I have a love-hate relationship with the sea. I find it unpleasant to get myself all salty and sandy just for the sake of a dip. And in hot countries, being of the fair and freckled variety, I have endless problems with sunscreen (put it on before: it will wash off into the water eventually, put it on after: you’ll be battling with wet, salty sandy skin which really doesn’t want any cream on it). Besides, how much swimming do you really get done? The beautiful beach in the photo above possessed clean white sands, blood-warm water and breathtaking views, but I mostly just jumped between waves because swimming wasn’t really an option.
But. It’s the sea! There’s something amazing about submerging yourself in something so big and powerful and looking out knowing that the next piece of land is another continent (or Canvey Island, depends where you’re swimming). And the elation felt afterwards is unbeatable (best ever: Staithes beach on a very windy March day). Susie Parr’s Story of Swimming comments that very few people seem to swim in the sea these days and I would concur. I’ve been the only person in the water, not just in cold water in the UK and Northern France, but in Southern Spain in June and September in temperatures of 30 plus. My own feeling, purely anecdotal, is that the recent resurgence in outdoor swimming is predominantly competitive and it takes an exceptionally hardy swimmer to take on competitive distances in the sea. If, you follow Leanne Shapton’s classification, in her book Swimming Studies, of being a bather rather than a swimmer, the sea will suit you. Otherwise you’re better off in a lake. Or Tooting Lido.
After a work- and PhD-related sabbatical, I intend to be back blogging regularly. Since I last blogged I’ve swum in some interesting new places: Mojacar on the Almeria coast, The Shelbourne hotel in Dublin, Pennyhill Park spa, the new Ironmonger row (including the spa plunge pool) and, er, Kings Hall leisure centre in Clapton.
However, I’m not going to discuss any of that in today’s post. Instead I’m going to wonder why fast swimmers use slow and medium lanes. Given that lane-blocking, by people who are too slow for the lane they are in, is a recurring moan from regular swimmers, I wonder why they don’t recognise that it works the other way. It’s really, really offputting to have someone constantly overtaking you, or hogging the middle lane and it’s usually completely unnecessary. If you’re too fast for the slow or medium lane, go one up! You might be irritated by somebody’s sedate breast stroke but, if they’re in the slow lane, they have NOWHERE SLOWER TO GO.
I know it’s not always straightforward. Lane pace changes depending on who’s in the pool and the medium lane is by definition inconclusive (neither ‘fast’ nor ‘slow’). And sometimes it’s me. My breast stroke is suddenly noticeably faster than most of the swimmers in the slow lane, so I move to the medium. And sometimes, when I do that, I find I’m holding people up because they’re all swimming crawl. But you know what? When that happens, I move back to the slow lane. Nobody laughed at me for trying to be considerate. Well, maybe they did, but I can’t see well through my goggles.
If I like swimming so much that I write a blog about it, it would be really, really bad form to complain about other people discovering they like it too, wouldn’t it? So I won’t complain about getting to the lido at 11am on Saturday morning and seeing a queue stretching out the building, down the ramp, along the path, across the grass and all the way along the side of the railway tracks as far as the shack cafe. Realising these people were queueing to spend a day at the lido in lovely hot weather with temperate waters, I turned round and went home again and quashed my thoughts of ‘where were they when the water was 17 degrees?’ (‘exercising sanity’ one of my twitter contacts replied). It really is good that people are using the lido and realising what fun swimming is. And maybe they’ll come when the air temperature’s not 31 degrees!
So the next day, I decided I would brave London Fields Lido, even though I knew it would be even more popular because it’s heated. I’m not so dedicated that I’m prepared to give up my one lie-in of the week just to get to the pool before everyone else, so I arrived at 10am to a long queue, which alarmingly seemed to be getting longer behind me without moving particularly. But then it suddenly occurred to me that the problem might be ‘processing’ rather than ‘capacity’. Getting a nice lady to save my place in the queue, I went up to the cash desk and lo, was told that as a member I could swipe in myself. Hurrah! and the pool itself wasn’t particularly more crowded than it often is on a weekday evening (although there was barely any sunbathing space left even at that time). The only thing I’d say is that there must have been more ‘amateurs’ there than usual because the pace of the slow and medium lanes was, almost, slow and medium. I even swam in the medium lane for about ten minutes before being taken over by some front crawlers.
