Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Thank you, thank you!

Still gathering the last few bits of sponsorship but it's looking as though we've raised £340.00. That is astonishing, and we, at FRED, can't thank you enough!

And yes, I do feel proud - really glad I did it.

I didn't lose much (if any) weight - but then muscle weighs more, doesn't it? And I didn't skimp on any foodie treats that passed my way......

I have discovered that reading can positively affect my swimming (although probably not as much as if I'd also watched the videos at swimming.org).

And swimming - or rather blogging - has affected my reading. Researching swimming techniques, how to embed links & how to promote a blog have just been part of it. Gathering relevant material by scanning newspaper headlines & following leads heard on the radio also become important daily activities for the blogger.

You'll have noticed  me teaching myself to blog over the past weeks. The dodgy formatting and the introduction of 'embedded' links later rather than sooner, in place of great screeds of copied and pasted web addresses bear some witness to how far I've come.

If anyone else is thinking of doing a blog to support a fundraising event  in future, this would be my advice:
  • you don't have to write something everyday. You may brim over with ideas, but they gradually tail off - so keep it manageable.
  • make your header simple - mine was too pretentious. Describe the charity, the activity and how to pay. The most common complaint about mine was from busy people who just wanted to sponsor me rather than read the blog. They couldn't see how to do this easily enough. 
  • do try to promote it and your sponsored event everyday. When it's a new post, promote it via your Facebook contacts, if you have them. On other days, promote via your email contacts, a group at a time (family, friends, colleagues, former colleagues, social groups)
  • be (relatively) shameless. Feeling embarrassed about asking is normal - but a good (not close) acquaintance of mine replied: 'I'll sponsor you for having the cheek - I know how hard it is from something I did last year'. You can't predict who will say 'yes', so you just have to try.
  • make sure your event is truly personally challenging. If it's something you could actually do any day of the week I doubt people will sponsor you.
  • make notes of possible material whenever and wherever you come across it. Sitting down to write with no inspiration is no fun!  You won't use it all. Sometimes you'll sit down intending to write about one aspect and it'll morph into another and you'll have material left for another post.
  • if you are on Facebook, search for people and try them. Even if they don't sponsor you, you might, as I did, find several old friends.
  • put up posters in relevant places - you'll advertise your charity at the same time.
Other advice comes via my sister again:  she blogged about me! But since she is a marketing professional, it is definitely worth another look.

Finally, do enjoy and do 'go for it'. It will be worth it!

Many thanks again


Sunday, 2 June 2013

Bone weary but proud

My last two swims dedicated to my father, recovering in hospital having undergone major surgery on Friday.

Friday's swim: I awake muscle-achey after 3 swims & a drive to Birmingham and back. Half the pool is privately booked, two people in the medium lane, so I share the slow lane. I start at the opposite end to usual so front crawl is achieved in length 14 rather than 13 as I still can't face going from shallow to deep on that one. But it is achieved and all other lengths also.

When I leave the pool I'm no longer aching, but after hearing my father's out of surgery & doing well, I find I have to sleep for two hours.

Saturday: Of course having slept in the day means I don't sleep at night! Not achey but weary today. Seriously lost count of my lengths so, to be certain, I did possibly 22 instead of the necessary 20. But it may even have been 24!

Front crawl is still traumatic and has to be approached by giving myself a preliminary pep talk: 'Slowly. Slow down your breathing. Take everything slowly. Slow arms. You can do it.' Even so I keep myself going towards the end, not only with this mantra, but also by remembering 'The Highwayman' poem by Alfred Noyes. Not at all suitable for slow rhythm really but, as I said, these last two swims are dedicated to my father and he read this to us at bedtime when we were little:

"The Highwayman came riding, riding, riding
Up to the old inn door.'

If you read the blogpost entitled 'Success, pride and the pleasures of persistence', 'The Highwayman' was one of the poems I used to enthuse one of the Forest View School groups during World Book Week. They adored the rhythm of the words (I made them close their eyes so they could see the pictures in their heads); they adored the fact that it was my father who had shared this with us; they adored also the fact that 'some people think it shouldn't be read to children' because 'it's a bit bloodthirsty!'.

