Swimming II

Here again

Six weeks after your exit

Weightless in water

You hold me to ransom on land.

 

Under the refracted ripples, my body moves freely

Otherwise I have you cradled in my arms.

Bounce, rock, sway, repeat…

Bounce, rock, sway, repeat…

 

Your face is furrowed Churchill-esque

Your tongue darts like a gecko.

Searching for me, the wrinkles smooth

Your face is sublime, satiated as you suckle.

 

My body is still not mine.

But that’s ok.

I’m yours as long as you need me.

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State of the world with you in it

New poem inspired by recent events and watching a lot of politicians waffle on TV…

State of the world with you in it

Some people would say it’s selfish

Creating a mini you and a mini me

When there are so many children in the world

Abandoned and unloved.

 

When climate change

Is raising temperatures, sea levels, tempers.

When the threat of nuclear disaster

And the destruction of our planet

Rests on the whims of despots and jokers.

 

When bad things keep happening to good people

And piteous plastic dinghys sink in the sea

Spilling their cargo of men, women, children indiscriminately.

When Facebook fills its feed with haters

irate they even tried to find a better life,

because of course they’re not like you or me.

 

When the #prayfor, starts to lose its power

When it happens all the time and there’s coverage every hour.

When tragedy is politicised,

When private grief’s intruded on,

When people go on TV, screaming we should bomb

them all.

 

When we’re slashing the numbers of police we employ

Playing with people’s health like a toy.

When we’re cutting services, privatising

Making food bank shopping the new just-surviving.

 

Is this the kind of world

To bring a child into?

Where the many are forgotten

In favour of the few?

Where the rising tides of

Consumerism, narcissism, radicalism, extremism,

fascism, fanaticism, provincialism, nationalism

Are given space to swell and erode

Any confidence we have in our own humanity?

 

But part of being human

Is continuing to hope

To keep fighting for the polar bears

And learning how to cope.

To keep focused on a better world

The next generation can have faith in.

And not to think it’s something that you don’t have a place in.

 

So mini you and mini me, sail forth and make us proud.

And when you see injustice, stand up and shout out loud.

Make use of education to sprout and grow your mind.

But above all else, do not forget: be just, be fair, be kind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swimming

Swimming

Weightless in water,

My body remembers itself.

Powerful strokes

Pulsing without effort.

 

And as I’m swimming,

I think of you,

Swimming in me.

Breathing

As my body has forgotten how to do.

 

I dive deep

Sun hits water.

Hexagonal rainbows flutter by,

Like chains of DNA.

Hands grasping

through watery film.

 

Emerging,

I’m heavy again with the weight of you.

My body unfamilar.

 

It won’t be long now

Before the waters break.

This Child of Mine

Maternity leave leads to previously unfathomable stretchings of time.  I wrote this poem in the bath (iPhone luckily survived) whilst staring at my gently pulsing stomach, imagining the baby within and only getting out when the water was cold. 

This Child of Mine

This child of mine,
a flutter, a roll, a stomach churning wave,
is planning his escape
from the confines of my body.
The sanctity of watery nest
soon to be replaced by a world of uncertainty.

This child of mine
is waiting in the wings,
the leading man,
the precocious star of show
all Life will revolve around.

This child of mine
An abstract
A concept
A gossamer dream
will soon be reality.

This child of mine
A mewling mass of limbs,
A bloodied brazen squall,
Will soon be here.

And everything will change.

A new chapter begins

I’m pregnant. I find out after a day spent drinking to excess at a Swiss wine festival. At least there’s something else I can blame my hangover on other than the booze…

K refuses to believe me. I hardly even believe it myself. The line is so faint and it’s one of those cheap sticks you can by in bulk from a medical wholesaler in case you have to try a few times before you get it right.

I text a friend: “I’m probably reading something into nothing, but, is that another line?!!!!”

“Yes!” She replies straight away. “Congratulations! You’re pregnant!”

K still refuses to believe me. We spend the day taking the ferry across the lake to a cute little village for lunch. Our conversation stutters as we dance around the topic.

“What if…”

“It’s too early to get our hopes up…”

“But what if?”

Later that evening we Skype our friends and K is asked to be the godfather of their beautiful new son.
“I can’t believe it!” He’s incredulous when we finish the conversation. “I’m going to be a godfather!”
“AND a father in fact,” I remind him straight-faced.
‘That’s not a thing yet.’

