Part Two ... I've never been sporty ...



I've never been sporty.  Not at all, not even a little bit. Hockey was compulsory  in my convent school - it involved other girls chasing you round a cold muddy field trying to strike your ankles with a bent flat wooden stick. Or me diving for cover when a small hard wooden ball came shooting towards me.

Then there was tennis. One day, towards the end of my time at the convent, I became captain of the St Winefride's convent blue team -  not by a popular vote I assure you, but by default - no one else wanted the job - that is still happening to me, FFS.



Anyway in the annual Eisteddfod (yes this is in Wales), being captain of the blue team meant we had to enter the sports competition. We had to put forward a tennis team.  I'd watched Wimbledon a bit that year - probably because my Dad had it on the TV - I've never had the remotest interest in sport of any kind, it bores me to tears.  One of the TV tennis stars said she'd started off hitting a ball against a wall with her racquet. So I practised that for a few weeks and then our small but useless team entered the competition.  I managed to hit the ball over the net mostly, the rest of the team did not.  Our team came last. The red team won of course  - they had all the sporty types like Angela G, popular, pony-tailed, bouncy and relentlessly cheerful.

All of that is but background to my scuba diving experience - notice the singular. I must have been watching some stunning David Attenborough underwater filming of the ocean.  How lovely I thought to be able to don a wet suit and mask and breathe underwater, while exploring the gorgeous coral reefs of wherever.


I went swimming in a local swimming pool and there was a poster.  I signed up at once for a free exploratory class. OK it wasn't the ocean but, you have to start somewhere. I turned up there on the evening mentioned on the poster, having spoken to someone by phone. I was wearing a bathing costume and bathing hat and was in my early 50s, not very fit, slightly overweight.

I was met by a great huge hairy man, who I can only describe as 'meatloaf'. He was about 6 foot 6" and weighed c. 20 stone plus.  Each hand was the size of a plate of steak and chips.  He talked me through the health and safety manual, which always means I switch off and stop listening. I got neck ache looking up.  I nodded and smiled and my thoughts drifted elsewhere - swimming alongside David Attenborough, filming sting rays and octopus probably.

Reality check.  He picked up, with one meaty hand, two oxygen cylinders strapped together in a blue harness entanglement.  He said I must lift them up and put them on.  He placed them beside me.  'OK,' I said, thinking 'no problemo my son', and went to lift them up and swing them onto my back like a back pack.  That's when I found out.  Those things literally weigh a ton... no literally, I could not lift them off the ground. WTF they're full of air right?  How come they're so heavy? It doesn't make any sense.
 
He told me to turn around.  We are by now at the side of the swimming pool. Lots of other trainees were already in  the water, diving in the diving pool, seemingly with ease.   I turn around and he swings the oxygen cylinders off the ground one-handed as if they were feather light and kind of drops them onto my back - I was leaning forwards. 

I fell to my knees with the weight. He lifted them off  again and we walked further along to the side of the diving pool.  This time he put them onto my back slowly and carefully as I gritted my teeth, bracing my legs not to fall to my knees again.

Then I went down the ladder into the water - fairly quickly, as I knew the great heavy things would become lighter in the water.  I pulled down my mask into place covering my nose and eyes.  Put the mouthpiece - a big rubber thing you grip with your teeth  - into my mouth.  The mask kept steaming up.  Mr Meatloaf had told me how to drop down into the deep water.  I tried maybe 10 times.  Each time a searing pain went through my ears into the deepest recesses of my brain.  Each time I'd come up and he'd repeat - 'Hold your nose and blow'.  Each time I did that and start sinking down, then I'd try again.  Each time the same excruciating pain  in my ear drums.  He kept calling encouragement, telling me it was going to improve.  It didn't.

Somewhere around the tenth attempt, I called time.  Enough was enough.  He kept talking about how I should come back next week and we'd try again.  In my head I was thinking, that'll be over my dead body.  But he looked so hurt and rejected as if it was his personal failure - I was his personal failure - that I kept smiling a false smile and nodding.  I got dressed and got out of that building zoom fast and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Another one bites the dust I thought. Not doing that again.  Ever.


*****
Oh dear I'll need another instalment to tell you about the hang gliding experience and that
time I played squash - yes just the once, both of them. Bet you can't wait. :)


When it comes to any kind of sport, unusual ones in particular - I'm a total plonker. But I've tried, ....

A surveyor came to my home the other day and he was telling me about his obsession - parachuting.  He'd learnt it in the army many years before.  He was 74.  Which just goes to show ..... something or other.



