I made myself a nest of velvet pillows, a strong coffee and promised I’d write while it rains the now customary July deluge outside. I think it’s probably been the longest gap in my blog posts since I began 8 years ago but at least this gap has been a relatively good one and not caused by rotten boyfriends or evil landowners. Since April I have been in a strange place… simultaneously showered with positive comments and opportunities, whilst wracked with a deeper than ever lack of self belief and confidence. No sooner had I returned from British Trade Craft Fair with a book full of contacts and exhibition offers then I panicked and started looking for part time work, any work that was regular REAL work. I think it’s called Imposter Syndrome and it’s very common apparently, especially amongst us over sensitive “arty types”! Anyway, I ended up with a part time job at the Herdy Shop, some regular stockists for my work, some exhibitions and even occasional workshop teaching, so of course I’ve been rushed off my feet and become rich beyond my wildest dreams. That’s a lie, I’ve been pinned to my chair by inertia on the days I don’t work at the shop and bursting with frustrated creative energy on the days that I do; well I’ve always been a fickle creature. On balance though I have to say things have been moving slowly in the right direction since BCTF and really ever since moving to the Lakes. Things have been happening and nothing has stayed the same which is probably why I’m not always comfortable… I’ve been compared to a limpet, hard to shift from the security of my “home scar”.
There is a little house on the side of Cat Bells which looks from a distance as though it is totally isolated and empty; in fact it’s quite hard to see, framed by trees and slate grey like the mountainside (not like this little white cottage of my imagination). I wonder who lives there… more than anything else I imagine myself living there as I do with lots of the idyllic places here in the Lake District. A home, a place to dig and plant and light a stove for bread and coffee. It makes me sad to see empty places and the culture of property as investment, I’m a romantic idealist with no understanding of economics which is probably why I will never own my own home and will always wish I did.
The best investment I’ve made this year was made on a muggy day in May when I had been feeling really low and anxious about returning to Osmotherley for Art in the Shed. Rupert was driving us through Ambleside when on an impulse I demanded we stop and look in the outdoor swimming shop and maybe find out about wetsuits. Before I knew what was happening we were stripped off and being politely squeezed into black rubbery suits in the tiny warm shop and trying not to panic (I’ve been trapped in changing rooms before unable to extricate myself from a too tight top so I was wary). Rupert, being shy, left his shirt on which gave the bizarre impression that his wetsuit had a collar and was maybe a little more formal than mine. Anyway, Pete from “Swim the Lakes” was wonderful and patient while we giggled and struggled and we left the shop £300 lighter with two big pizza style boxes containing our shiny new wetsuits and that giddy feeling when you’ve done something a bit naughty.
It was over a week before we finally got to immerse the wetsuits for the first time (Art in the Shed turned out to be a great success and I was reminded -though I never really forget -how important my old friends are to me and that community of supportive women that I miss so much in my new life.) We were cautious, I’m the kind of person who swims at the edge of the pool and still worries that someone may release sharks through the air vents (blame James Bond and several bad swimming instructors in the the 1970s) The moored boats which looked so close suddenly seemed miles away. Swimming in the open air is so different … everything is moving around you, clouds, trees in the wind, ripples on the surface and it feels as though you’re not getting anywhere; only the mountains stand still. The wetsuits give you a strange buoyancy and it took me a while to realise that the best thing to do was relax, slow right down and just enjoy the sensuality of it, I’m doing it for pleasure not sport. Kelly Kettle tea and Digestive biscuits are part of the deal, taking part in triathlons is not.
Since the first tentative dip I am slowly gaining a little confidence. I’m not particularly fit and I’d like to be before I risk swimming too far but it is the test of mental strength that interests me more. In Loughrigg Tarn the shady bank, warm, silty mud and waving tendrils of water plants initially worried me …what is below me? what if I can’t touch the bottom? What if a swan gets angry? Fear of the unknown, of the dark, of trusting in your own abilities. It’s a kind of vertigo and the only way I can deal with it is to concentrate on what I see above the water… I am surrounded by water lilies, yellow flag irises and reeds with clumps of slimy eggs like frog spawn (water snail? fish?). I am Ophelia in a Pre-Raphaelite painting, I’m no longer a dumpy middle aged woman in unflattering Neoprene. The water is holding me up and I swim further than before. In Blea Tarn we swam in the rain, mesmerized by the patterns of concentric circles as the raindrops fell. It felt ancient as though something from the ice age could still be lurking and I could feel the stroke of soft weeds on my ankles. Suddenly Rupert stood up, the water wasn’t as deep as I had thought, the comedy of it lost as he told me the rock we had been aiming for was actually a drowned calf! Still it was exhilarating and somehow all the better for the rain.
And so, before you run away because you really didn’t want to read about swimming, here is the reservoir above the house (I’m not sure if you’re allowed to swim really but its our drinking water so…). Icy cold infinity pool and deeper than anything. I have walked past it when the surface was crystallizing to ice before my eyes and it was deep in the shadow of the fells but conquering my fear and swimming across its bottomless depths has been a real achievement for me. The picture below was taken by James from Cumbria House B&B in Keswick. He and Ruth joined us one afternoon for the comedy of “changing into wetsuits in public without revealing your bum”. I was again transformed into a small black pudding while Ruth actually does look like a Pre-Raphaelite painting and is the most lovely person. making me feel welcome when I first came here and knew nobody.
Well, I’ve managed to spend all day pondering over this writing, no wonder I don’t do it very often, it’s time to cook and make more coffee. I promise I will write again soon with an update on exhibitions and stockists and arty things and I (probably) won’t mention water once…
Reading: “Dip” by Andrew Fusek Peters Listening To: “The Fog” Kate Bush