It is a thing a few days later. K returns to the UK and buys what he is insists is a far more reliable stick. This one comes from Boots, costs five times as much and says the word ‘Pregnant’ when I pee on it. This convinces the disbeliever.

Day 9 – TMB – Argentiere to Les Houches

Distance travelled: 32km

Height gain and loss: 1500m up; 1800m down

Time: 11.45 hours

Accommodation: Hotel Montagny

Food: Cereal, croissants, bread and jam, coffee, juice; picnic lunch of sandwich, pasta pot, chocolate, apple; pizza, salad, apricot tart, celebratory prosecco and lots of wine!

Today was a mistake.  When planning the route I’d haphazardly marked points on maps, jotted names down in the back of the guidebook and made random notes.  With better organisation, I’d probably have spotted earlier that I’d somehow amalgamated ten days of walking into nine and TRH would still be talking to me.

As it was, the realisation had hit earlier in the hike that the last day was going to be a monster.  Even if we left at 7am, the chances of arriving before 6pm were limited and if anything went even slightly off track, we were looking at arriving in the dark.

Psychologically, our bodies were starting to shut down.  Niggles that hadn’t been there previously were rearing their ugly heads and with heavy legs we set off to La Flégère rising through the forest in yet more zigzags.

This part of the walk is scarred by ski pistes although the view across the valley stretching from Col de Balme to Col de Voza.  The Mer de Glace was just visible through the clouds as well as the tip of the Aiguille du Midi and the summit of Mont Blanc.

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Second marmot sighting!

Pushing on from here required two hours contouring on a twisting path to Plan Praz and then a steep push uphill to the Col du Brévent (2368m) where we found further patches of snow.  It was another tough climb to the final ascent of the hike at Le Brévent (2526m) where we popped out from the wilderness of rocks, boulders and some helpful metal ladders to find day-trippers in shorts and t-shirts admiring the views.  Maybe their ascent by ski-lift made it easier for them to concentrate on the views but I was more concerned with dressing my blisters and devouring my sandwich!

Every step from here was downhill, which initially seemed great but soon stated to wear thin as our knees and legs began to take a battering.  At 4pm, we still had at least 2.30 hours to go and that was without factoring in the distance to the hotel.

There were a few choice words and a bit of delirium in those last few hours but eventually we made it to the train station where we’d started 9 days previously.  TMB complete!

Day 8 – TMB – Trient to Argentiere

Distance travelled: 18km

Height gain and loss: 869m up; 978m down

Time: 6 hours

Accommodation: Gîte le Moulin

Food: Bread, juice; cheeky chicken burger, fries, nachos, ice cream; home made risotto, bread, salad, raspberry cake.

Breakfast was a shambles.  Too many people, not enough bowls and don’t even speak to TRH about the coffee!  Deciding we needed to escape pretty early we were out by 7.15am and on the road.

After a steep climb up to Col de Balme (2191m) and our gateway through to France, the route was relatively although we did take the higher alternative via Aiguillette des Posettes for the promise of a decent panorama.

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Arriving around 1pm at our accommodation, we dumped our bags and took the short 20 minute walk into Argentiere where we found hotels, restaurants and more people than we’d seen in a while.  We also found nachos and burgers…mmmm.

The Gîte was homely and the food was excellent so we didn’t mind the dortoir accommodation too much.  In any case, we were fast asleep by 9.30pm.  The biggest day was yet to come.

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Home cooking at its best.

Day 7 – TMB – Champex to Trient

Distance travelled: 20km

Height gain and loss: 740m up; 700m down

Time: 8 hours

Accommodation: Auberge du Mont Blanc

Food: Decent breakfast; picnic lunch; salad, pork and rice, ice cream

Blistergate occurred this morning, potentially plunging all our plans into jeopardy.  Luckily, TRH was able to pick up some trail running shoes which were much more appropriate for, what turned out to be, rather wide feet!

The main TMB route is ‘undulating’ and makes a loop round the northern slopes up to Bovine where you can look down on the Rhône valley, Martingy and across to the mountains of the Bernese Alps.

