The Perfect Moment

It isn’t often that I can say that I’m feeling completely relaxed and stress free but every now and then there will be a rare time when everything simply comes together and creates a perfect moment.

Now is one of those times.

We are on the beach. It’s a family day out. Getting here has not been stress free, but then travelling in a car with children rarely is. But if you add to that horrendous ‘crawling almost to the point of being at a standstill’ traffic that stretches the final few kilometres of our journey into a seemingly endless and frustrating hour, combined with the overwhelming Summer heat and an ineffectual air conditioning system and things can start to get a little frayed. Combine those already shortened tempers with an arrival at a hugely overcrowded small beach town, jam packed with cars competing to find elusive parking spots and you would be forgiven for wishing that you had stayed at home watching Wimbledon in the coolness of indoors with free access to unlimited cups of tea.

But then, having finally found a place to park the car, having smothered two reluctant, fidgety children in sun cream, having channelled your inner packhorse in order to haul a ridiculous amount of beach paraphernalia down to the water in the stifling heat, you arrive at your destination. The deck chairs are set up, the sand toys are unpacked and the children run off to play. You turn your face to the sun, you close your eyes, take a deep breath and let the fresh sea breeze cool you down.

This is it.

This is that perfect stress free moment.

The children are playing harmoniously. They are entertained and will be for a long time. They aren’t arguing, they have space and free licence to run around and make as much noise as they want. I can sit here and watch them while enjoying the scenery. Even better, I can write. Everyone is content. There is no reason to be stressed.

I choose not to contemplate the inevitable time when we will have to pack up, when we will need to de-sand the children and even worse, start out on our return journey. I know it will take us forever to get home, crawling along once more in a haemorrhaged queue of traffic, in the stifling heat, trying to block out the tetchy, tired, squabbling children in the back seat and trying to keep cool in spite of the ineffectual air conditioning. But I won’t think about these things.

For now I will make the most of this stress free interlude. They don’t come around often.

I’m going to make the most of it.
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Estepona’s Amazing Street Art

I went on an art hunt to find all of the wonderful wall murals of Estepona. Here are the first 10 in chronological order.

1. La Venus can be found in the Barriada Mar y Sierra. It is 120 m2 and was created by Ana Cecilia Salinas in September 2012. If you look closely you will see that the artist has included a representation of the fertility amulet known as ‘La Venus de Estepona’. This is a clay Venus dated 5000 years ago which was found in Estepona in 2011 and which can be seen in the Estepona Archaeology Museum.
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2. Estepona Bermeja is in the Barriada de Los Televisores and is the second work by Ana Cecilia Salinas. It is 30m high and the red tones that the artist has used in the mural are intended to reflect the famously red earth colours of the Sierra Bermeja mountains. It is located close to the Plaza de Ajedrez and consequently it contains references to the world of chess. It was created in January 2013.
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3. La Casa de la Buena Gente (The House of the Good People) is by Conchi Alvarez. It is in Barriada Tres Banderas, measures 80 m2 and it was inaugurated in January 2013. The mural is a trompe l’oeil created over four storeys of a block of flats and it features some actual residents of the block. The artist intended for the mural to be an interactive experience and as such passers by can appear as if they are a part of the mural if they stand in the correct place. Conchi Alvarez has published a book about the mural and its creation.
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4. Pasen y Vean (Come and See) can be found in Calle Goya and is a collaborative work by local artist Elena Aguilera with Alejandro García and Manuel Aguilera. The theme of the mural is the circus world and it depicts the movement of trapeze artists and in oils and acrylics and was created in February 2013.
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5. Almas del Mar (Souls of the Sea) was inaugurated in April 2013 and was created by Blanca Larrauri. It is located in Avda San Lorenzo and the mural is a tribute to Estepona’s seafaring history. It is made up of 3 maritime scenes – boats returning from fishing, fishermen sewing nets and boats moored in the harbour.
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6. Tiempos de Claridad (Times of Clarity) is the third mural by Ana Cecilia Salinas and it was created in May 2013. This work is intended as a tribute to the natural scenery of Estepona and you can see that it has been created in two perspectives.
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7. Estepona Siglo 21 (Estepona 21st Century) is located in Plaza ABC. The mural was created by Nestor Prada García and it was inaugurated in June 2013. According to the artist it is a constructivist inspired mural depicting places and in Estepona such as Los Remedios church, Sierra Bermeja and the sea.
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8 & 9. Madre Amorosa (Loving Mother) and La Mirada de un Niño (The Eyes of a Child) are both by Francisco Alarcon and are located on Calle Terraza in Barriada Primavera. The murals are on two walls which are next to each other and were created in July 2013. Tones of grey, white and black have been used on both and it was the artist’s intention to honour the mother figure on one side and to highlight the importance of learning, personal development and creativity in children on the other.
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10. Fundacion Antonia Guerrero (Antonia Guerrero Foundation) is by Joaquín Fabian Aguilera Diaz and was inaugurated in October 2013. It is a tribute to Antonia Guerrero and in recognition of her work to improve the education of women in Estepona. It is created in paint and relief and it depicts a girl going up the stairs of Los Remedios church. The doves which can be seen at the topic the mural represent the liberation and freedom for women.

