Monday, 26 August 2013

My Swimming Bench

No, of course I don't mean a bench that swims.

And I don't mean a bench to swim on.

I mean the bench I use when I go swimming in the sea most days from April to November. 

If you live in the Caribbean, that might not be impressive. On the other hand, if you live in the Isle of Skye, you'll be full of admiration. Or else think I'm bonkers. 


This is Eddie, my Inner Editor. You may have seen him on some of the other Benchsite posts. He is scrupulously efficient, critical of this blog, and very annoying. 

Eddie:  This is beginning to sound familiar. Or is it just the same unfair introduction you give me every time?

You have never been swimming in the North Sea in April, have you?

Eddie:   I have not.

Have you ever been swimming in the Arctic Ocean?

Eddie:   Certainly not. I think I know this blog though. It's the one with the poem that doesn't rhyme.

Yes, alright. I hope regular readers will bear with me. This is a reworking of a previous post called My Swimming Bench. There is new material in it though. Think of it as My Swimming Bench:The Sequel.

Eddie:  Will there be a prequel?

I doubt it. Let me get on with it now will you.

As some of you will know, I'm a keen swimmer. Here I am, like Venus emerging from the sea.

Venus Anadyomene 1922, Georges Hanna Sabbagh

Eddie: Your opinion. Just saying. 

Here I am getting ready for my swim. Excuse me while I put on my lippy.

Flapper in a Bathing Suit Putting on Lipstick 1931, Rafael de Penagos

Don't I look great in that flapper bathing suit? 

Two Figures Kneeling 1966, Wayne Thiebaud 

OK, I confess, this is not me. I am not one of those poseurs who sits on the sand and never gets wet. 

Bathers 1909, Johan Krouthen

Eddie: I'm growing weary. Are you a keen swimmer or not? 

So keen am I that every Easter I start the swimming season with a quick dip in the English Channel. 

The Swimmer 1912, Felix Etie Bonnet

No wonder I am so serene. 

I swim in all manner of seas, lakes, rivers, pools and ponds. Here I am making my way across Lake Bled in Slovenia.

This could be anybody. And any lake for that matter.

It's me. In Lake Bled. And this is me in Lake Garda. Everyone else seemed to wait for the ferry to take them across. Me, I just swam.

So what do you want, a medal?

No, I'm just trying to show my commitment to swimming. 

There's a very nice pool here in Fribble; have you ever been in it?

No. I like wild swimming. My ideal is a warm glassy lake like this one in northern Italy.

However, I will swim in most conditions.

You do have your limits though.

Yes. Call me a wimp but I like to have my swimming water free of ice and polar bears.

What about a normal swimming pool? Is that too civilised for you?

I'd need to wear my sunscreen mask for that.

Sunscreen mask 1928

Very flattering. You'll have the pool to yourself.

I'm quite happy with a swimming pool if there's nothing else.

Look at all those empty benches. Why aren't you swimming here then? 

See those signs? Apparently you're only allowed to swim on top of the water. Swimming underwater or drowning is absolutely forbidden. 

I see what you mean. Too many rules.  

Here I am in the cold fairy pools of the East Lyn river in Devon.

There's no proof that it's you.

You're right, Eddie. This is actually Miggy, my imaginary friend. She's a keen swimmer too.

So don't pretend it's you.

It doesn't matter who it is. This is about my swimming bench. 

Could we possibly see this bench? Would that be too much to ask?

First I'd like to show you this swimming bench with a very small man on it. 

image from Jan Williams at

Nice bench. Are you sure it's a swimming bench though? There is no water in sight. There are no swimmers. 

The important thing is that the man looks ready to swim. 

I'm ready for lunch but that doesn't mean I'm a banana.

In my town of Fribble-under-Par here on Paradise Island I swim from The Plunge. The name makes it sound like one of those much-loved retro lidos but that's not the case. It's just a seawall with a lot of rock and a tide which varies from full-to-the-brim In to the truly outgoing. I have never, ever seen anyone swimming here.

So what makes it a swimming bench then? Just asking.

Well, it has to involve a swimmer and a bench.

It looks pretty tough swimming through all that concrete. Is this you?

No, but here I am swimming at The Plunge on a good day.

Liar, liar, pants on fire. This is not The Plunge, even on a good day.

