guess it's a little late in the year.)

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A nearby RSPB reserve provided a place to eat our ALDI sandwiches, pet some nice dogs and go for a walk. We heard a lot of birds and saw a lot of what, thanks to puddleshark's recent post, I identified as St Mark's flies.

Finally, a swim. I'd googled 'wild swimming bedfordshire' and picked a likely spot, in the river Ivel by the little town of Langford. This turned out to be at the end of a cul de sac of very nice houses, and, to my horror, by the time I got out I had attracted An Interested Crowd (i.e. an elderly couple and their Staffie cross). I was afraid there would be aggro when I encountered two families of Canada geese, but we stayed in our respective lanes and they let the matter go with a bit of honking.

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And one last bit of excitement on the way back as we unexpectedly passed RAF Henlow and I leaped out to get a snap of their Hawker Hunter gate guardian.

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Dogfight [by the_gneech]

Spies & Skies

I have been to an air show! A real, in-person one, for the first time since 2019!

The Shuttleworth Collection started a programme of socially distanced, drive-in air shows last year, but this was the first I'd attended - the theme, 'Spies and Intrigue', providing an irresistible draw.

Howard collected me in his car and we arrived an hour before the display was due to start. We were guided to a bay marked on the grass, with space for a car plus room to set up a couple of folding chairs and have a picnic. To pass the time, there were refreshment stands, loos, the gift shop and a chance to peek into the hangars.

Then two Spitfires crossed from right to left, the late afternoon sun glinting on their wings, and the show had begun.

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The Spies and Intrigue were provided by two Lysanders, a type frequently used to drop and pick up SOE agents in France, which looked suitably secretive in the dusk.

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Halfway through the evening we were warned to take cover. Flying ceased and we got in our cars for twenty minutes of downpour until the clouds passed over, a rainbow appeared and the display could recommence.

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Shuttleworth works hard to keep its vintage aircraft in flying condition, and their shows are a chance to see planes in the air that would usually be confined to museums. A Sopwith Pup and Avro 504 - the real thing, not replicas. Ancient, tiny gliders. The De Havilland Comet flanked by two other 1930s racing planes, like an interwar display at Hendon.

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If conditions are just right, the Edwardian aircraft take to the sky. On this occasion they were good enough for a replica Bristol Boxkite to take off slowly and gracefully, a frame of wood and canvas with wheels like a pram.

It was 9pm and dark by the time the pram wheels touched down. Exiting was quick and easy, despite the soggy ground, and we headed south for a night in the Letchworth Garden City Travelodge.
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The Furry Megapack

Some time ago I contacted Wildside Press, publishers of the 'Megapacks' - cheap ebook anthologies of science fiction, fantasy and mystery reprints - to ask if they would consider adding a Furry Megapack to their portfolio. To my surprise, the response was "Sounds great - would you like to edit it?"

So I approached some of my favourite authors in the fandom to ask if they would contribute. From some I requested a specific story I had read and loved; others I asked for anything they'd care to offer.

It took a while for everything to come together, and there were periods when I thought this wouldn't happen, but I am very proud to present The Furry Megapack. Available from Amazon, Google Books, Barnes & Noble and most other ebook retailers.

It's a great way for furry readers to pick up some older works at a good price, and a great introduction to the genre for curious new readers. I hope it will help spread the word about all the amazing work going on in furry.

Cover of The Furry Megapack, showing an anthropomorphic cat smoking a cigarette in a holder, styled after Audrey Hepburn in 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'.
The Spy Who Loved Me

Ice Cold in Moscow

I had a Live Theatre Experience last night, or as near as one can in these times: I booked a ticket for a prerecorded play, and selected the day and time at which I would consume it.

In A Splinter of Ice, recorded on stage at Cheltenham, Graham Greene, visiting Moscow for a 1987 Peace Conference, drops in on his old friend and colleague Kim Philby.

It's a two-hander for the most part, with a small but fun role for Philby's Russian wife, Rufa. The two former agents (although, as Greene points out, one never really leaves the firm...except to join a different one) sound each other out with cautious affection, and wrangle over whether The Third Man was written as a warning to Philby, or about Greene himself, or neither.

I turned off the lights and poured a glass of wine and had a proper theatre experience, apart from the bit where I had to pause it and answer the door.

I'd arranged with two spy fiction fan friends to hit Play at roughly the same time and do a Zoom call afterwards, so we had the kind of nice chat we would otherwise have had in the theatre bar, about Bond and books and where and when we were getting vaccinated.

It was a fun evening but I'm really looking forward to doing this stuff for real again.

(You can book and watch until 31st July.)