Burstin for a swim – Jim Shalloo’s channel epic

I’m sure Jim will have his own version of his several days out in channel land, but I’m just going to capture – for posterity – a few of the happenings around the actual swim.  Kind of a colour piece, to be fancy about it.

Channel waiting is a pain in the ass.  Are we going?  Are we going now?  Is it windy?  In Dover?  No?  In Wissant?  Yes? Now Dover?  Wissant?   Days and days of it. Seriously, it’d drive you to drink.  Or at least that’s how I rationalised this pic I got from our channel hero a few days before the planned swim dates. Jim’s take on carb-loading shouldn’t really have been a surprise to me, as the top swimmers have nutrition plans that might not suit those of us less gifted athletes.

Finally the word came to get to Dover and I sprang into action, booking flights and accommodation.  Ryanair first thing on Friday morning and the closest I could get to Dover – the Grand Burstin Hotel in Folkestone – for the overnight.  Jim was supposed to swim early on Saturday, so the hotel was going to be a brief stop.  As long as it had beds, how bad could it be?   Bad. It could be bad.  Very, very bad.  

Apart from needing an extra hour to get through the airport while Bernard greeted the hundred or so people he knew, the flight went fine.  We’d have got to Dover quite handily if Bernard hadn’t directed us on a shortcut to Varne Ridge to meet Finbarr.  Here’s a view of a part of the shortcut.  One of the wide parts.

We went to do the normal channel stuff – swim in Dover, see the statue etc. Here’s Captain Shalloo (Lieutenant Commander (Ret’d) to be precise) meeting Captain Webb.

Then we went to the hotel.  The Grand Burstin Hotel, Folkestone.  Make a note of it, people.  Make a big note.  On the note write NFW.  In big red letters.

All I can say in my defence for booking the place is that other channel swimmers have stayed there.  I don’t know how, but they did.  Where to begin?  I suppose the first indication that we might have a problem would have been the man entering the lobby being led by a pit bull.  In said lobby he met another man – holding two alsatians.  We didn’t know it then, but they were wise men.  They had brought protection.

The hallway to the rooms gave us further warning of what we were getting into.  We were on A-Wing.  I’d hazard a guess that A-Wing in the H-Blocks was more salubrious – even during the dirty protests.

The room was hot.  Sauna hot.  One window opened an inch. It did not help for temperature reduction.  The room was not clean.  Finbarr will usually walk anywhere in bare feet, having soles like leather.  Finbarr would not walk in this room without flip flops.  The squishy stuff on the carpets would melt his feet.  He was sure. 

Here are four reviews from TripAdvisor for the Grand Burstin Hotel for around the time of our stay.  You’ll get the idea.  Might have been a good plan if I’d checked them first -rather than Finbarr calling them out to me while we were in the room. Sweating.

  • Appalling – worst hotel I’ve ever stayed at.
  • OMG – worst hotel ever.
  • Below any acceptable standard.
  • Absolutely horrendous.

These reviews are kind.  Very kind.   

Bernard went to the hotel bar to get some water – to pour over our heads as the sweat rolled off us.  He got back.  That was good, because it wasn’t a certainty he would.  While Bernie queued for the water bottles, one man – a representative sample of the hotel clientele, it must be said – loudly advised his female partner to “Shaht the fahk ahp, yew stewpid fahkin cahnt”.  Bernard did not engage him in conversation and, in fact, did a commendably military impression of “eyes front”.

We sweated in the sauna-room waiting for the call on the swim.   Through the inch of open window in the sauna, we heard the following piece of friendly banter from outside.  “Shank ‘im!!  Go on, fahkin shank ‘im!!  I’ll fahkin shank yew ya bastahhd.” etc.  And more in the same vein.  A good night was proceeding in Folkestone.  Ten minutes later we heard the swim was off, so Bernard insisted we should go outside to join the revellers – and hopefully stop sweating. 

The bouncer (yes, the hotel door had a bouncer) looked at us and asked “You’re not going outside?”, in disbelief.  Bernard (it was all his idea) confirmed we were.  The bouncer looked us over and said “Well, you’ve a few big guys and if you all stay together you should be ok.”  I am not making this up.  Bernard still made us go out.

To be fair, once he’d seen inside the door of a couple of the dives near the hotel and the state of the crowd falling around the place, even Bernie gave up.  We ended up sitting outside the door of the hotel among the debris.  It gave us a nice view of the police car pulling up and the two officers disappearing at speed into the hotel – possibly looking for Bernard’s friend from the bar, or some of the happy shankers still wandering the area.

We got out alive the next morning and more swimming at Swimmers Beach was done and a visit made to the White Horse.  By this stage, Jim was off the drink for almost four days, so he topped up the carbs with Bernard during Saturday and I drove us back to Heathrow.  Unfortunately, that carb-loading proved to be unwise as a call came at the airport to say – “turn around, come back, swim tomorrow…”.   