After reaching the farm buildings of Plan de l’Au relatively easily, a bitch of a climb followed.  The sun was crushing, sapping our energy and leaving us gasping at every zigzag.  With no cover, we quickly exhausted our water supply and although the views were spectacular, it was a punishing climb.

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Alp Bovine, a working dairy farm, looked like a good place to stop for refreshments but it was crowded with tour groups and we moved on to the Collet Portalo (2040m) to enjoy a picnic overlooking a last view back to Grand Combin.

Past this point it was all downhill  through woodland to Col de la Forclaz, where we found preparations for the Tour de France in full swing.  Trient, with its pretty-in-pink church was our stop for the night and another night of dormitory sleeping  with our Scandinavian acquaintances awaited.

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Trient

 

Day 6 – TMB – La Fouley to Champex

Distance travelled: 18km

Height gain and loss: 600m up; 560m down

Time: 6 hours with a long break in Champex

Accommodation: Refuge d’Arpette

Food: Decent buffet breakfast; coffee and flapjack; pizza and ice-cream; carrot salad, fondue, ice cream.

Supposedly the easiest stage of the TMB, the guidebook says this can be taken at a leisurely pace.  However, deciding to treat it as a ‘rest day’ that just so happened to include 5 or so hours of walking, we decided to bash it out and get to Champex as quickly as possible.  This was slightly more difficult than the book indicated and with TRH beginning to suffer from some particularly nasty blisters, we were relieved when the 1.5 hour climb to Champex was finished and we found ourselves a restaurant for lunch.

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Lake at Champex

The area around the lake was beautiful so we whiled away a few hours before setting off on the 45 minute hike to our accommodation for the evening.  Initially, I had planned to take the tougher but more spectacular option of the Fenêtre d’Arpette route to Col de la Forclaz the next day.  The refuge was ideally situated on this route but after no days of rest and seeing the state of TRH’s feet, we decided we’d have to retrace our steps in the morning and continue on the main TMB route instead.

This knowledge made the diversion even more painful and despite the pleasant ascent next to a waterfall, we were glad to finally make it.  Our dorm buddy this time was an enthusiastic Catalonia guy who was travelling alone and had probably spent too much time without any real companionship.  He entertained us with his little squeals of delight on getting into bed that night but he was so fast we never saw him again.

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View from Refuge d’Arpette

The refuge is set in beautiful surroundings with kid goats playing in a nearby pasture and a great choice of dinner options.  We went for a traditional fondue and had a slightly uncomfortable meal with an old French couple who stayed resolutely silent throughout.

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Friendly goat.

Day 5 – TMB – La Vachey to La Fouley

Distance travelled: 18km

Height gain and loss: 900m up; 1000m down

Time: 8 hours

Accommodation: Hotel Edelweiss

Food: Amazing buffet breakfast containing everything you could possibly want at this time of the morning; coffee and flapjack; amazing picnic lunch with cheese, egg, ham sandwich, apple puree, chocolate; Tinned soup, Uncle Ben rice and curry, weird lemon cream thing.

From La Vachey we did a road yomp to Rifugio Elena where we had a coffee and watched some climbers on a sheer cliff face in front of us.

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Catching up with our friend B, who’d spent the night dealing with snorers in Rifugio Bonatti, we felt smug that we’d missed it all.

From here, the TMB crosses the southernmost pass above the rifugio and angles up the hillside for around 1.30 hours until you come onto the Grand Col Ferret (2537m) and the border into Switzerland.  It’s the view back into the Italian valley and the length of the Vals Ferret and Veni right back to the Col de la Seigne which is the most impressive however, especially when you consider how far you’ve come in only two days.

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View back down the valley to Col da la Seigne.

Crossing into Switzerland, the terrain was immediately different and we lost the higher peaks although the Swiss Val Ferret was still easy on the eye.

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We had an afternoon beer at the Alpage de la Peule and then immediately wished we hadn’t, as the higher ‘more scenic’ route turned into a battle with cows, swarming insects and steep inclines.

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Beer with a view

Our expectation of relief at reaching our Hotel was short-lived as we realised that we were being put in dortoir accommodation and were going to have to sleep next to 7 other people.  Luckily they turned out to be cynical Scandinavians so we bonded over the weirdly incongruous restaurant jazz and tinned food before escaping to the pub down the road.

Adventures in a far off land