Fun At The Hospital

On Friday I had to have an MRI scan on my knees. I don’t know if you’ve ever been subjected to an MRI scan but if you haven’t I can assure you there are much better ways to spend your time. I was dreading the appointment because about a year ago I had my first MRI scan, also on my knees.

During the scan, which lasts about 20 minutes on each bit of you that is to be scanned, you have to lie extremely still and if you don’t quite manage it then the technician will come out from his little technician pod and he will tell you off a bit, getting increasingly miffed each time he is forced to emerge if you are a repeat offender. I was. I really couldn’t help it though. The room was very cold and so I was shivering and no matter how much I tried (and I did) and no matter how much I thought I was keeping absolutely motionless (and I did) every ten minutes or so the technician would abort his attempt at scanning me, leave his little technician pod and come into the scanning room to tell me that I was STILL moving and could I possibly try and lay still? I told him I was trying but he didn’t seem convinced. I explained that I was cold and so he gave me a thin blanket but at this point I was so cold it was going to take much more than a thin blanket to warm me up and stop me from shivering. Eventually he told me in an exasperated tone that if I wasn’t going to lie still then he would just have to do the scan as well as he could and that if the results were indecisive then we would know who was to blame. Oh dear.

And so the thought of this year’s appointment didn’t fill me with positivity.

It started quite well. I got to the hospital on time and without any significant incident. After that things went downhill a little. I signed in at the desk and the receptionist asked me for my mobile phone number because in order to be eligible to use the health insurance company you have to be sent an authorisation code via text message. Now, my phone has recently been playing up. It freezes all the time, takes forever to open apps and then suddenly stops them in the middle of something important. It really does have a mind of its own and not a very cooperative mind at that. So I gave the receptionist my phone number and we waited for the text message to arrive.

We waited and waited and waited. We looked from my phone to each other and smiled. We waited and waited and waited some more. She suggested that I step outside as maybe being in the building was inhibiting the arrival of the text. So I stood outside and waited and waited some more. Through the international language of mime I indicated through the window to the receptionist that there was still no joy and that I was coming back in. Just as I returned to the desk my phone dinged! Hurrah! And then it dinged again. And again. And again. The silly phone wouldn’t stop dinging. I was attracting the attention of people around me. The receptionist and I shared an awkward laugh at the ineffectiveness of my phone. In between messages continually arriving I was able to open one of them and read the all important code and then I was sent off down the corridor to wait in the waiting area, dinging merrily as I went. My arrival in the waiting area was heralded by a final resounding ding. My registration was complete.

Almost immediately I was summoned into a little room by a rather dashing young man. He asked me several questions intended to determine the possibility of me having any metal about my person or inside me. Having been judged metal free and suitable for scanning I changed into a crispy, blue hospital gown and matching crispy, green hospital slippers and I was lead to the scanner, trying not to rustle too loudly or to slip over in the aptly named slippers.

The dashing young man told me what was going to happen. I was to lie down, my knees were going to be put in some sort of support contraption and the right knee was going to be scanned first. He asked me where exactly the pain was. I pointed out the most painful part and he stuck what looked like a cod liver oil capsule (I don’t think it actually was a cod liver oil capsule) on the sore bit. That was quite interesting because it hadn’t happened last time. He gave me a squeezy alarm to use in the event that I should find myself needing assistance at any point during the scan. Perhaps he had heard on the scanning technician grapevine that I was a bit shivery and poorly behaved during my last scan because he asked me straight away if I wanted a blanket. Yes! Yes, I did! I did want a blanket! So I was wrapped up in a nice, fluffy blanket and he gave me some ear plugs because it gets rather noisy which was also a little bit exciting because I hadn’t been given ear plugs either last time. And so, after explaining that it would take 20 to 25 minutes for each knee and having ensured that I was quite comfortable, he launched me into the scanning tunnel.