I had been shown to be singularly useless at getting Jim across the channel, so I was dispatched home with Bernard.  The call went out for more experience.   Enter The Bull.

In summary for this second attempt and to give credit where it’s due, Rob at least got as far as buying all the food for the crossing and getting Jim greased up.  He also didn’t risk lives with his choice of accommodation. Then the swim was cancelled.  Again. 

They had a picnic on the beach, David took all the remaining food back to London to feed the starving masses, Finbarr started driving home – again – and Rob and Jim dealt with the carbs.  Trojan workers for the carbs, the lads.  Trojan.

So that was round two.  No channel joy.  No joy with me, no joy with Rob.  Plenty of carbs, but no joy.  Time to get serious.  One week later, there was a new boss.  Unlike what The Who said, it was not the same as the old boss(es).  Enter Carol.

Carbs?  Well, carbs just weren’t on the menu any more.

Doesn’t Jim look happy on the H2O?    Maybe not.  But he certainly did the next day.  Carol was in charge.  Jim swam the channel.  Simple.  Then normal service resumed.

So there you have it – a lesson in channel swimming.  You can call The Burstin-Booker.  You can call The Bull.  But if you want to swim the channel – call Carol. 

Oh, and don’t book The Burstin.  Don’t ever book The Burstin.

Myrtleville Lap Hats – Questions Answered

The response to the new lap recognition system has been most gratifying, with so many swimmers working towards their chosen level.  However, as with all new systems which are innovative – indeed, groundbreaking in a watery kind of way – queries have arisen.  The most recent committee meeting pontificated as follows on said queries:

Q. Can I sell my laps to other people if I have loads of them? (Denis – he never lost it.)

A. Yes, definitely.  Also, if you find someone willing to buy laps, the committee has a unique first edition crayon copy of the Book of Kells and also the title deeds to Patrick’s Bridge for sale.  Be sure to put them on to us.

Q. What’s the story with the buoys only being there for April to October – how does this effect lap-counting relative to other lap-counting systems?  

A. This is adjusted with reference to the Myrtleville Multiplier.  As you can only swim around the buoys for seven months of the year, you need to multiply your laps completed by 1.714287 to calculate annual laps towards your langerload of them.

For example, if you took the number of laps Gary Frost has completed in the last month and multiplied it by 1.714287, you would get – about 1.714287, or maybe a bit less.  Doing a lot of standing on the beach, is Gary.

Q. What about really cold water laps – how are they handled?

A. Since the buoys aren’t there for the depths of Winter, it’s possible that really cold won’t come into the equation.  However, if it does get below 5c and a lap is completed, the committee has determined that the swimmer concerned will immediately merit a hat.  It will be known, obviously enough, as an Ice LOL.  Loop the Loop, probably.

Myrtleville Lap Hats

The fantastic new safety buoys (thanks #healthyireland 🙂 ) are in considerable and consistent use.  A number of swimmers have asked if there will be a lap-counting system, similar to that practiced in other, less popular swim venues – where it’s important to numerically note anyone swimming there since, as they say, what’s seldom is wonderful.  

This is obviously a serious matter so it was felt we should respond like a proper club, for once. The lappy-hat situation was referred to Central Council level. After much deliberation the Central Council referred the matter to the Joint Committee, who referred it to a Strategic Policy Panel, who established a Working Group, who recommended the issue be considered by a new committee, the Committee Of Dedicated Swimmers Who Absolutely Love Lapping Or Pontificating (CODSWALLOP Committee, for short).  CODSWALLOP have now duly pontificated. 

“We in Myrtleville have often said that our swimmers are more than just numbers.  We would not dream of reducing their achievements to mere figures.  On this point, we were also unable to determine how to answer the very reasonable question from D. Condon about what he would do once he ran out of fingers, like. Numbers were therefore out.

However, due to demand, there will still, indeed, be a recognition system for laps achieved in Myrtleville.”

The system will operate under three levels, will be self-regulated and only vaguely numerical.  It’s more of a feeling thing.  The levels are as follows:

1. Rakes Of Feckin’ Laps (ROFL Level)

This is the entry level achievement and is expected to be the most popular.  Swimmers will be entitled to wear this hat once they’ve gone for a few swims and feel they know the buoys well (“dere’s six of dem, like.  Yellow ones.”).  The ROFL hat is for anyone who feels justified in answering “rakes of dem” when asked if they are doing many laps these days.  This could be two laps for some or a hundred and six for others.  Really – who cares?  You want ROFL hat?  Have a ROFL hat.  If you want, we’ll have a presentation ceremony.  Rob Bohane is available for that kind of thing.  Whatever, like.