Always a good plan I find, to appeal to children's desire to be a little subversive when you're trying to enthuse about something.......! I wonder if it works with adult learners too?

And on that note I celebrated my final swim with a final length of ......would you believe....Butterfly?!

There will be one final post in just over a week's time when I hope to share with you (and thank you for) the money we have raised for FRED. But of course, there is still time for you to contribute if you'd like to. Please  send any donations to:

Frank Rainer, Treasurer, Oaklands, George Road, Yorkley, Lydney, Gloucestershire, GL15 4TL

Cheques should be made out to Forest Read Easy Deal.  Thank you.

And now, I think I need some more paracetamol.......  :-)

Thursday, 30 May 2013

How's the swimming going?

My most frequently asked question of the moment!

Wednesday: Everything at a run today.

Trying not to be so early as to have to share lanes, I get too absorbed in my chosen filler activity (for once, not reading!) and end up a little later than intended.

So four very brisk breast stroke lengths, four back stroke, another four breast stroke and only now do I allow myself to pause and face front crawl. I deliberately choose length 13 again, deciding it's lucky for me. Catch my breath firmly then very very slowly and considerately let myself set off. And I do make it to the other end. See - Mrs 'Born Trier' triumphs again.

But by now I've only got a couple of minutes left, with  7 more lengths to do. The swiftest lengths I've ever achieved get me to 18 lengths and I beg the attendant for the last two -

 'Oh, go on then!, Why not.'

Thursday:   I time it perfectly. There is someone in the slow lane. And the medium lane. So I opt for.....da-dah! The fast lane.

Not that I'm particularly fast now, though yesterday's performance gives me confidence. It's just that that's the empty lane. Having said that, I realise I used to worry: 'what counts as slow? what counts as medium? Oooh heck! I don't know where I should go!' but I now realise it's all relative: 'Am I faster than they are?'  And more importantly: 'where is there most room?'

Having learnt to improve my swimming, I now have another thing to worry about. My jaw has become prone to stiffness. I date it from bumping my head on the side of the pool. The dentist gave me some exercises for it yesterday, asking 'have you been  grinding your teeth a lot recently, or may be clenching them while you're swimming?'

Well, no, but there's a definite tendency towards frowning, squishing up my face and other general gurning. And as for the exercises! 'Now you look like a proper school librarian', says my husband. 'Very miserable'.

Thank you, darling & I love you too! I'll have you know that that miserable school librarian image is a very outdated myth!

Yesterday I woke up to the Radio 4 news: a Save the Children report shows poorly nourished children have lower levels of literacy. Such children are 20% more likely to make a mistake when reading a sentence as simple as 'the sun is hot'.

Thousands of children were studied in the developing countries of Ethiopia, India, Peru & Vietnam. The report is calling on the G8 nations to make nutrition a priority to stop the damage to life chances that occurs even before these children reach school age.

There are pockets of poverty in this country too. They say it is increasing. I wonder therefore whether the need for FRED may actually increase. I hope not. 

If you'd like to help us help those who need us now, please send your donation in support of my swimming efforts to:

Frank Rainer, Treasurer, Oaklands, George Road, Yorkley, Lydney, Gloucestershire, GL15 4TL

with cheques made out to Forest Read Easy Deal. 

Thank you


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Blowing our trumpets....

Half term changes the dynamic.

I was a little early again, not having to wait for my son, but the clientele at the pool also changed. Two people in 'my' slow lane already, a child and a parent or possibly coach. The girl had really good swimming style so I was relieved but not surprised when they escaped to the 'medium' lane after putting up with me for a couple of lengths.

The butterfly was fine, though I have no idea what it looked like. A little disappointingly I only managed front crawl as two half lengths. Not sure what happened really - perhaps I wasn't taking it slowly enough. Or perhaps another attack of the self fulfilling prophecies.

To counteract anything of that tendency though, a large envelope arrived on the doormat this lunchtime. The bid to the Big Lottery Awards for All Fund I wrote about in this blog has been successful.

I've talked a fair bit about our coaches and our learners in these posts, but I've not said much about FRED's management team nor about our 'coach co-ordinator' Sheila.

