The fast stream
Marathon swimmer Sally Friedman lost her husband and training partner as she was preparing to swim the English Channel. Her emotive story is now a bOOk. Words: Ann Donald
When she was four years old. Sally Friedman won her first swimming trophy. At 31. she met Paul and married him. Swimming and Paul became Friedman's dual passions in life.
As a marathon swimmer for whom the circumference of Manhattan was no problem. she hit upon the next logical rung in the swimmer‘s career — the English Channel. Friedman and her husband took time out from their respective jobs in theatre and trained hard. with Paul urging and comforting her as she swam in the icy waters of lakes around Paradox. New York. The day before she was due to depart for England and her Channel swim. Paul was hit by a truck. He died the next day.
Swimming The (“Ila/me! is what Friedman describes as her ‘memoir of love and Ioss’. Profoundly moving without the mawkishness that can haunt such a deeply personal account of death. the book is a somehow unsentimental but memorable record of love. grief and swimming.
Speaking from the Paradox borne she shared with her husband tnore than seven years ago. Friedman emerges as an intensely private woman. How did she reconcile that aspect with such a public act as writing about their relationship?
98 THE [IN 25 Jul—7 Aug I997
'I’d be weeping over my computer all the time, but it was an interesting process and kinda WEII‘d.’ Sally Friedman
Sally Friedman: 'If I don't swim every day I get crazy'
‘I did think about that when writing it.‘ she says. ‘I think what I did was turn myself into a fictional character as a way of trying to remove myself. I‘d be weeping over my computer all the time. but it was an interesting process and kinda weird. Obviously the character was me and pretty much true.‘
Other distancing methods used by Friedman include the sparse. cool prose style deployed throughout the text. ‘I did choose my words very carefully.‘ she agrees. ‘There were. of course. certain things I kept private and some things I shared with readers that I had learned from reading “widow books“ or from people speaking to me. and had helped in the healing process.‘
The inevitable fall-out of Paul‘s death has had deeper implications on Friedman‘s life. as she explains: ‘Yeah. I feel more superstitious in that now I know it [death] can happen. so I tend to worry more about the people I love. I have a friend who told me that tragedy doesn‘t make you a better person. rather it makes you more intensely what you already are so. for me. I think I‘ve become more blunt. honest and solitary.’
Friedman may have lost all impetus to swim the Channel but swimming remains as vital to her survival and well-being as breathing. She writes: ‘I need to be surrounded by open water. Like a cowboy riding in the range. I think. Don't fence me in.‘
The metaphors of death at first appear to be lacking in the book. but they are there in the vivid descriptions of Friedman‘s swims in French. Cape Cod. New York and Paradox waters while she struggles to accept her husband‘s death. Even today she concedes with a hushed laugh: ‘If I don‘t swim every day I get. like. crazy. I love swimming.‘
Swimming The Channel: A Memoir Of Love And Loss by Sally Friedman is published by Secker & Warburg at £9.99.
The write stuff
Poet and author of the recently released A Wet Handle, Ivor Cutler faces the music.
NAME Ivor Cutler.
AGE That's my chronological age you want? I think other types of age are more important, like emotional age. I still think there's a lot of the child in me as I enjoy the company of people in their thirties and forties.
PREVIOUS JOBS Oh crumbs. Prior to showbiz you mean? I worked in the Rolls Royce factory as an apprentice engineer. I was an RAF navigator but I liked looking at cloud formations too much so I went off course all the time, so eventually they said I was dangerous and grounded me. I didn't want to be a pilot because I was a cocky seventeen-year-old and thought it would be like driving a bus. I worked as a first aid man and storeman in a Pollockshaws factory. Then I became a teacher for 31 years.
ROUTE TO BECOMING A WRITER I met a man from the BBC who was interested in my songs and asked if I also wrote stories. I bought myself a reel-to-reel machine, lay on the bed and out came one story, then another, then a third. It was easy- peasy.
DAILY ROUTINE I go to bed at night in order to pass the time till it's time to get up and scratch my head. I do that and wonder what the hell I'm going to do that day. I don't know how to live any more after years of being an observer of life. I go to second hand bookshops, I go to museums and the zoo.
INFLUENCES Number one is Franz Kafka. I read The Castle in my mid- thirties and he changed my humour. I also wanted to be a composer when I was younger. I think Dvorak's 9th Symphony and Schubert's Death And The Maiden were influential in that.
AMBITIONS (Big sighs) I don’t enjoy life that much. I enjoy it in bits and have laughs. I think that a lot of humourists are despairing types.
FEARS As a member of the Noise Abatement Society, I have very real fears that my neighbours will play their music too loud.
INCOME I am a rich man but I have to explain that. I read an aphorism that those who live within their income are rich. I don’t go to the theatre, cinema or go on holiday. (Ann Donald)
I A Wet Hand/e by Ivor C ut/er is published by Art“ Pub/Nations at [4. It is also released on C D by Creation,