2. Laps – Many And Ongoing (LMAO Level)

This is a level for all regular swimmers. If you’re out there and going around lappishly, award yourself a LMAO hat.  Soon all your friends will want one.  It’s above the ROFL because of its connotation of all-year round swimming and “dere’s no stoppin me, like” charisma.  If you’re a LMAO guy or gal – wear a LMAO hat.

3. Langerload Of Laps (LOL Level)

This is the pinnacle of achievement in Myrtleville.  We really don’t expect to see many of these hats, or at least not for a few years.  You’d want to be out there a lot to justify a LOL, like.  They’ll stand out from the crowd, the LOLs.  “Look, he’s a LOL, lah. Look, lah.  A LOL”.  That’s what the awestruck other swimmers will say when they see a langer in a LOL hat, like.  We’ll wait to see who comes out of the pack to justify a LOL for themselves. 

How to get a relevant hat:

Once you feel you have achieved the level required to wear the relevant hat, here’s what you do.  Get either a blank hat or one you can turn inside out.  For demonstration purposes, we’re using one Bernie Lynch gave us after some ould swim he did in 2016.  You’ll also need a permanent marker – any colour you like.  No restrictions on your creativity.  Your workspace should look like this:

Then, make your hat.  Here’s a sample with fancy wave motify things (yes, that’s what they are) – but don’t be restrained.  Make yours as unique as you like.  Then, wear it with pride.

Just to be a bit motivational, we also did one for LOLs.  Aim for it.  Push yourself.  You know you can do a langerload of laps.  When you do – wear that hat.  You are a LOL.  Definitely worth an exclamation mark, a LOL.

Be sure to send in pictures of yourselves in your new hats as you work through the levels.  You know we’d all just love to see them.

Wedding day swim

It’s nice to post something that’s just – nice, for once.  No slagging – just nice.  Alan O’Flaherty got married yesterday and set himself up for a new life with a swim in Myrtleville in the morning and Siobhan – as ever – was there.  No nerves on show.  Well, maybe a little….

He was joined by Laurence, Anne, Denis (he’s back) and Bernard.

and he scrubbed up well later!  Congratulations to Alan and Aileen.

The Liam Maher Perpetual “There’s Always One” Trophy.

Those who attended the prizegiving for the RNLI swim last Thursday night will have seen the presentation to Carol Cashell on behalf of Mr. Liam Maher. 

Carol subbing for Liam Maher at the presentation ceremony.

Some of you may recall that Liam has something of a history with the event.  

This prize was awarded to Mr. Maher for his noteworthy performance last Thursday night at the finish of the swim.  There is always a very focused stage at the end when safety concerns dictate that all volunteers are closely engaged in monitoring the swimmers as they exit the water.  Liam chose this point to arrive, demanding to know “Where are all the bags?  Are all the bags here?  Who didn’t bring down my bag?  My bag isn’t here.”  You will note in all of this there was no mention of “I can’t find my bag”.  Oh no, it was all down to the organisers and I was the eejit who happened to turn around and catch his eye.  Bernard knew better – kept looking out to sea.  I’ll have to learn his zen-like powers of concentration. 

Anyway, back to Liam’s bag – which I personally was responsible for losing, he left me know.  It wasn’t in the pile.  No way.  He was certain.  He’d checked.  Repeatedly.  Not there.  No.  I believed him.  Apparently it was the only Manhattan Marathon (boat assisted) Bag on the beach so if it was there, he’d see it.  Hence, it mustn’t be there.  Up and down the beach I searched.  All the way back up to the van.  Down again.  I was accosting people carrying bags of the same colour.  “Did you take Liam’s bag?  Didya?”  Things were getting bad.  

I asked Bernard again.  Only the tenth time.  He fixed me with his steely, zen-like focus and said “I couldn’t give a flying” – “Damian, all the bags are there.  All of them”.  I stopped.  Drew breath.  Considered.  “Could Liam be a complete feckin’ eejit who can’t see his own bag?”  Hmm. I walked back to the pile of bags.  It wasn’t there.  However, it was less than five feet away from the pile.  Sitting on its own.  Happy.  Serene.  Waiting.  Five feet.  Five.  Maximum.  A good deal shorter than Mr. Maher himself.  Right there.

I knew then that the specially restored, vintage 1996 Kartworld Champion trophy we had been saving for a deserving recipient had found its home.  Here’s Carol passing on the trophy to Mr. Maher……

….and said Mr. Maher out on the serious lash celebrating his win by demonstrating that if the bag had been twelve feet away, he could still have reached the bloody thing if he’d just feckin’ looked.

The trophy has now been officially named the Liam Maher Perpetual Trophy and will be presented to a deserving recipient, as yet unknown, at the next or future swims.  There’s bound to be a recipient.  Like the trophy says, there’s always one.