The scan began. I was immediately bored. It came flooding back to me how very dull it had been last time and that it had actually been quite difficult. It’s not that I can’t lie inactive for extended periods of time, I can and I can do it quite well but when you are absolutely forbidden from moving, even a tiny bit, it can be quite hard to do. Whenever I’m at the dentist, usually mid-treatment and with my mouth crammed full of all sorts of dental paraphernalia as well as the hands of the dentist and often his assistant too I will suddenly get the overwhelming urge to cough or to swallow. Once I was at an acupuncturist and I was lying on the treatment table with lots of needles stuck in my legs, my arms, my hands, my face, my ears and in the top of my head. The acupuncturist instructed me not to move (I don’t think I could have if I’d wanted to), informed me that she would be back in 30 minutes and then disappeared. Well, immediately I wanted to sneeze, I was plagued by an itch and I wanted to scratch my nose. Then I began to think about what would happen if the fire alarm went off. It was all rather disconcerting and the 30 minutes absolutely crawled by.

In the scanning machine it was no different. I was tormented by a travelling itch and I was being teased by a stray bit of hair tickling my face. Even worse, I was suddenly aware that in my effort to keep my right leg still I had tensed it and now it was beginning to ache but I couldn’t relax it because I thought that might result in me moving and I didn’t want to get told off again. I looked for distractions.

The ceiling was made up of white square tiles. Each one had lots of pinholes punched in it in various curving patterns. First of all I tried to work out if every tile was different or if they were all the same but placed in different directions in order to create a more varied pattern and to disguise the fact that they were identical. Having discovered that they were indeed all the same I then began to see images appear in the patterns, rather like when you see shapes in clouds. I saw an egg, a stretching cat, a squashed pear and even Tom Daley diving off of a diving board. I also noticed that one of the tiles wasn’t quite straight and that was annoying so I tried not to look at it.

The scanning machine suddenly got very noisy. It started off with a loud noise that was exactly the same as that irritating noise that windscreen wipers make when you use them on a dry windscreen. I hate that noise. Swiftly after there was an additional noise a bit like a drumming rhythm. They carried on together for a while. Then it went quiet momentarily. Then there was a very loud noise that reminded me of the opening bars of ‘Body Moving’ by The Beastie Boys. Then it all became quite riotous as the windscreen wipers, the drummer and The Beastie Boys all played along together at great volume. I remember wondering if I had put the ear plugs in correctly because it was very loud and not noticeably quieter than I remembered it being last year when I was without ear plugs.

Having inspected the ceiling tiles in minute detail I looked around for something else to distract me. Right above my head, on the arch of the opening of the scanning machine was the word ‘SIEMENS’. I decided to rearrange the letters and make some new words. It was a bit like being on ‘Countdown’. What fun! But it was short lived. I found the words ‘men’, ‘semen’ and ‘mess’. Hmmm, there was a bit of a theme developing and it was conjuring up some unpleasant images. I abandoned that idea.

I tried to block out how tired my tensed right leg was feeling but only succeeded in comparing it to my relaxed, more comfortable left leg which then made the right leg seem even more uncomfortable. I wondered how much time had passed, wishing that I had thought to count to 60 twenty times at the beginning as then I’d have some sort of idea of how much time was left.

I tuned in to the noises again. They were actually becoming quite relaxing and were lulling me into a calm state, in fact I was starting to feel sleepy. What luck! I could sleep away the final, dragging minutes! But no. I was scared that as I passed from wakefulness into sleep I’d do one of those jumping, jerking, startled type movements that can happen when you fall asleep. That wouldn’t do at all. That would be sure to get me told off and then we would have to start all over again. Sleeping was definitely off.

At that moment everything went quiet, I heard the door open and the dashing, young man appeared above me. I braced myself for the disappointment of being told that it hadn’t been successful and that we were going to have to start all over again, but no, he was smiling and he said that now we would do the other knee. The cod liver oil capsule was now stuck on the sore bit of my left knee and I was launched into the tunnel again. The second twenty minutes passed in a similar, crawling fashion but they did pass. Eventually the scan was over and I had done it well. The dashing young man was still smiling and he seemed quite pleased with everything and so I was allowed to go and get changed.

In the changing room I tried to think if I could possibly use the crispy, blue hospital gown or the crispy, green hospital slippers for anything at home or at school. It seemed a shame to leave them there if I could find a practical use for them. But no, that was a silly idea. There was really nothing I could use them for. Besides I would look ridiculous and sadly desperate if I was caught smuggling out hospital garments. I did put the earplugs in my bag though. Anyone who knows anything about my home life will know that I can definitely find a use for ear plugs.