Sheila's role is crucial. She is the first port of call for anyone interested in becoming a coach. She's also the first contact for anyone wanting to become a learner or to refer a learner. And vitally she not only matches new learners with the best coach for them as an individual, she also keeps in touch with each 'learning pair' and monitors progress, notes any difficulties and provides gentle support to all parties.

As she previously performed a similar role professionally,  FRED is extremely lucky to be able to take advantage of her experience. Sheila chooses not to be a member of the management team but provides it with a huge amount of feedback, allowing the rest of us to work out the direction in which FRED needs to go and therefore the overall shape of the bids that need to be made.

Our secretary, Vicky, joined FRED originally as its first volunteer coach and fairly early on became co-opted as volunteer secretary. At an event to celebrate FRED's first year anniversary, the first such event I attended, she spoke very movingly about her learner and about how she might sometimes search for material on the internet related to his personal interests, adapting it to a level that he'd be able to cope with. That's a huge amount of work and commitment and yet, often, it's necessary because the quantity of material available to provide reading practice to build up what's called 'reading stamina', is not huge. That's what part of the money from the Awards for All bid will go on: purchasing a greater range of reading materials at the right levels.

Kris Ventris-Field provides the coach training and focussed coach 'get-togethers' for us. If you've clicked on her name, you'll have realised she too, is another very experienced professional in this field.  Despite the fact that she is self-employed FRED receives her support & her time for free, such is her passion and commitment. I've learnt a great deal from Kris.

I'm proud to say I recruited the next member of the team myself. Janet Williams used to be head of Steam Mills School near Cinderford, a school I visited on a regular basis as a librarian to publicise the public libraries' 'Summer Reading Challenge' (credited as making a major contribution to keeping literacy levels high over the long summer school holiday).

Each year there is a different theme to this challenge. Each year I would groan with a sense of 'been there, done that' as I tried to think of a new way to enthuse the children in assembly. Memorably one year (the theme was sport) I even entertained them all by putting on my artistic roller skates. I don't know if it was that memory that made Janet say yes, or her knowledge of the literacy needs of the area and her continued commitment to education. Either way, she is a knowledgeable voice of calm and reason and a huge help and support.

Our latest recruit is Frank Rainer, our treasurer. Anyone who has ever worked with a small organisation will know how difficult it can be to recruit a treasurer and what a relief it is when one is found. Frank originally approached FRED as a volunteer coach but during the training, and hearing about his past career, we spotted his potential and invited him onto the management team PDQ. The bonus was that not only did he offer to be the treasurer when he found we didn't have one, but he turns out previously to have taken on that role for the highly successful Great Oaks Dean Forest Hospice.  He could hardly have come with better references!

And finally there's me, about whom you already know a lot. I've chaired FRED for about a year and a half and written the (mostly successful) funding bids on its behalf. I am sorry to be leaving FRED and I will miss the team (already do). One of the very difficult things for voluntary organisations to cope with is that circumstances change and volunteers move on.  I have great faith that FRED will survive. But as well as asking for your money tonight (please send cheques made out to Forest Read Easy Deal to

Frank Rainer, Treasurer, Oaklands, George Road, Yorkley, Lydney, Gloucestershire, GL15 4TL),

I'm also asking you to consider whether you'd be interested in joining FRED's management team. If the answer's yes, then please ring Sheila and let her know.

Friday, 24 May 2013

National Curriculum and other support systems

Back to my usual time and thankfully the one other person in my 'slow' lane realises he's having to overtake me too frequently and dips under the rope into the medium lane.

Usually it takes me until length 8 to feel like my body has loosened up and started to co-ordinate itself easily. Up until then it's a little like a chore. But by the end of my swims these days days, I've got into my rhythm so well I think I could easily keep going a while longer.

Today length 8 comes and goes with no improvement. There are days like this! Six lengths of breaststroke and six of back stroke, and still my neck feels seized up. It's no good, I've just got to knuckle down and take on front crawl.

Pausing for slightly longer than usual at the end I realise it's going to be length 13. Split second hesitation, realise my slight nerves mean my breathing is never going to be set up for a perfect start, push off.

