‘The sound of a wild snail eating’ by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

snail bookThis is not in any way a book about swimming but it is sort of about mindfulness, and it is a beautiful book. The author was diagnosed with a severe illness that kept her almost immobile for more than a year. During this time she was given a plant and attached to the plant was a snail. The book describes how her relationship with the snail develops. She watches it intently every day as her main and often only companion and becomes fascinated by its life and habits.

I read this lovely book in one sitting and will never look at snails in the same way again. I finished it feeling that snails have both contributed far more and taken far less from the world than human beings. I also learned the wonderful term, miraculous spiral. This describes the type of spiral of which a snail’s shell is an example.brocolli

Another term for it is logarithmic spiral and one of its unique mathematical properties is that the size of the spiral increases but its shape is unaltered with each successive curve. This property is called self-similarity and is also found in sunflower heads and Romanesco Broccoli.

 The actual sound of a wild snail eating

The book is an easy read and I would recommend it to anyone.??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????




Guardian swimming blog – How to overcome your fear of swimming

I am excited because The Guardian have published my article about fear of the water on their swimming blog. Thank you to my students who gave me permission to use their stories.


Photo by Mark Tipple


The secret to learning anything

einstein-laughingSometimes parents say to me that they are worried that all the children are doing in my lessons is playing. I am not sure that these parents always appreciate that, especially in the water, it is through playing that the children learn. When I teach non-swimming adults the main difference between them and the children is that they don’t play in the water. It is true that sometimes the children can enjoy the lessons so much that things get very lively. Then I have to remind them of two basic rules

  • don’t jump in without asking me
  • don’t hold onto each other in the water.

These have to do with safety and are not too difficult to remember, although we do have to over them quite often. I believe that to learn any new skill properly, at any age, you have to enjoy the process. Here is a letter from Albert Einstein to his eleven year old son. It was written in 1915.

“I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano. This and carpentry are in my opinion for your age the best pursuits, better even than school. Because those are things which fit a young person such as you very well. Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those. That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes. I am sometimes so wrapped up in my work that I forget about the noon meal. . . .”

He wrote this letter just after having completed his General Theory of Relativity.

My thanks to Maria Popova for drawing my attention to this quote in her blog


At last

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This song has nothing to do with swimming but it is a beautiful song sung, beautifully, by my beautiful niece Ruby. The song was written by Mack Gordon and Henry Warren in 1941.  Blues singer Etta James covered the song in 1961 and it became her signature song.

Swimming and mindfulness

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Mindfulness means being consciously, deliberately aware of each moment as it passes. To me swimming and mindfulness go together. To swim well you need to use your whole body and to feel at one with the water. A good swimmer listens to the water, judging the water’s response to each movement. Swimming is a solitary activity; although you may be in the pool, lake, river or sea with many others, essentially you are alone when you swim. You are in your own private world, alone with your thoughts and feelings; your body is as close to weightless as it is possible for most of us to experience. (NASA astronauts train in deep water to simulate the experience of weightlessness) To swim well you need to regulate your breathing so that your breath is in time with your stroke; you can become aware of the breath entering and leaving your lungs. Swimming is a rhythmic activity, a kind of dance with the water and it can be a meditative experience. I have take many troubles to the water and without consciously searching for a solution, have found new ways of coping with problems that seemed insurmountable.

Riff Raff the swimming dog

riff raffMany dogs of my acquaintance love to swim. They seem to understand the pure joy of being in the water. Unlike humans, dogs, and most mammals it seems, don’t need to learn to swim. They can just do it, in fact most dogs are better swimmers than humans. Their heads are above water, their fur keeps them warm, many have waterproof undercoats, they have a low centre of gravity, their lungs have a higher capacity than most human’s and some breeds even have webbed feet.

The beautiful, kind and radiant, Riff Raff, who sadly died yesterday was an exuberant and enthusiastic swimmer. Watching her leaping into the water reminded you what joyfulness, hope and optimism was.

I mostly saw her swimming in the Thames but here she is on one of her Scottish holidays, deep in canine meditation, immediately pre-dip.