I left the hospital feeling quite proud of myself and I enjoyed the warmth of the sun after having spent so long in the chilly air of the hospital. I checked my phone. It would seem the final text message that had earlier heralded my arrival in the waiting area hadn’t been the final text message after all. Ten more new messages had arrived while my bag was in the changing room. I really must get a new phone.
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Image – http://www.healthcare.siemens.co.uk

Just When I Thought It Was Safe To Go Back In The Water

I don’t swim much. I cycle a lot and I run whenever my knees allow it but swimming has never been top of my fun list, probably because I’m a bit rubbish when it comes to being in the water. In a swimming pool I get cold quickly and bored even quicker and as for swimming in the sea, well I’ve never quite been able to banish irrational thoughts of an impending shark attack from my mind and so swimming in the sea doesn’t appeal either. I’ll happily paddle old lady style in the shallow water but I’d prefer not to go out any deeper.

Years ago, when I lived in New Zealand I went swimming with dolphins. We had sailed out to sea for about an hour and so I suspect the water would have been quite deep and there had also been sightings of sharks along the coastal waters at the time and so the chance of falling prey to a shark attack was probably more likely than it had ever been at any other time in my life and so nobody was more surprised than me when I had leapt overboard and swam about happily with the dolphins. I can’t pretend that the Jaws type scenarios that had haunted me for so long were completely forgotten but I did manage to keep a lid on my fear for a while. Yes, I did very well until having swum around underwater for some time, surrounded by a pod of some 300 dolphins and having squeaked along with them as we had been encouraged to do, I eventually surfaced and noticed that I was a long way from the boat. A long, long way. Immediately the door to my imagination was thrown wide open and the ‘Jaws’ type scenarios flooded in and they brought some friends with them, scenarios from ‘Open Water’, ‘Deep Blue Sea’ and even ‘Piranha!’. And so, in the style of a film character who is suddenly aware that they are being pursued by a shark and who is being urged to “Swim! Swim!” by a panicked friend onboard the boat and who is tormented by the unavoidable realisation that the deadly fin is getting ever closer I focused solely on the boat ahead and swam as fast as I could while trying to fight off the wild imaginings of what could be approaching me from behind. I of course made it back to the boat and suffered the obligatory heart stopping moment when I pulled myself out of the water, fully expecting a shark to grab hold of my foot, snatch me from the safety that had been oh so close but which was now oh so far away and drag me under the water never to be seen again. That clearly didn’t happen but it could have done! And this is why I don’t often go in the sea.

Last weekend I went to El Chorro which is famous for its beautiful lakes. They are absolutely stunning and the water is unbelievable. It is a glisteningly seductive shade of blue, the sort of blue that you just can’t help but want to leap into, especially on a hot, sunny day. Even me, little old water fearing, swimming indifferent me, I too wanted to be enveloped in the uniquely blue coolness. What could possibly happen in a lake? There could be no possibility of a shark attack, the lake was surely the perfect location for a quick, cooling dip. And so it came about that Miranda and I decided to go for a swim. We waded through the sticky mud underfoot and then swam out a short way and saw our friend, Helen who was in a kayak and sailing around the lake and soon after, on the horizon we spotted our friend Jackie, a serious swimmer who had set off a short time before we had for a ‘proper’ swim. Meanwhile, Miranda and I swam about a bit more sedately, chatting away and enjoying the whole experience. After a while we noticed that we had unwittingly swum some way from the land.

In my head I had been secretly entertaining the idea that I could possibly swim across to the other side. It was undoubtedly a long way off and I really wasn’t sure that I actually could swim that far and so I had kept the idea to myself. Whenever it surfaced I would push it back down again, thinking to myself, ‘Whatever you do don’t say it, for if you do you’ll have to do it.’ But again and again the thought insisted on popping into my head.

“This is so lovely isn’t it?” said Miranda.
“Oh yes, it’s wonderful!” I agreed.
The thought popped into my head. I pushed it back down.
“The water is fantastic!” said Miranda.
“It’s perfect!” I agreed.
The thought popped into my head. I pushed it back down.
“I think I can see Helen over there in the kayak.” said Miranda.
“Oh yes! Me too!” I replied.
The thought popped into my head. I pushed it back down.
“Shall we head back?” asked Miranda.
“Yes, we could go back now…” I said.
The thought popped into my head. I pushed it back down. It popped back up.
“…or we could swim to the other side?”

It was out.

“Do you think we could make it?” asked Miranda.
“There’s only one way to find out!”
“Ok! Let’s do it!”