As he described jumping out of an aircraft 3-4 thousand feet up, I shuddered and went slightly green.  That's beyond all reason to me.  But, I told him some of the things I HAVE tried and how I felt about them afterwards ... on a scale of 1 - 10.  I didn't want to appear to be a total wimp  (but maybe I am).  I was totally useless at sport throughout my school days. But over the years, I've come to the conclusion that although I like adventure, I'm a person who operates best with both feet firmly on the ground.

Mountain climbing, gliding, water skiing,
paragliding, scuba diving, boating trips,
surf-boarding, extreme hill walking  ... all the things I've tried and well...

I'm going to have to describe this to you in two parts  - its too long for one blog.

Part one

Water skiing


I tried it in Malta when I was 16 (a lo..o..o..ng time ago). The man in the speedboat had given me rudimentary instructions on how to stay afloat while having two heavy wooden skis attached to your feet. Then he jumped back in his boat and waved - I was fighting to stay afloat, to keep my head above the waves and my skis seemed to have a mind of their own, - they didn't seem to want to stay parallel. Suddenly the boat leapt forward and flew over the water. ..I was up on my feet for a split second. Then I arced up into the air, arms and head first. My arms felt like they'd been wrenched out of their sockets (they had).  Then I came down face forward with a crash.  He circled back and yanked me out of the water.  My arms and shoulders were rigid for days. 
Scale 1:10  Verdict: Never again.

I remember my Dad telling me some time later about how he'd tried it - someone he knew had a speedboat moored at Swansea Yacht club.  They were all pretty tanked up when he'd decided to have a go. He said that as the boat leapt forward, his swimming shorts were yanked clean off and there was cheering from the jetty, 'a large appreciative audience', he said, as his naked bottom bobbed along the surface of Mumbles Bay.

Gliding 

A Buddhist friend organised a group of us to go gliding at a small local airfield not too far from London.  How exciting I thought, what an adventure, how lovely to be slowly and silently swooping over the beautiful English countryside on a lovely summer's day. 

This poem is about flying.  It's by John Gillespie Magee Jr. who was a fighter pilot in WWII, killed in 1941. My Dad was a WWII pilot and this was read at his funeral.  It's called

High Flight

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, --and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of --Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there
I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air...
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew --
And, while with silent lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Well my gliding experience didn't quite live up to that. ...

Have you ever wondered how gliders get up in the air?  No?  Me neither.  Never thought about it, except vaguely.  Well here's how it works.  The nose of your glider is attached to what looks like a giant elastic band. This is attached to a contraption on the ground a hundred metres away, a bit like a catapult with a switch. 

There were about 8 of us that day and we took it in turns with 2 gliders and two instructors.  You sit in the front with a harness on and a small instrument panel is before you, but you're instructed not to touch anything.  You also have a sort of steering wheel.  The instructor sits behind you, in their own compartment and basically does everything.  Its a bit like dual control car driving.  He/she will let you have a go steering (they say) when you're up. The space you occupy is about the size of the space in a small canoe. I had no idea at this stage how this thing would get up into the sky (this was before Google).

I'm sitting waiting for something to happen when someone (who?) must have activated the catapult.  Suddenly we are shooting up towards the sky vertically (or so it seems). My stomach never caught up.  I now notice the brown paper puke bags beside me, but I'm too terrified to move to get one. I clench my teeth. We fly around a big hill several times.  Each time that we're not flying in a straight line, but curving round the hill, I think I'm going to be sick. I'm not, but come close. Lovely country views?  Don't remember.  All I remember is wanting it to be over and enduring it.

Scale 1:10 Verdict: Never again

Mountain climbing. 


Me and then husband Dave, climbed Table Mountain in South Africa in 1976.  Our friend Nigel, who was an enthusiastic climber told us he'd take us up Table Mountain 'the easy way  ... it'll be a nice walk'.  He drove his jeep to the lower slopes.  It was going to take a couple of hours.  We'd come down in the cable car. Lovely, looking forward to it.  Spectacular views etc..etc..

I began to feel slightly worried when he started off-loading coils of ropes and carabineers and harnesses from the back of the jeep,  This was before trainers were invented (yes, really).  I was wearing light canvas plimsolls.  I wrote a whole chapter about this climb in my book -


We climbed up crevasses, sheer rock faces, overhangs.  I wanted to die, no I wanted to live, so I could go back to my 3 year old. So I mutely followed instructions, roped up to Nigel - Nigel and his scarecrow, dope smoking friend, both of whom seemed to know no fear whatever. Nigel who before each section/slope said things like, 'Oh this bit's fine, not difficult at all', and after each slope he'd say, 'That was an F1 slope (whatever that means) - lots of climbers in the mountain club wouldn't attempt that one.'
 