Right again, Eddie. This is the Bay of Pigs in Cuba. It is the hottest place I have ever been in my life. The rocks were razor-sharp, the air was choked with mosquitoes and the water temperature was . . . 

There is no bench, you got the location wrong, and this possibly isn't even you. This picture should not be here. 

Sorry, Eddie. Let me confirm: this is me in the Bay of Pigs. 

And here are Miggy and Mungo on their first day of the swimming season at The Plunge. I could be wrong but it looks like Mungo is finding it a bit chilly.  

image from Miggy's mum

Is there a sewage outlet nearby? It doesn't look very inviting.

It isn't a good swimming place because there's lots of seaweed. But seaweed is actually very good for you: if you're in trouble you can sea kelp.

Not funny.

Bench-wise it's brilliant.

The Plunge is awash with benches. There are benches inscribed to all types of people here. There's a bench for a Master Mariner, a carnival president, a choirmaster, a physician. Some of them, long departed, are remembered in benchy birthday celebrations.

Some of them are decorated for Christmas. 

There's even a bench for All my dogs over a lifetime. 

Not my dogs, obviously; I only have one dog. His name is Sit and he hates going anywhere near The Plunge or indeed water of any kind. Here he is.

© Teodor Ostojic | Dreamstime Stock Photos

It must have escaped your notice that this is a prairie dog. Not a normal dog. Does the word prairie mean anything to you?

I see what you mean, Eddie. A prairie dog lives on the prairie. So he'd be unlikely to be swimming down at The Plunge.

My point exactly. It's taking an awfully long time to get to the swimming bench bit.

I'm coming to that. 

Every bench along The Plunge belongs to someone, except this bench in the foreground, which has no inscription. 

This is my swimming bench.

image by Alexandra Thompson

I chose it because it has steps going down to the sea. OK, the steps are slippery with seaweed and yes, I once fell off them and tumbled into the water head first. 

Do people really want to know this?

Fortunately, it was high tide and no harm was done but now I always sit on the steps and ease myself down one step at a time. This looks very undignified and probably explains why no one swims here.  


It has to be said that the swimming here is not a Wild Swimming wet dream. But that doesn't matter because this post is not about swimming; it's about my swimming bench. 

So you keep saying.

Here's my bench on a cold, foggy night in October when I couldn't swim out to the buoys because I couldn't see the buoys. 

And here is a poem I wrote in honour of the bench.


There’s no date
so I’ll put today

I’ll write
She loved to swim in October
even though it’s a cold grey
shiver of swimmers day
Because there’s no inscription
and even though it’s silty and rocky
I’ll write
This was her favourite swimming hole
and even though there are nicer places to swim
I’ll write
She loved to swim here
and because this is no one’s bench
and there’s no one’s name
I’ll put mine

The poem appears in a book about benches which is written by writers from the Shore Women writing group. Benchmarks contains brilliant poems and photographs.

Are you trying to sell this book by any chance?

Not necessarily. I'm just saying that once you've seen it, you will never pass by a bench again without a great deal of curiosity.

I have a feeling I might be an exception.

So, you may be wondering how I keep this swimming bench just for myself. 

Can't say I care one way or another.

You're so supportive, Eddie.

It's what I'm here for. 

One day in August a woman and a collie dog had the audacity to be sitting on my bench when I arrived for a swim. I fussed about with my swimming stuff, which causes most people to get the hint but they stayed put, leaving me no choice but to go on into the water. The dog looked on anxiously and finally I twigged: the woman is not a swimmer. The dog is desperate for a swim.

Eddie: (yawning)  The tension is killing me. Did you swim with the dog or not? 

The dog swam with me and we splashed around together for a while and then he shook his wet fur all over my towel. 

That's gratitude for you.

Is this the end? 

Yes. Thanks. 

Nice work. The only thing is, your poem still doesn't rhyme.

For more about swimming benches see swimming benches from all over the world and a tribute to the people who swim from them. 


Personally, I find Eddie rather hard to work with but if you like his style, you can see the posts he has ruined edited for me on Benchsite. In 2013 there were the orange benches. Eddie got stressed out and threw a strop. He interfered with my careful numbering system in 31 Things to Do on a Bench. In 2014 there were the Blue Monday benches in January and then, worst of all, the Red Bench disaster in February. I am having to rethink my animal editors. Monkeys are bad enough butcats . . . as for Meredith, don't get me started. Put it this way: if I had to call in Noah to round up animal benches for the ark, monkeys and cats would not be on it. 

