Sunday 8 May 2022

Wild Swimming

Aunts are mothers, too--spiritually speaking.

It is Mother's Day in various countries, so I will begin with my public service announcement that the pain of childlessness mostly goes away. It might come back now and again, but the older I get, the less it matters. There are also healthy mental exercises to cope. One is to ponder that one has never had children, so nothing has changed. 

It is worth reminding anyone who happens to be in a position to give Mother's Day-themed homilies and speeches  that John Paul II taught all adult women are called to be mothers in one form or another (just as all adult men are called to be fathers). Stressing that there is such a thing as spiritual motherhood may save you the sight of tears in the porch and the vestry. Rereading Mulieris Dignitatem the week before Mother's Day would be a salutary practise. In fact, I think I'll reread it today myself. 

I will have time to do this, for I have abandoned my desk and the after-Mass tea table for the seaside. We have rented a flat with a view of the sea and the road between the flat and the sea. Therefore, our view of the sea is somewhat impeded by compact, snub-nosed parked cars. As we can still see the various iconic islands, we don't mind this very much. The sky stretches out in its changing shades of blue, white,  grey and, occasionally, pink and gold. 

Behind the cars and the sea-wall there is a sandy beach. The sand is digestive biscuit coloured, sprinkled with broken white shells worn smooth. When the tide is low, rocky outcroppings covered in bright green are visible. I put my green canvas garden chair beside one of them when I went swimming yesterday afternoon.

It was cold. This is, after all, the North Sea, and it is only May. When we were here last year, it was still April, and when I made an attempt at cold bathing, I got only only as far as waist-deep: the water stabbed at my legs like frozen knives. On Friday morning, my first attempt was shockingly cold but not painful. During Friday afternoon's attempt, I began to rush out, but turned around and rushed back in. I submerged myself to my neck, clutched the sand at the bottom, and counted to 200. 

It was very, very cold---but then suddenly it was warm. It was marvellous. I swam here, I swam there. I enjoyed the sun on my face, and the wind had become warm, too. I chortled at the hilarity of swimming in the North Sea in early May--the famous wild swimming euphoria--and pondered that, like the North Sea, I was full of salt and water. Did my earliest ancestors crawl out of the North Sea? I was feeling rather amphibious. 

Benedict Ambrose was standing on the shore with a large towel and a hot thermos, and he looked cold and patient, so after 15 minutes or so, I got out. Interestingly, I was still warm for a bit, and then I was very, very cold. So I went inside, had a hot shower, got dressed and then sat on the sofa wrapped in blankets drinking hot water. I felt enormously pleased with myself and so repeated the exercise twice on Saturday. 

On Saturday afternoon B.A. opted to stay inside the house and watch my walrus impressions through binoculars. I put my towel and thermos on the green garden chair I set by the rocks, and this time I paddled about for half-an-hour. According to various internet sources, sea-bathing is good for the skin because of all the magnesium, and cold water swimming builds resilience and is generally good for one's mental health. 

If I understand this correctly, your body/brain  goes into total panic response when you plunge yourself into cold water, but the more you do it (and not die) the less your body feels inclined to go into total panic response. And, thus, when other stressful things happen to you--like someone you respect telling you you have a "funny job for a [your university] grad"--your body/brain greets that more calmly too. 

Sunday 1 May 2022

Home Economics: April Report (Bonus: Fuel Crisis!)

Last night Benedict Ambrose and I watched a BBC Panorama report on the cost of living crisis. It was quite miserable, lightened only by the scenic shots of the countryside. It presented the homes and worries of cash-strapped English people but did not offer any analysis except that fuel bills have gone up.  B.A. was irritated by the lack of analysis, and I felt ashamed of our grocery bills. One family has only £100 for groceries and everything else after "paying their bills"; they bring in.£2,000/month and look forward to their family support payments.  

