Looking Beyond …

thoughts and deliberations .. a theme is too restrictive

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What is a good sport?

..  or how to make a CVSsplash …


I have just returned from a swim.  I have never been that keen on swimming, but occasionally it provides the right balance of exertion and mindlessness to be my chosen form of exercise.  Tonight, the driving factor is the fact that I am part of a team undertaking a sponsored swim on Saturday and I am beginning to get a little fearful.

One of my problems when swimming is that I forget that I am supposed to be putting any effort into it.  I start off with good intent to burn some calories and improve my style, but am soon lost in thought and find myself in the metaphorical slow lane (if only people would stay in their lanes) being overtaken at alarmingly frequent intervals.  It feels like the equivalent of being on the “lazy table” at school – but that is another story.

Today, true to form, I become lost in thought.   I occupy my time with thinking about how and why I got myself into this sponsored swim situation, and how important it might be to raise as much money as possible…

I once climbed Ben Nevis to raise funds for the Neurofibromatosis Association, but that was a cause that pulled on a lot of friends’ and families’ emotional strings as my young son was going through a tough time with the medical condition. It was effortless to draw in the £s and it was an exciting venture to climb – despite the rain and mist.  I vowed then that I would not become the serial thrill seeker, looking for other people to sponsor my adventures. Keeping this vow has not presented me with an insurmountable challenge as I am neither the sporting kind, nor the thrill seeker.

But am I …   (I am on about length 10 by now – a slow thinker as well as a slow swimmer – and of course I am sparing you every detail of my thought meanderings) ….. a good sport?

A quick review of my sporting achievements takes less than a length of the pool, but reflections on my sporting humiliation last somewhat longer…

It started with gym lessons in primary school.  Lessons consisted of little more than moving in a directed way to the unconvincing instructions played on tape in the school hall.  But it was not a good start.   “You are a tree being blown in the wind” coaxed the lady in the ‘storytime with Mother’ Radio 4 voice.  “No”, my five year old head would tell me, “I am an embarrassed and scared rigid girl standing here in my red pants” (don’t ask), “I am also nauseated by the smell of the soon to be suffered school dinner”.

Things didn’t improve.  A lack of eye hand co-ordination, a complete absence of confidence, and the inability to call upon friends with any kind of sporting prowess or acumen, ensured that all school sporting experience continued along the same vein.  There were, naturally, no out of school sporting experiences.

…. (I am navigating length 15 by now) ….

I exaggerate. A brief time of enjoyment in a canoe up and down the River Dee in Chester comes to mind, but that is quickly laid to rest by the memory of my father’s judgement on my swimming style as a teenager.  A happy trio of siblings, we were, enjoying a gentle swim and a splash around in the River Allen in Northumberland.  But Dad had observed a problem with my stroke style and pulled me aside to ensure that I was aware, through an explanation of physics that involved at least one of Newton’s laws, that the effort I put into my stroke was not being fully rewarded by my progress across the river.  I seem to remember being more uncomfortable about the fact that he had been watching me in my swimming costume (teenage girls are sensitive creatures) than eager to take on board the only instruction in swimming technique that I was ever likely to get.

(I’m now at length 20, and I am wondering if I would be progressing any more quickly if I had dained to listen to my father’s advice).

Fast forward a few years, and I had decided that it would be in my interests to overcome my firmly established and complete aversion to any sporting activity which gave as much as a nod to the competitive factor.  In the first flush of a new relationship, I agreed to take up squash with my new boyfriend – now husband.  Regretting a lack of progress, I decided that my problem – much as with the swimming – was a lack of determination to move more quickly when the target was before me.  So, in a moment of unprecedented enthusiasm, I took on the challenge of connecting with the ball as its estimated projectory lay way beyond my reach.

…. (Reliving the trauma of the broken collar bone that was the result of my efforts, enables me to reach length 30,  although feeling a little exhausted).

So a good sport, in the literal sense, I am most certainly not.

The sponsored swim challenge, however, is all about teamwork, entering into the spirit of things, raising money for a good cause – or three good causes in this particular instance and being a good sport in a kind of all inclusive – in it together – kind of way.    So, I wondered …. (over the course of the next 20 lengths) …. How am I squaring up on that one?

I think of being a “good sport” as implying having a good humour.  I have spoken before about my general lack of humour.  I can sit through hours of Laurel and Hardy without so much as a twitch of the mouth.  I am, indeed, the master of being serious

… (This is getting tedious, yes I know – but so was this evening’s swim.  I will speed things up for a few lengths if I can stay focussed for a while).

Recently I was challenged as to my attitude to supporting people on their sponsored bike rides, spelling bees, cake eating marathons, sky dives in Tasmania…. you get my drift.  I was finding it all too easy to keep on my cynical hat and declare such fundraising as inefficient and purely for the benefit of the participant.  Pausing to think things through (perhaps I was swimming at the time), I realised that what motivates people is usually a passion for their cause and a desire to make a difference.  I concluded that unless I could find no connection with the charity whatsoever, it was a powerful thing to have the privilege of being able to encourage friends and family with a donation.  When not engaging, I am withholding approval of being a good sport, as well as withholding funds for the cause.

….  (I am running out of steam now, having attempted a length of crawl with the pool now being empty of potential mockers.  I revert to slow and steady wins the race.  Length 45)…

I haven’t even started to tell you about our good causes.  We want to help local charities and local people – in keeping with the common charity for whom we work.  My own job is somewhat removed from the front face of fundraising and charity survival, but this is an increasingly controversial topic at a time when charities are increasingly having to reach out to the public to stay afloat.  It seemed to me, to be a good idea to identify with the charities we are serving by engaging in something practical in an upfront sort of way (like staying afloat, for example).  The causes are important, and the main motivation for continuing with what is possibly a doomed attempt at being a good sport.  In a nutshell,  homelessness, supporting families under stress, and supporting sufferers of dementia.  Who can’t make a connection with at least one of these?