As we climbed my headache developed.  By the time we got to the top it was a full blown migraine.  Nigel kept up a cheerful commentary, reminding us to look at the view.  The painful pounding in my head and sheer terror, meant that I didn't give a shit about the view. (I went back many years later - it is truly spectacular.  I went up and down in the cable car that time). 

I just wanted to get to the top and get the cable car down.  When we got there finally, Nigel's friend hop skip jumped across the flat rocky top to the other side, to check on the cable car.  He came bouncing back and told us the appalling news - the cable car was cancelled due to high winds. 

We would have to 'belay' (ie roped to each other) down again.  The weather had turned grey, windy and nasty, it was getting dark and we were dressed in light summer clothes. My head was crashing.  Somehow, hours later we made it back to the jeep. 

My daughter had barely noticed my 6 hour absence - she was playing with her friend - although friend's mother had noticed. 

We went home and I took to my bed for 3 days.

Scale 1:10  Mountain climbing.  Verdict: Never again.

I'll tell you all about my experiences trying to scuba dive, hill walk in freezing weather, paraglide off a hill top and .... well next week OK!



STORYBOARDING

Storyboarding
 

My organisational skills are very variable.  Sometimes I make long lists and when the list is done, I put it away and don’t look at it for a month.  Hmmm.... I do love lists but sometimes it’s better to operate from a short list of 3-4 things.   At least you feel you’ve achieved something in your day if you’ve knocked off half your list.

My organisational variability extends to book planning.  I have sometimes planned a book chapter by chapter, from beginning to end but then put it on the back burner for years.  Stephen King cheers me up by telling us in his book, On Writing, how he doesn’t plan. ... he lets the story unfold gradually, lets the character’s reveal themselves to him little by little.  It’s almost like he has a personal relationship with his characters and is an observer, watching what happens to them, as if it’s unfolding in front of him.  He describes feeling like an archaeologist with a trowel, scraping away the dust and debris little by little to reveal the hidden object.

I started my second memoir about 8+ months ago. I was also writing my first ‘How To’ non-fiction book which I completed in January, published last month.* This meant the new memoir was kind of on the back burner, but being in a writer’s group helped push me along. However I’ve now decided to drop out for a few months.  This is so I can focus all my attention on writing for a bit.  Plus there’s the marketing for the newly published ‘How to’ book.

The extra headspace made me focus on the book and I could see i was stalled, it was directionless, I needed some shape and organisation.  Where is the story going, where will it end? There were several possible places to end the story.  I bought a large piece of black board and found several wads of different coloured post it notes and started laying it all out.   I’d already written 13 chapters, but the story had stalled.  You have to keep up the drama and suspense even in memoir, well especially in memoir or your reader will lose interest. 

The story involved me dropping everything and flying to Indonesia at very short notice to get my ex husband and father of my children out of a rat and cockroach infested police cell. I took ten thousand pounds in cash in the bottom of my suitcase.. I shan’t damp your enthusiasm for finding out what happened by telling you the possible endings.  I remember my last book - working on the ending was very difficult.  I think it’s the hardest part of writing a memoir.  You have to have an ending that satisfies the reader somehow, but is not a happy ever after.... well not usually in real life, an ending that draws the story to some satisfactory conclusion.

Using the storyboard I could see immediately where the gaps were in the story, where I needed to write extra chapters. I looked at chapter length and these were wildly variable. Some of the long chapters needed to be split into 2 chapters.   A couple of extra chapters need to be written to fill in gaps in the story, identified by my writers group.. Soon the 13 chapters that I’d started with now covered 20 (well they will once I’ve written the ‘extra’ chapters.  How many chapters will I finish with?  Around 25-30 I’d say.  The shape and scope of the book has unfolded to me now due to the use of storyboarding.   It may not be Stephen King's method, but it certainly worked for me.

I phoned my ex husband, the main character in this story, quite pleased with myself. He now lives abroad with his second wife and son. We talk on Skype every now and again and are good friends. He’s just finished writing a fantasy fiction novel.  (It’s really good).  I thought I’d give him the low down on my newly acquired ‘storyboarding’ skills.  ‘Oh yes,’ he said sounding bored.  ‘You should have seen my storyboard for my novel.  It went across our bedroom wall and out into the corridor.’ Then he changed the subject.
* Writing Memoir.  How to Write A Story From Your Life
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