The BBC didn't say what the bills were, except occasionally for the fuel. There was a dad with a car and a motorcycle; he needs one or the other to get to work, and filling the petrol tank was costing him £79. (I've just looked online, and it's certainly more than that now.) I felt very grateful that we don't have a car and also that we have a small, well-insulated flat. The people on the show lived in small, two-storey houses. I hate to think what they might be paying in rent. 

The reality of food poverty made me reluctant to blog about our monthly grocery shop and takeout/cafe sprees, but truth is what is. I will stress that our monthly grocery shop includes all items we need that we can get from Tesco, Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury's, or (rarely) Waitrose: cold medication, tissues, soap, dish soap, pens--all the ephemeral household items. If it comes from a supermarket and it's for our indoor use, I mark it down as "Grocs." 

April 2022: Groceries: £372.23; RBCT (Restaurants, Bars, Cafes, Takeaway): £74.10. Total: £446.33.

Now let us compare to months previous and to April 2021:

March 2022: Groceries: £277.72; RBCT: £115.24. Total: £392.96 

February 2022: Groceries: £307.15; RBCT: £166.80. Total £473.95

April 2021:  Groceries: £361.71; RBCT: £69.03. Total £430.74 

Full disclosure: Our combined grocery and RBCT budget for April 2022 was £450, for I envisioned lovely Easter season celebrations at restaurants. Instead, Benedict Ambrose and I got miserably sick with either the "super-cold" or COVID (all our at-home tests said negative, but we never took a PCR), so we stayed indoors consuming expensive cold medication and fancy tissue impregnated with skin lotion, or whatever. (B.A. bought that.) As I, cross and sniffly, stayed in bed all Easter Sunday, B.A. bought Easter dinner ingredients at super-snazzy Waitrose. He had also bought a bottle of gin, which was to go to our Easter Sunday Lunch hosts. Had we gone to this much missed Lunch, it would have been classified as GIFT. We did not, so I wrote it down as GROCS.  

I'm going to talk about fuel costs below, so skip to that if you find the customary deep dive into our RBCT spend boring. 

RBCT: D's croissant and cannolo in West End while returning from teaching; BA's lunch at Starbucks; BA-too-sick-to-cook Chinese takeaway (I forgot noodles, so cooked up spaghetti); D's coffee at favourite cafe; Saturday night Chinese takeaway (with proper noodles); D's coffee and doughnut at favourite cafe; BA's on-the-way-to-Alloa coffee from Cafe Nero; delectable takeaway fish suppers for two. No proper restaurant meal together to gladden our hearts, oh well. 

Gathering springtime fuel  

I may stop embarrassing myself with our food bills from now on to concentrate on fuel. Fuel bills seem less attached to personal virtue or lack thereof. We can blame them on the government or repressive foreign countries or massive corporations. Or we can dispense with blame and accept them as one of life's inevitabilities, like death and taxes. 

Like many other people in the United Kingdom last autumn, Benedict and I determined not to turn on the heat for as long as possible and then discovered mould growing in the dampest, coldest corner of our home. On came the heat. But now it is May, and the heat has been (mostly) off for two weeks now, and I wear my bathrobe over my pullover. Like many other people in the United Kingdom this April, I was cold. (We air out the damp corner room every day.)

Our fuel bills have risen steeply since last April, but again I feel incredibly grateful that we have a small, well-insulated flat. Edinburgh abounds in glorious period homes, and their fuel bills must be appalling.

Fuel Bills in £

April 2021: 57

May 2021: 57

June 2021: 57

July 2021: 57

Aug 2021: 87

Sept 2021: 87

Oct 2021: 90

Nov 2021: 90

Dec 2021: 100

And so on to May, when we will pay £102. This particular rise may be, however, because I boiled a can of condensed milk for 3 hours to make the caramel for our traditional Polish Easter mazurek (pictured). 

If you are stunned by our relatively low fuel costs, I recommend pondering if car-free, small-flat life is for you, or could be in the future. (Of course, you must then factor in the cost of public transportation.)