I’m going to open by saying a thank you to everyone who made it to the launch of Echolocation at a very packed Hyde Park Book Club on Sunday. It couldn’t have been a more special day with brilliant poetry from Michael Brown and open micers, generous compering from Matthew Hedley Stoppard and the support of the venue and the Leeds Big Bookend. Here are a few photos of the event.
This week it is Mother’s Day (I’m very uncomfortable about putting an apostrophe before the ‘s’ even though I know it is correct) and today is my mum’s birthday so I’m devoting this blog to her. And, because my mum was a competitive swimmer and cross-country runner, I am choosing a mother who is famous for sport.
And no, despite the fact that a disproportionate number of contemporary poets are keen runners (including me), I’m not going to write about Paula Radcliffe. I’m going to go with Becky Adlington.
I come from a sporty family. My cousin was a seasoned wild swimmer long before it became fashionable and swims regularly in The Thames. One of my grandmothers was a competitive tennis player and swimming teacher. Although quite late to the sport, my brother is an elite marathon runner; I often meet poets who are keener to talk about Jason’s running than poetry! My dad, all his brothers and sisters and both his parents swum competitively. My grandmother Vivienne swam butterfly competitively into her 80s and was, for awhile, the oldest person to swim the Solent, doing so at 70 years of age. She even won several World Masters titles and her name is well-known in Masters circles.
I learned to swim at 2 years old when we were living in Australia. My dad told me to jump in the pool – I wasn’t wearing armbands and was clearly a risk-taker even then (evidence below). The other shot is a newspaper clipping taken by the Harrogate Advertiser of me with my local celebrity parents who had met and officially become engaged in the pool.
Anyone who knows swimming knows Rebecca Adlington. Breaking into public consciousness with two golds and a world record at the Bejing Olympics, she soon became well-loved nationally, receiving an OBE and a pair of gold Jimmy Choo shoes from her hometown of Mansfield. At 23, she retired young from the sport after winning two bronzes at the 2012 Olympics. I became interested in Adlington after listening to Desert Island Discs, although I can’t say I can recommend her musical taste as we have very different sensibilities!
Family have always been central to her identity and they have sacrificed a lot for her. Her mother, father and sister even moved town to be near her training ground after Adlington’s mother became ill from trying to balance all her responsibilities, including long journeys to training. So it is perhaps not a surprise that the swimmer decided to marry and have a child relatively young. Her daughter Summer was born in June 2015, something Adlington describes as ‘the hardest thing I’ve ever done’.
My poem ‘Buoy’ explores how pregnancy can change a woman’s life for the better, not just because you have this new wonderful person in your life but because you have to be something different for that person in order to become a good-enough mother.
…try a different stroke, the lifeguard says.
I know no other stroke. not yet. not yet. but you are buoying me,
(Becky Cherriman, ‘Buoy’, Echolocation)
Thanks to my fun but self-destructive party lifestyle, I was too poor to buy a pregnancy test so had to go to the hospital to receive my positive result. Although, at 20 years-of-age, I was beginning to get my life under control, I’m sure that if I hadn’t had my son my bad choices would have continued for longer and there is no way of knowing what would have happened. I’m not saying I was angelic post-birth – I still had a lot of growing up to do but the wild times were then strictly contained to the nights my son spent with his father.
I don’t suppose Rebecca Adlington has had many wild times at all. With the pressures of training from so young and the encephalitis her sister developed when Rebecca was 15, she was forced to be incredibly mature early on and seems to have skipped her rebellious stage for her career. I wish her a delightful life with her daughter and any more children that are born and hope that they find small and fun ways to rebel together every day. Besides, retired she may be but Rebecca Adlington has much more to give to the future of swimming including her journalism and the continuation of her Swim Stars project, which encourages more UK children to swim.
I’m happy to say that my grandparents own legacy remains – an annual award to recognise achievements in Masters swimming. Unfortunately I don’t have the family talent for swimming but I do feel at home in the water and I wouldn’t give that up for anything. This year I’ll be doing the swimming leg of the World Triathlon in Roundhay Lake for Henshaws and I’m sure my family will be very much on my mind.
Order Pamphlet Echolocation from Mother’s Milk Books