And so we swam and swam and swam. We looked up, the other side was a LONG way off. We swam and swam and swam some more. We looked up, the other side was still a LONG way off. We swam and swam and swam some more. We looked up. The other side was STILL a long way off! The other side just wasn’t getting any closer. Why on earth had I had such a stupid idea? Why on earth had I let it out of my head? I’m not a swimmer, why would I think that swimming across a huge lake was a good idea?

“I’m going to turn back…” Miranda said after a further 10 minutes or so of swimming.
Here was my chance to get out of it! It had arrived! The opportunity to avoid having to do this ridiculous swim across the lake to this seemingly unreachable target!
“…and swim backstroke for a bit.”
And there it went.
Oh.
Oh well.
“Me too. Maybe when we eventually turn back around the other side will be closer!”
We laughed about how the other side continued to be far off in the distance and we turned around to swim backwards.
We swam and swam and swam.
We swam and swam and swam.
We swam and swam and swam.
Eventually, after another 10 minutes or so, we turned around.
The other side was still some way off but by now we had come so far we were determined to get to the other side. As we continued on we laughed about our predicament, jokingly reassuring ourselves that Helen could always come and rescue us in the kayak, or maybe super strong swimmer Jackie could drag us both back to shore in the event of an emergency!

Eventually we did reach the other side. It took a long time but we got there. We were ecstatic! We had made it! We dragged ourselves up onto the bank which wasn’t easy because it was quite steep and muddy and I kept sliding back down rather inelegantly into the water. We sat on the side and surveyed our achievement. We had certainly come a long way. As we sat there we tried to work out the distance across the lake. Miranda thought it was about 1km. Our musings were interrupted by the sudden realisation that the wind was getting up. On the way over the wind had been behind us but on the way back it would be against us and it was getting stronger. The waves were getting bigger. We decided to head off, the sooner we set off the sooner we would be back.

We flopped back into the water. It seemed somewhat colder now after sitting in the sun and from this vantage point in the water the waves definitely looked bigger than before. And so we began our return journey.

I was initially buoyed on by the thought that we were going quite quickly. We were cutting through the waves and speeding along quite impressively. This wasn’t going to be so bad after all!

“The waves rushing towards us really create an illusion that we are swimming really quickly don’t they?” Miranda said.
She was right. It was an illusion. We weren’t racing along at all.

I don’t think time or distance has ever passed so interminably slowly as it did on that return journey. We were still laughing as we went and we were chatting away but nothing could change the fact that this was hard work. The waves were slapping in my face making it hard to see and difficult to breathe, I kept getting water in my mouth and more alarmingly I had a recurring cramp in my left leg. I tried to recall if I had ever heard of anyone drowning as result of having a leg cramp while swimming. I couldn’t and I didn’t ask Miranda if she could, I didn’t even tell her I had cramp. I kept it to myself. Whenever it cramped I would turn over and swim backwards and the kicking action would make it go away but I was worried that it could get worse.

We continued on for what seemed like hours. I tried to convince myself that we were getting closer, that we were almost there.
“I think we are getting close to being half way across now!” said Miranda.
“Oh, really? I was thinking that perhaps we had passed the half way point already.” I answered.
“I don’t think so. Not yet.”
Oh.
Oh dear.
We swam on.

The final stretch was a combination of fighting off cramps, obsessing about the packet of Doritos that Miranda said that she had in her bag waiting for us on arrival should such an occasion ever arise, meeting a fellow swimmer who told us that the lake was indeed about 1km across each way, looking forward to lying in the sun on blessed terra firma and trying to convince myself that a splash of water that I thought I had seen a few metres ahead while I was swimming backwards really wasn’t the flick of a shark’s tail.

We eventually came close enough to land that I allowed myself to believe that I was going to survive this and I said as much to Miranda.
“You thought we wouldn’t make it?” she said in disbelief.
I had thought that. For a momentary, fleeting second, as my leg was cramping and the end seemed so incredibly far off I really had entertained the thought that maybe I would just have to live out in the middle of the lake, that I really wouldn’t be able to make it back to land!

We finally reached the edge and staggered through the squelchy mud that we had previously felt squidging unpleasantly between our toes so long ago. We turned around to look back at where we had come from. We had done it! It had taken forever but we had done it! With my feet on dry land, the sun on my back and my mouth stuffed full of Doritos we regaled our friends with tales of our bravery and derring-do. I even had a little doze. I had earned it. When I woke up I felt a considerable amount of pride in my achievement and I even indulged in a little self satisfied smugness that I had swum so far and for so long.

My feelings of endurance, achievement and slight smugness were instantly crushed by the sight of Jackie, gracefully, athletically and only now emerging from the water.

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