The Swimmer, unfortunately is not me. She's French - La Nageuse - painted in 1912 by the French artist Tobeen, also known as Felix Etie Bonnet (1880-1938). 

Flapper in a Bathing Suit Putting on Lipstick was painted in 1931 by Spanish illustrator and painter Rafael de Penagos (1889-1954). Penagos is credited for creating a new modern 1930s woman who is slender, sporty, exotic, has bobbed hair, painted nails, lipstick, wears makeup, and, importantly, smokes cigarettes. Penagos was a fan of art deco style and appealed to trendy Madrilenians, who are something like hipster Londoners, only in Madrid. 

The Bathers are very attractive sitting on the sand. This Realist painting was done in 1909 by the Swedish artist Johan Krouthen (1858-1932). Krouthen painted with the Skagen artists for a short while. He believed the artist must always paint nature at its best so, in addition to being Realist in their style, the subjects of his work, whether landscapes or people, are idealised. 

The Two Kneeling Figures side by side look pretty formidable to me. I wouldn't mess with them. They were painted in 1966 by Wayne Thiebaud, an American who was born in 1920 and is known for his well-defined and colourful works of commonplace objects. He has painted a lot of pastries, ice cream, and cake, which makes him a favourite in my book.  

The photo of my swimming bench and the clever cover of Benchmarks were taken by Alexandra Thompson, who designed the book and took most of the photographs within it. If you look at the Benchmarks book cover from a side angle you can see the bench pictures spelling out a mystery word.

Unless I'm travelling, my swimming is here at home on gorgeous Paradise Island. You can see some of my Found Swimming places on various posts such as Lake Como, the Ionian islands of Greece, and the alpine lakes of Switzerland, Italy and Austria. The lakes shown in this story are: Lake Bled in Slovenia; Lake Garda; Lake Caldonazzo in Italy; Lake Bohinj in Slovenia. The swimming pool is at Adjovscina in Slovenia. It was a perfect hot day and the pool was completely unused, to the point where I wondered what was wrong with it. There was nothing wrong with it and I had it all to myself. 

 Andrey Papko is from Murmansk in Russia. He's an Extreme Winter Swimmer. On the day this photo was taken the air temperature was -15°C  and the water was a balmy  2°C

The polar bear is Patches, photographed by Valerie Engelleiter, who is a volunteer at the North Carolina Zoo (USA). She also works for Polar Bears International. If you look through her photos and sets you will see her love of bears. In November 2010 she was invited to Churchill, Manitoba by Polar Bears International and for her, seeing polar bears in their natural environment was a dream come true. Valerie's stunning animal photographs are at

Mikey the Mariner knows a thing or two about swimming. Well, sea swimming at least, and certainly sea benches

The big red swimming bench is from Jan Williams at The Caravan Gallery which tours around with brilliant photographic exhibitions. See    The bench is in fact in New South Wales in Australia. And Eddie is correct; it's not a swimming bench.

Mike Cogh lives in Adelaide and photographed the bench with the large mosaic swimmer at the Aquatic Centre in Sturt in 2014.  Mike has an extensive set of over 800 Humble Bench photographs at 

The picture of me swimming in the Bay of Pigs in Cuba was taken by Mungo, who was also swimming in the Bay of Pigs. There were no pigs. It was much too hot for pigs or indeed any other living thing. This was a day in the depths of December winter: how much hotter can it get on Planet Earth? 

The picture of Miggy and Mungo doing their first swim of the year at The Plunge was taken by Miggy's Mum in April 2011. 

The birthday bench is not actually at The Plunge, it's at Yarmouth Common on the Isle of Wight. But you get the idea of a celebratory bench and isn't it brilliant that people remember departed loved ones by decorating their benches? The photo was taken by Editor5807 in June 2011 and made available on Wiki Commons at    An update on this is that the bench is now dedicated so strictly speaking, it is no longer my bench. 

The blacktail prairie dog, aka My Dog Sit, is from

The wet pug is from

Footnote in 2017: I am seething. Someone has done a commemoration plaque on MY bench. How dare they? 

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