Friday, 18 November 2011

How to make the swimmer in your life happy*

This beautiful pic of Tooting Lido was taken on 20/11/11  by @JPDBuckley.

A work in progress.
(I've updated this once, but please carry on contributing your suggestions, either via comments here, or tweet me @jennylandreth and I’ll add them if I like them, and they’re not illegal.)

‘You’re SO DIFFICULT to buy for’ is usually nonsense. It translates as ‘Just tell me. I’m too lazy or stupid to have picked up clues or to apply my brain. If we’re honest, I barely know you, because all the time you were talking, I was dreaming about Sarah Lund’.

And just because I can swim doesn’t mean I want another copy of Wild Swim, nice as it is. That was last year’s glut. Then there’s the swimming stuff that will never scream GIFT.  Buying someone nose clips or mouldable ear wax is like buying a woman Tampax. It’s necessary but never a treat, not even for someone with a worryingly irregular cycle. It doesn’t show you’re intuitive and resourceful and have been taking careful notes. It’s a sign you forgot, and went to the late night chemist.

So, I’ve made a start on a list of things that swimmers might like for Christmas. If you’re buying for a swimmer, it might cut out the possibility of that gritted-teeth ‘you know me so well’.  If the swimmer in your life is you, give this list, appropriately highlighted, to someone who either loves you, or is cashed up sufficiently to pop a little summat under your tree.

Top top top of the list is the superb ‘The Story of Swimming’ by Susie Parr**. This stunning book charts our relationship with water from the Romans and Elizabethans, but it’s not a dry (ha ha) tome. It’s a beautiful substantial thing, fabulous new photography, old postcards, witty and readable copy; it helps you contextualise why you swim. You think you don’t need to know that? Of course, you don’t. But then, why not know stuff?

I asked for advice on underwater MP3s, and in Comments (below) Alex said 'I have a speedo aquabeat mp3 player, I used it about twice. I like the idea but the reality is poor sound and the plugs don't stay in my ears. Perhaps I'm doing it wrong but I wasn't very impressed with it. I was given it as a gift with a special CD of watery tunes - the special CD turned out to be the best bit.' Meanwhile over on Twitter, @sarahcpjones said I have a NuDolphin waterproof mp3 player. V good sound, easy to use, only fault is no display and plays tracks in set order. You can skip tracks etc but it's annoying for podcasts and episodes of things. Really helps you keep going when bored'. So, two conflicting responses. Guess that means, make your own mind up. Sorry. 

Other watery gadgets?  These sports watches look great, and reasonable. AND my link takes you to the Swimming Without Stress website -  if you buy from them and quote ‘SRL11’, they’ll give you lovely blog readers 10% discount for orders placed up to Dec 20th.  I’m quite pleased with that! A little deal!  When I talked to them about recommending ‘stuff’, I was told this: "Cheryl (one of the owners) said what she really likes is freedom of movement in the water, and she wondered what we could sell to promote that. What people need for that though, actually, is nothing - which is the beauty of it." I send a small sigh of satisfaction at that -  it’s a terrible sales line, but all the better for that.

My swim chum Adam suggests an aquapac, for if you’re swimming outside and don’t want to leave your keys under a rock. Google aquapac. And a rash vest, if you don’t want said aquapac banging up and down on your chest as you go. Also, a micro towel. Adam, who has firsts in everything from Cambridge and is therefore learned, told me it was the micros in the towel that made you dry. As I got a 2:2 from Warwick in drama, I was happy with that explanation. Adam is waiting for them to invent a nano-towel. I ventured to suggest a quantum towel.

@muttleysmoll on Twitter is obviously someone of a practical bent. She suggested flip flops (I concur), towels (I concur) and body wash (meh.  I think that’s a bit like buying someone shampoo and not expecting them to say ‘you think my hair’s dirty?’. Unless it’s Korres. Or Ren. Or Kiehls. Hmmmm.) 

For cold water swimmers:

A few people have recommended layered clothes to go on after the cold swim. In Comments, Carl (aka musingsofanaquaticape) talks of his Howies love, as does Ian from Swimmingwithoutstress, albeit he's probably on a bung as his daughter works there. Carl also recommends Finisterre, and yes, they are great. I've seen plenty people in their Ebicoke jackets. On facebook, the lovely Chris Jordinson, a swimmer of extraordinary skill and generosity, told me 'I love my Swimovate Pool Mate Pro' (I looked it up - link here - and omg it's a gizmo and a half) and added 'my other essentials are my Icebreakers and my ascent jacket for the post-swim shivering.' 

