Part 3 To sport ot not to sport???

This World Cup fever is torture for people like me – sport-haters, because the entire media seems to think EVERYBODY  in the Universe wants to know about the game 24/7. The news is briefly hurried over by the BBC so they can get on with the important stuff – the World Cup for example. If I ever moan about it I’m shot down in  flames or I get a dismissive look.  If I say it’s a sport for men with largely male supporters I’m told that’s rubbish – loads of women support the beautiful game too.
I pass the Arsenal football stadium regularly on my way to my Buddhist centre. We hear the crowd roaring when we're all meditating. I know what I see when there’s a match on.  You can practically smell the testosterone in the air – thousands and thousands of men – there’s the odd female wife or girlfriend  tagging along sure.  Perhaps a few female supporters in their own right.  But what I see is a giant male army advancing  towards me, phalanx after phalanx, intimidating and reluctant to give way to my car as they're walking down the road 10 rows deep. And if you're on foot on the pavement it's quite scary for a lone female.

My neighbour Pauline will cry ‘rubbish’!  She’s a season ticket holder to the Arsenal and those tickets don’t come cheap.  She takes her nephew to all the matches and has no truck with those like me saying that it’s a guy thing.
Which brings me back to where I started.  My feelings about sport …  I know a few guys who have no interest in sport either.  And why, if social media is so clever and knows how to categorise you by your likes and dislikes, do they send me special Sky or BT or TalkTalk sports packages or today even I got a special deal sent to me by Amazon - BOOKS about sport? Why no SPECIAL DEALS  for those who don't watch sport?
So much for social media profiling.   OK I'm getting down off my soap box now.

My next foray into the world of sport, was slightly more successful than the last two listed in Sports blog 1-2.  If you need to catch up scroll down past this blog.

For 20 years one of the places I’ve been travelling to frequently is southern Turkey. A place called Olu Deniz – a special place in a beautiful location on the Mediterranean.  There’s a white sand beach and crystal clear sea.  It’s also a place where there are many hang gliding/paragliding outlets. For 50-80 quid you can jump off  a nearby rocky hillside, swoop down over the endlessly sparkling sea and touch your feet down on a landing strip in front of the bars and cafes along the beach front. All day long you can watch the graceful billowing puffy chutes in all their bright colours and patterns, landing silently, one after the other in a continuous stream. 

For years people had told me how fabulous it is and how I must have a go.  All those years I did not try, firstly because often I was on a shoestring budget and it would have been a stretch.  Second I liked watching them but had no burning desire to jettison myself off the side of a small mountain into the air high above the sea.  No thanks, So I swam, paddled my canoe round to the lagoon and watched them - clustering dots in the sky, getting larger and larger  until there they were doing they're final little run onto the landing strip.

And then, one day I just decided to do it.  How wonderful, I thought, to have a bird’s eye view of beautiful Olu Deniz, to fly over the gorgeous seascape and touch down in front of my favourite Buzz bar?

So I looked for a guy called Henry, behind the first rank of hotels close to the beach. He's Turkish married to a Welsh woman - we'd often stopped for a chat - we had a link - Wales.  He told me to come back tomorrow and he'd give me a 'good deal' (Turkish-speak to tourists for knocking a few pounds off, but only if you're shaking your head and walking away usually).

Next day there I was in the van winding up the mountainside, past rocks and scrub trees and stony landfalls.  Zigzagging up we went until there we were at the top. My tandem 'instructor' put a hi-viz orange jacket on me, strapped me in to a nylon harness and told me to run down this short slope and jump into thin air.  It all happened so fast I didn't have time to panic.
He would be behind me and I was strapped to him.  I first watched two other people do it with building apprehension, we were in a continuous queue. Before I could chicken out, he was pushing me along and we were launching into that same thin air, floating spread-eagled over the amber and green-dotted hillside into warm blue light and then gliding across the bay, high in the air and round the blue lagoon. 

The sea sparkled below. We circled and drifted. 
I hung below my instructor taking it all in, feeling slightly dizzy.  He suggested we do a 'spin over'.  No thanks, I said - did he take me for an 18 year old extreme sport enthusiast?. My stomach was holding it together, just, without any funny business. We swung round the bay and over the lagoon where ant-sized people swam and drank chai and ate feta salad and chips in the cafes and bars.

Then suddenly we were approaching the landing strip, touching down and it was all over. 

You're going to hate me for saying this . When I ask myself , was it worth it? Hurm, ha, yes I suppose so.  Glad I'd tried it and all that.  Even gladder when it was all over and my feet were on good solid land again. No desire to repeat the experience. But I suppose I enjoyed it ... didn't I? Was it worth all the hype?  Yeees. …  I went off to Buzz Bar, ordered a cold beer and wrote a poem about it.  I was going through something or other with latest man at that point … so work through the metaphors ...

Jumping Free

Winding track up the mountain
through the forest of dusty pines.
I stare out as if suspended,
my past dragging behind.

I talked to you, but you didn’t hear;
I waited for you so long, but you fell behind;
I watched through mists and windows
but my picture faded and
you couldn’t see me anymore.

The track winds up, cutting through rock
I glimpse the sky lapis blue and shiver in the shadow.
Is this it at last? The time to jump?
No another bend and another...

Above an eagle circles,
as the clock slows, as my life unfurls,
'like nothing ever matters'...
I see it coming now, the final bend;
all that’s left is jumping...

Will my orange wings catch the breeze;
float me over the shimmering sea far below?
‘Run’, my guide says, ‘run into the air,
and then sit back and feel
Allah’s breathe upon your face’.

See me there drifting over the hills, hazed in blue;
time shimmers and stops
as I swoop over the pale turquoise lagoon.
Now I’m swooning, the sky turns me upside-down.

Hold steady, don’t flash back, time suspends
as I soar over the sparkling water,
arc around where the red crescent leads
to land softly on the new road ahead.


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 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.


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!