All I concentrate on is keeping going slowly and steadily and breathing on every fourth stroke, bubbling out the air in a steady stream in between. Deliberately chose to go from deep end to shallow this time to avoid any mid length freaking out. Have to encourage myself with 'I can do it, I'm going to do it' thoughts from about 2/3rds of the way along. And it works! The whole length - smoothly, without panic, without excessive gasping.

And now my body's warmed up properly!

So next time it's feeling un-inclined to get going I think I'm just going to get sterner with it sooner rather than pander to it! It can have 6 lengths max of 'ooh, this is hard work' and then I'm going to start pushing it a bit harder.

Makes me wonder if FRED's coaches sometimes have to get stern with our learners? A delicate balancing act I should think, sensing what level of stern will produce achievement and what will be so much as to cause de-motivation & a debilitating sense of failure.

Everything smoothed out, a glow of achievement & I settle easily into the remaining lengths. And yes, if they hadn't kicked me out I could have gone on for......

Yesterday, I read that an Amateur Swimming Association survey found 51% of 7-11 year olds are unable to swim; only 2% of primary schools reach government targets of providing 22 hours of swimming lessons a year (the average being 8).  According to RoSPA many parents think their children can swim when they can do barely more than float.

The surface argument of this is 'tut, tut, schools are failing'. But it is so much more complex, isn't it? Swimming pools close, or are unavailable locally so it is more expensive for schools to transport pupils, especially at a time when the price of everything else goes up and budgets are cut. Travelling to & from also takes time away from of the rest of the curriculum, against which teachers and pupils seem to be constantly tested. And always there are demands for yet more to be stuffed into that curriculum (creative activities, learning to cook, reading for pleasure, more science....).

As with many things (reading, cooking, exercise generally) attitudes in the home have a huge influence. Once again I was the lucky lucky one. In my very early years my parents took all six of us weekly to Derby Swimming Baths, such an importance did they place on it, even though my mum couldn't swim and my dad didn't really like it.

And then our forward looking primary school raised money to build a small teaching pool of its own. My eldest sister swam in the opening ceremony. My mum helped with swimming lessons. A little later still, the secondary school in the village built a large state of the art (for then) public swimming pool. So lauded was it locally that 'celebrities' came to swim there. My eldest sister's claim to fame for many years was that she'd been accidentally kicked by Brian Clough in that pool (I discovered only the other day that this pool of my childhood is no longer there).

So we had a system of naturally progressing support with our swimming as with our reading, thanks both to our parents and to publicly available facilities (we also regularly visited the village library).

Some, though not all, of FRED's learners have not had support systems at home to assist with their early reading.

Despite the 'Literacy Hour', not all schools have libraries (I was very very impressed to see mention of a librarian on the staff at Forest View school in Cinderford the other day!). In fact I'm told some secondary schools have closed their libraries completely. And it is quite common for school library staff to have no library qualifications at all, because it is so often seen as a purely administrative function.

There are many tales of people from many backgrounds including those just described, finding their own support systems via public libraries. Many people who would not have been able to grow into who they are today and perhaps more importantly, contribute to society in the way they do today, if it had not been for the availability and accessibility of their public library service. And in this day & age that can also means access to the information and services available via the internet.

One (and I stress it was only one) of the reasons I took redundancy when I did was because I lost faith in my employer. We knew cuts were coming, we agreed they were inevitable, we even knew they were likely to be huge.

When they proposed the closure of Cinderford Library it was a cut too far for me. The community worked hard and secured its future and these days I hear its usage figures are increasing.

But today I signed a petition against cuts in Herefordshire Libraries. They propose to cut all but one library in the whole of that huge county.

I could cry (again).

But better than you crying, perhaps you'd consider sending a donation to help FRED continue its existence as a support service. Send donations to:

Frank Rainer, Treasurer, Oaklands, George Road, Yorkley, Lydney, Gloucestershire, GL15 4TL

- cheques should be made out to Forest Read Easy Deal.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Learning from the Classics (old & new)

Here's something to buck the trend of this blog: it's a video about 20 minutes long. It's not about swimming. It's not about reading as such and I wouldn't normally put something visual on here.