Hand warmers, to shove in your gloves and pants. Just me?

Think it’s weird to buy people something that looks like fetish gear? It’s not. Rubber boots or gloves are great, if contentious among utter purists; it feels like swimming in cornflakes boxes. I wear both in winter as my feet and hands hurt most, quickest. I’ve got some great ones from Neil Pryde, the boots have a proper sole and an ankle strap and are easier than neoprene socks to get on and off, and are more useful for general rocky beach swimming too -  I’ve taken mine on several swimtreks. My gloves are scubapro. (Other makes are available. These are what have served me well.)

Robies: the company calls them ‘the ultimate beach towel changing experience’. To my mind, the ultimate beach towel changing experience would include full sex with (AT LEAST) the man who temporarily lost use of his legs in Downton Abbey.  Putting that thought to one side, these are posh versions of the things my mum made me wear in the 70s, changing on the balmy beaches of Northumberland, minus the bricabrac round the edges. A great big towelly thing in gaudy tones you can change under or mooch around in before you get dressed.

How about a funny little hair towel turban? If you’re freezing cold and you’ve got wet hair dripping down your neck, a natty little hair towel avoids that! M&S did them in summer in their ‘holidays’ section which mostly features vile kaftany wafty things. As above, other stores are available.

If you REALLY REALLY love someone and are minted, send them on a swimtrek holiday far away.

* This is a Xmas list, not a life guide. But if you generally want to make a swimmer happy, give them time to swim, a lovely pool, kindness, warmth and respect.

** I’m not including an Amazon link. If your local bookshop don’t have it, get them to order it.


  1. Buying a hair turban thingy as a present for my wife, I can vouch for it being a winner. But be prepared for the look to your hair from the sales staff (raised eyebrow optional). Saying it's not for you seems like you protest too much, trust me. Imagine it's how my Dad used to feel at the thought of buying womanly wares for my Mum, I came over all 1970's sitcom.

  2. Practicality and style (perhaps)...merino layers from Howies (effical and all that) and Finisterre (cool surf dudes/ettes) and the latter do a wonderful light, but toasty insulation jacket called an ebicoke. Not very good for swimming in, but excellent for afterwards, and you can strip the many layers he buys you for a lightweight merino summer look..dahling.

  3. I have a speedo aquabeat mp3 player, I used it about twice. I like the idea but the reality is poor sound and the plugs don't stay in my ears. Perhaps I'm doing it wrong but I wasn't very impressed with it. I was given it as a gift with a special CD of watery tunes - the special CD turned out to be the best bit.

  4. Swimming Without Stress22 November 2011 at 08:09

    Re aquatic ape comment. howies is 1 mile up the road from Swimming Without Stress in Cardigan. Our daughter Maggie is their star Saturday girl. I can attest to the quality of their gear as we all live in it in our house, and out.

  5. 'A terrible sales line'. Thanks Jenny, that's more like it - you can put that on my tombstone!

  6. Excellent idea - I had planned to swim the 3 lidos when I was down in London a week ago from Scotland but opted to go to Eastbourne where I could do a daily sea swim in morn and a pool swim in afternoon. Please let me know how you get on as it remains on my list of things to do in Jan.

  7. Not quite sure, John, what you mean when you say 'let me know how you get on'. With what? The blog generally? The three lidos? I've probably already reviewed them, but which three do you mean?

  8. Jenny . . . I was interested in any feedback relating to your plan to swim the various pools around London.
    In my case I was planning to swim London Fields, Parliament Hill and Tooting which I understand has restricted access during winter months. J.

  9. Thanks, John, I plan to just keep plodding on, posting up here every week til I'm done/dead from over-chlorination.

    Yeah, Tooting is shut to public from now til end May.

  10. VMT - it goes without saying that your swim location reports are very handy references. Good luck.

  11. Great information! I have a blog about nose plugs for swimming, check it out too.

  12. Great tips for making swimming as fun and fuss free as possible! And I'm really enamoured by that picture.