I was asked back in December to write a monthly column in our local, award winning paper - The Henley Standard. I thought to myself at the time, I'll post each month as part of our Mermaid Blog, but then got caught up in busy life. So here I am playing catch-up. I hope you enjoy them, the first being January 2023 - by me: Mermaid Laura
Well Christmas, New Year and my 50th birthday have come and gone in a flash! What a busy month with Living Advent Calendar performances, Santa Fun Run, Interviews on Marlow FM and BBC Radio Berkshire & Oxfordshire. Mermaids were awarded a second plaque on Red Lion Lawns recognising our achievement in becoming the first team of women to have swum the Bristol Channel. Christmas, carol services, parties and plenty of swimming kept me busy all month.
Perhaps the most important thing that happened in December is that we moved our lovely Ukrainian guests, Inna and her 13 year old daughter Eva, into their own flat. After 9 months with us, it was the right time for them to move towards living independently. We have been overwhelmed by the support they’ve received. Grateful to the private landlord for accepting them with no previous proof of rental, to the Town Council for covering their deposit, to SODC Homes for Ukraine for their rent, and to all my friends for helping them integrate into Henley, settle them in and move them, put up beds, and shift all their things. They escaped Kiev as the first bomb was dropped on Kiev airport, spending a month living in underground stations and sleeping in their car. We picked them up from Stanstead airport, they had literally nothing. Inna had virtually no English, although Eva, a natural linguist, was excellent. Gillotts were amazing, and welcomed Eva into year 8, they’ve cared for her, included her and given her an education she wouldn’t have received in Ukraine. We have learnt some amazing things about our different cultures, one of which is that at school in Ukraine they don’t do practical or arts subjects, they do not interact in lessons, and have very long school days. Eva is absolutely loving drama, music and all the languages taught.
Henley Music School, that I run, also offers all refugees free instrumental lessons, so Eva has continued to learn the violin with us, and has stunned audiences in a couple of concerts. Inna works hard at her English, and is now fluent, I can safely say that I couldn’t learn Ukrainian in 9 months!
We have started on the next stage of our big project to restore Trinity Hall. We have an architect and project manager involved and are beginning to look at other similar projects to make sure we renovate the hall in a way that will last for the next 100 years.
Training is now relentless, 6 days a week, gradually building towards my qualification swim in March. In order to swim the English Channel solo, all swimmers must complete a 6 hour qualification swim in temperatures below 16 degrees. I must now start to get my feeding right, I’ll be swimming solidly for between 16-20 hours, not allowed to touch the boat, and are fed on a line. Everyone is different, but it is mostly liquid feeds, which take place around every 30 mins. It is quite difficult to get any sustenance in when you are bouncing around in the waves, so practise makes perfect.
Jenny, emailed me a question to answer this month:
“What motivates you to get out of bed on a cold grey dark morning to get in a freezing river?”
A very good question, one which I’m asked a lot. I ask myself the same question every time I get out of my lovely warm bed, and even question my sanity walking to the riverbank. Getting in is awful, never nice, but once you are in (with a lot of blue language) it is amazing. I also get to see my friends, chat, and achieve something before many people are up. I love the bath when I get home, and the warm buzz it gives you for the whole day – everyone should try it!