But it's a speech by JK Rowling, (author of Harry Potter - just in case there's anyone out there who doesn't know that!) to graduating Harvard students in 2008. It's humorous and enjoyable but with its serious side too. She sprinkles references to reading across it lightly but with relevance. I share it with thanks to my friend Peter Clark for passing on the link.

Rowling talks very movingly about what she calls 'the fringe benefits of failure', having experienced reaching rock bottom herself. About how it strips you down to the bare essentials of who you are. How, without knowing how long the tunnel of darkness will be and with only the hope of light at the end, you can, with personal effort, rebuild and grow again. She does acknowledge not all of us will achieve on a similar level to herself!

I've been there too and I know it's true but it also reminds me of what I said before about FRED's learners: they achieve more when choosing to learn has been a very personal decision and that it's often a life event or change that triggers that choice. As Rowling (a Classics graduate) says,  quoting Plutarch: 'What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality'.

Rowling also talks about imagination which she describes as: "the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared."

I suspect it is often because FRED's volunteers have the imagination to empathise that they choose to volunteer for us and achieve what they do for our learners.  If you can similarly empathise, perhaps you'd  consider making a donation to help FRED continue its work.  If so, please send a cheque made out to Forest Read Easy Deal to:

Frank Rainer, Treasurer, Oaklands, George Road, Yorkley, Lydney, Gloucestershire, GL15 4TL

It was a very scrappy swim today. I had to share a lane with two other people. Usually everyone else is getting out and I have the last half hour to myself.

Keeping to the sides of the lane makes things trickier - my arm keeps catching the rope during backstroke. The choppiness of the water makes it more tiring and as I take my breath I find my mouth is full of water instead of air.

I can't mentally get into the swim because of the distractions so, although my body still feels good afterwards, I've not really developed that sense of calmness I've come to expect.

Plus points though: for the first time in several swims I did not hit my head on the side of the pool.

And I try front crawl again.

I remember to slow everything down, not to take a breath every stroke. I manage half a length before, for some quite odd & unidentifiable reason, the sight of the steeply descending bottom of the pool, puts me off my stroke entirely and I revert to breast stroke.

But I don't hate it. I even feel that if I put my mind to it the way I did with breast-stroke all those years ago, I might actually get around to enjoying it. Certainly to some sense of pride at being able to face it without the big mental barrier I've had till now.

Inward achievement changing outer reality.... as per Plutarch.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Success, pride and the pleasures of persistence

No, I haven't finished yet. But I am approaching my final week of training before the 'big week'.

Gains so far 
  • slimmer calves and wrists!
  • increased strength and stamina - which has pay-offs on the allotment, when doing housework (faster), at work (yesterday, since I already had stuff in the other hand, I carried the paper recycling sack downstairs in one hand without strain, negating the need for two trips!)
  •  unexpectedly discovering a long lost friend's picture upon a former colleague's Facebook page and making delighted contact again.
Oh, and the money which has been coming in, thanks to you, though there's still time for more cheques made out to Forest Read Easy Deal and sent to 

Frank Rainer, Treasurer, Oaklands, George Road, Yorkley, Lydney, Gloucestershire, GL15 4TL)

with my thanks.

As for the waistline & the weight, the jury's still out till after the final swim. Just where should one measure one's waist? I've always put the tape measure around the narrowest part of me as viewed from the front. A good 2 - 2 & 1/2 inches above my navel.

At my recent health check, the nurse measured around my navel. Since these days one's waist size is taken as a good indicator of one's health (some think it more relevant than the traditional height against weight 'Body Mass Index'), surely this is quite important? 

Sometimes reading back over my blogs I worry that all our learners come across as downtrodden people. And that maybe I do too?

One of our first learners was a successful businessman, indeed quite wealthy, so I understand. All his life he had worked hard, both at his business and at covering up his lack of reading ability, even from his own family. 

And like him, despite negative experiences in life, I too have had successes and times of great pride and achievement. Just for balance, I'd like to share some.

Rejoining my profession was a real homecoming for me. My first grouping as a librarian in the Forest of Dean was 'Lydney, Bream, Newnham, Mitcheldean and the Forest Mobile'. I organised the successful 'Poetry on the Fridge Door' event at Lydney, arranging for an exhibition in the library of 'Poetraits' by portrait painter Graham Kershaw. The fabulous library staff got in touch with Biffa and borrowed a defunct fridge so customers could use magnets to write poems on the door.

