A Rather Close Run (or Rather Swum) Thing
Christian Socialist Movement 'Olympic challenge' sponsorship event featured as an ‘English Channel Swim’ inspired by the Socialist success in France
What could be more natural after the Socialist victory in the French Presidential elections than an English Channel Swim for sponsorship and sheer celebration?
I felt suddenly young and enthusiastic, imagining Labour MPs as marker buoys (and gals) along the way, and our representatives in the Lords being there to send me off and greet me at my destination. I would rely for inspiration the Biblical text Isaiah chapter 40 verse 31, as at 73, so not quite the first flush of youth, that even if I did not ‘rise up as with the wings of eagles’ I might somehow finish.
There would be no U-turns (or non-U ones). However, being political, a few tumble turns were on the cards both to be on the lookout for anything fishy in the water and to be wary of dodgy Sand Banks. Crawling would definitely be the basic method of propulsion. However, if frontal efforts do not ensure progress, something sneaky on the back would be the alternative strategy. In recognition that you can’t always get things right, there would be spells of ‘clean breast of it’ stroke.
On second thoughts…..
On reflection, I realised that the Channel is a bit wide at Bournemouth. To make matters worse, those new aircraft carriers are not yet commissioned, so I could be short on support boats. It would also indeed be Gaul-ing if they then refused accept a soggy passport on arrival. Finally, we could hardly ask our MPs to tread water all that time.
The revised plan became as follows. The buoys provided by Bournemouth Council would have to suffice. Meaningful contact with France would take the form of consumption of French cheese, and the link to the Upper House would be implied by going Pier to Pier. i.e. Bournemouth Pier to Boscombe Pier. OK?
Reality dawns (or perhaps degenerates to low afternoon?)
On the day rather a lot of things went wrong
We needed to park a long way from Boscombe Pier (where my support team would be based). The Undercliff car park was full, and would have cost £7 50 anyway. After that, it took me nearly half an hour to walk to Bournemouth Pier for the start. I discovered half way that I had forgotten my goggles and so would have to swim without them. It was hot! Fear of dehydration brought me ‘down on my knees’ and drink from ‘living fountains’ in the form of the taps provided for the beach hut owners.
Bournemouth Beach was heaving with people both in the sea and out. I waded determinedly through the throng who I assumed had turned out to see the commencement of my swim. Anyway, I think the Lifeguard noticed as I headed out in the direction of that offshore continent of Europe
Once in the water, and as near France as the yellow buoys would allow, progress seemed slow as I swam along. After about an hour and a half, I went up to one of the yellow buoys. Here, I stopped swimming for a moment, and soon realised I was being swept rapidly back towards Bournemouth Pier. My best efforts at back or breast stroke could only enable me to 'hold my own'. I had totally underestimated the strength on the current. Luke 14 28ff comes to mind.
Swimming nearer the shore to avoid the worst of the current, I had to watch out for others who ventured into the waters. I arrived at Boscombe having completed the longest swim of my life 2hrs 35minutes after setting out. My witness, spectator and wife, was rather pleased to see me emerge from the water. Margaret deserves special thanks for her ‘being there’ for me. No wings ‘as of an eagle’, but I did manage a little butterfly to show there is life in the old dog yet.
Had I made it a little earlier, I would have also been welcomed by another member, Donald Barr, who had been loyally peering out to sea in vain for an hour and a half.
Margaret and I then had the walk back to the car to find that a flock of birds had deposited ‘luck’ upon our car. We could hardly see out of one side of the windscreen until we had cleared it.
That night for tea, we sensed the pleasure that a sudden boost to the French economy might bring to the socialist leader in France. It was, after all, his electoral success inspired the swim in the first place. We hoped he would realise that this boost had been brought about by our purchase of his very own 'Président Brie, Produit en France'. It tasted good anyway.
I had rescheduled the swim a couple of days early because of adverse weather reports. This might have been premature. However, if I had needed to battle against wind and waves as well as the current, I might not have made it. There is, yet another factor. Swimming on the Saturday could have been interpreted as providing a distraction from the first day of the London Olympics, and this would hardly have been sporting.
Would I do it all again? Swimming against the tide in politics is what any Christian Socialist needs to be prepared to do: it is so much easier to go with it. If had done the swim in the opposite direction, I would hardly need to swim at all, just let the current take me. There must be a sermon in that.
Finally, I want to thank all who encouraged me, sponsored me, expressed concern for my safety, and basically gave me determination to go at the moment I realised that I might not make it. Contributions are still coming in - it is not too late to give to CSM so that we can be better resourced to bring Christian insights to bear on policies and decisions in politics local, national and international.
Martin Holst, 09/08/2012