I have to say, it has not been easy.  Gathering and communicating with a team of six, five of whom are part-timers has presented its difficulties.  There have been a lot of emails and a lot of cancelled meetings – not least due to my double booking errors.  We seem to have spent more time debating, designing and then rejecting swimming hats than actually getting in a pool and seeing if we can remember how to swim.  The marketing strategy hasn’t quite gone according to plan.  This is worrying, since I have the word ‘marketing’ in my job title!

(thankfully I have reached my 50 length target now and am spared the journey of thinking that through for tonight) ….

Duck related pictures, puns and phrases have been used to draw attention to the fact that we are pretty much a team of ducks out of water.  Er… I just realised, I haven’t actually used that metaphor yet in our campaign!  Oh well, there is still time – 4 days to go.

Which reminds me, if you feel inclined, do contribute, you can do so here:




Lip Service, Gritted teeth and Mixed Motives …. 3 more acts

plastic packaging

Tuesday found me on a mission that bore no relation to 40Acts and left little time to even contemplate.  But I was being called upon to consider the impact of the volume of plastic we use and abuse through our daily life.  I have been well versed in the rigours of recycling for some years – having purchased a four compartment recycling bin for our fitted kitchen well before the councils started asking us to separate our discarded goods into categories for recycling.  I am ready with my righteous anger when ever I see over packaged goods.  I carry the reduce, reuse, recycle mantra in my head.  I feel a pang of conscience every time I confine something to the land fill section of the rubbish collection.

It was, however, without a great deal of conviction that I entered into the plastic challenge for that day.  I did start to note items of plastic that I came across for which alternatives might be found but that didn’t get beyond three items with the level of thinking I was able to apply.  As I rushed to catch a bus for a hospital visit, I grabbed the pack of sandwiches that had been sent home with my Dad the previous evening upon his hospital discharge, and hastily attempted to liven up the contents with some tomato slices.  This, I knew, was going to be my best chance of getting any refreshment during the day. Having consumed the less than appetising hospital fare, and not having yet had a chance to seek out a bin, the packaging was carried around with me for the rest of the day.  Later on, at the nursing home to which my mother had now been delivered, some rather more tasty looking sandwiches sat untouched on her tea time plate.  Rather more for the amusement of re-using the sandwich package than anything else, I was able to refill it with the superior offering and return it back to the fridge whence it had been taken at the start of the day.  Voila!  Dad now had ready-made supper – which with one arm completely out of action would be a blessing to him – and I had managed to pay lip service to the day’s challenge.

view of Ben Nevis

view of Ben Nevis

Wednesday, now back to my normal home/work routine, came the opportunity to respond to the nudge of generosity, whatever that was going to look like.  In fact, I knew what it was that I was being nudged about even as I was showering in the morning.  I can no longer remember how it came about that I spent the early minutes of my morning considering my general attitude to sponsorship requests, and being challenged to be more generous and less negative in my reaction.

I have never seen much point in sponsorship as a form of fundraising.  I remember as a painfully shy child being asked to collect sponsorship from friends and neighbours for activities – memories of which have long since faded into insignificance.  I would squirm as I squeamishly requested a penny per step, or skip, or word spell or whatever else the over zealous  leader of the village’s latest uniformed organisation had happened to dream up. I would have given my every last penny had I had any to give, in order to avoid having to ask.  As an adult, I have never really understood why donning a heavy sweat inducing animal costume to undertake some pointless activity should bear any relation to what constitutes a cause worthy of my giving; nor have I felt that kindly disposed to funding someone’s holiday adventure in disguise.

But for some reason, I got to thinking about the one time I voluntarily raised funds for the Neuro Foundation.  You see, everything changes when you have a personal connection.  When you see the value of a charity through your own personal experience, when you start to imagine what could be done if there were enough funds. Then you just want to do your bit, whatever it takes.  That is how I came to fleece all my friends and relations as I climbed Ben Nevis many years ago. On Wednesday,  I remembered the encouragement of their generosity which I had valued just as much as a message of support to the family as to the charity in their financial gain and exposure.    So, my act became a resolution to go back over the past few months and reconsider my initial responses, with a somewhat more generous heart.  My bank account is now somewhat lighter.


By Thursday, I felt ready to take on the next challenge.  The task “mind the gap” was about learning from and giving to different generations.  In a fit of enthusiasm and jumping directly to the ‘feeling inspired’ option, I was tasked with either looking at mentoring a young person or making regular visits to a care home.  The latter caused a decidedly audible kind of huffy response as I consider myself to be spending rather more time in a care home of late than is good for me.  Taking on extra visiting of this nature in order to fulfil this Lenten adventure – NO.

But, I did feel challenged to look again at why I find relationships with the younger generation so difficult.  I am not comfortable with teenagers or young adults (with the sometimes exception of my own!) and  I never seem to keep a conversation going without sounding like an inquisitor.  Becoming a mentor seemed a step too far, and yet I do have three god-daughters between 17 and 23 and so thoughts about the task remained with me through the day.    Carrying these thoughts with me, along with a work related motivation and a persistently ignored nagging that started pretty much with my new job near the town centre, I therefore decided that today was the day that I would venture into The Fountain YMCA Coffee shop  in the Bus station.

Sitting down with the café manager I hope I managed to offer a bit of interest, encouragement or support over an excellent coffee.  It wasn’t quite what I expected, but it did break the ice and I am sure I will be back.  Maybe one day, I will be in the position to offer a helping hand or word to one of the young people who frequent the coffee shop and spend much of the day there without daring to hope for much of a future, and if not, and with the quality and cost of the coffee, nothing lost if I don’t.