Two years later after a re-organisation it was 'Cinderford & Coleford' (how I missed the bluebells between the office in Cinderford and Lydney library, along the Soudley route!). Another re-organisation and it's Cinderford, Newnham, Mitcheldean & Newent. For information, Bream, Newnham & Mitcheldean libraries are now run by their communities and Forest Mobile Library is no more.

In my time I've met several authors, some of them famous: Jacqueline Wilson and Andrew Taylor; some very talented but less well known (Cat Weatherill and Jacquelyn Mitchard); I've met children's book author-illustrators, for example Tony de Saulle. Special mentions must go to Shoo Rayner (more about him later) and Hannah Shaw, whose style I so loved I commissioned her to illustrate a rhyme my husband wrote for our children when they were little. She delivered it in person and the last time I met her she told me she still has her copy of it on her studio wall. I follow her career with great affection.

To a large extent, it was me who project managed the 'client side' of the refurbishment of Cinderford Library. Even 2 or 3 years later I would still fill with enormous pride when someone saw it for the first time, doing that slight double take: ' Wow! Isn't this a lovely library?'

And I would think 'Yes! I chose those colours!', 'I worked out that layout that everyone says works so well!', 'That piece of furniture in the children's zone that the children love, and that draws their attention to the 'start to read' books displayed on it and encourages them to borrow more - I chose that and argued the case for having it!'

So - success!

I have helped possibly more than a hundred people begin to access the internet for themselves as part of my role as local librarian. One to one, or at most two. Tuning in to their existing levels of understanding and ability, their motivations for wanting to learn, taking cues from their own interests. Taking them as I would put it 'from where they are now, further towards where they wanted to be'. Very much as FRED coaches do with FRED learners, I think.

Some people were literally shaking with nerves. Some were so grateful they wanted to kiss me afterwards (we made do with heartfelt handshakes!)

I still think it was one of the best things we ever did as a service, empowering people to access information in the modern world way. I still think it was a great USP for the library service. A great 'in' to showing off what else the free library service can offer (and it is amazing how many people still don't know that they can belong to the library for free, that it has already been paid for by their taxes).  I've not only lent books about learning computer skills on the back of this but books about football, art, textiles - you name it, & fiction as well.

A tale of personal pride, then. And the pleasures of persistence?

I wanted very much to work with Forest View Primary School, it being the biggest in Cinderford. I sent emails to the literacy co-ordinator. No response. I rang more than once. Literacy co-ordinator not available, messages not returned. Knowing how exceptionally busy teachers are and how crammed their days are with incidents that have to be dealt with then & there, I determined on a last ditch effort and a single A4 proposal made its way to the right pigeonhole.

It turns out she hadn't been ignoring me - she'd been ill. The following spring over the course of World Book Week I provided age appropriate events and library introduction to each and every class. Every child was able to enter a competition (poems or illustrations) judged by me. On my recommendation they got Shoo Rayner on board to do events at school and to help me present the prizes. The headteacher wrote to me later:

"The children really did benefit immensely from it. It was fantastic to see a vast number of pupils return from their library visit holding their books in their hands and excited about reading. As a result of the book week staff at Forest View have reported that more children now want to read and I have certainly noticed that there are many more children using our school library and sat in class reading areas.

The enthusiasm and passion that you showed during the sessions that you worked with the children certainly encouraged them to see how beneficial reading is and the importance that it has to their lives. This was all reflected on the prize giving day, when every single child and their parents turned up to receive their prize, this is something that as a school we have never been able to achieve!"

Massively worth the persistence. 

I could tell you many many more stories but ..... you've listened long enough today.

When I went swimming again yesterday I did not choose to persist with front crawl. I chose to further consolidate breast-stroke and back stroke.

And two things suddenly clicked: 

I found myself stretching forward much more in the breaststroke which lengthened and smoothed everything, including the breathing. And in backstroke I remembered to kick from the hip rather than the knee, which again seemed to produce a greater level of efficiency. The lessons of persistence therefore must now (in my final training swims) be applied to front crawl.

I'm still a bit scared though.....!