So, I’m *more* than happy for the rest of the world to like swimming too, even if it’s just for one day a year, given that I queue-jumped ahead of them all.
Bit late this (it closes on 23rd August), but I finally made it to this charming exhibition at Parliament Hill Lido on Monday. A small display of posters and artefacts (including some rather cool mid-20th century knitted swimming costumes) much of it was familiar from Susie Parr’s Story of Swimming but it was still hugely fun. I particularly liked the ephemera devoted to swimming heroes of yore, especially Captain Webb, the first channel swimmer. The very jolly curator helpfully explained to me why Webb would have been disqualified under current channel swimming rules and described the diet of beef tea and whisky which probably didn’t do much to sustain him on his crossing. As a special bonus, there was a bassetts sweet cigarette picture of Duncan Goodhew from the 1970s which I’m convinced is identical to one on the back of a Bunty special full-length picture story I once owned. Shame I’m not quite so good at recognising Duncan in the flesh.
I’ve been visiting friends in Petersfield for around 7 years and finally made it to Hampshire’s only outdoor pool this last Saturday. In some ways, I just wanted to tick it off the list, and assumed that it would be too small, too hot and too crowded. I was wrong. The water was at least as fresh as London Fields Lido (too hot for Outdoor Swimming Friend, who remembers it as being ‘hot and shallow’ but then she goes to Tooting Lido at 0 degrees) and at the time I went, not too crowded at all (as I left, the gates were being opened to families, so this may have changed later in the day). There’s a wide-ish lane for crawl swimmers, but I didn’t have a problem swimming around and past people in the main part of the pool as a fast breast-stroker. And in general the atmosphere was genial and jolly. I even had a nice chat about the women’s Olympic outdoor swimming while showering (we were costumed: the showers are segregated but it didn’t seem like the kind of place people showered nude). It’s not the biggest pool in the world, but at 9.45 on a warm Saturday morning was just the right size and enough to give anyone a lift.
The early hours of Saturday morning are often wakeful or fitfully-sleeping ones for me. If I’m awake past the end of World Service, I normally I aim to hear either I-PM or Farming Today, but sleep through Open Country, which I find a bit twee. However, having been wide awake for World Sport about 2.30am BST, I drifted off and woke up when the words ‘Hampstead Ponds’ entered my dreams. Yes Open Country had a whole programme about the Ponds, including an excellent anecdote from Caitlin Davies (who’s book would make an excellent birthday present for any keen outdoor swimmer who turns 40 this year, just sayin’) about the lifeguard who shouted at regular intervals so the topless sunbathers would turn onto their backs, until somebody knitted nipple covers for them.
Meanwhile I had what felt like an exceptionally cold lido swim this morning. It might be that some 18 degrees are more equal than others. Or it might be that because I’d fallen asleep again after my alarm went off, I was still asleep less than 15 minutes before getting into the water.
<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/christinegrossutti/history-of-swimming-in-kingston” title=”History of Swimming in Kingston” target=”_blank”>History of Swimming in Kingston</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/christinegrossutti” target=”_blank”>christinegrossutti</a></strong> </div>
This makes me annoyed with myself – three years ago I spent 5 days in Kingston, Ontario where there’s a bloody big lake. Admittedly it hardly stopped raining, but I never plucked up courage to pop down to the lakeside and have a plunge. Anyway, more slideshare archive histories of swimming, please!
As a follow-up to my Oasis post, I should add another plus and another minus regarding the ladies’ changing rooms. Plus! the hooks are now at a height that a 5’2” woman can reach without being on tiptoe. Minus! television / radio on constantly and piped through speakers (although it was on low yesterday evening and far less intrusive).
I’ve been going a lot to Parliament Hill Lido for ‘mainstream’ swims this summer. I think my original motivation was shock that I’d, once again, paid for an annual pass when there was absolutely no way that I was going to use it enough to make it worthwhile (at £180 per year – why do I do it? it’s only £2 to go to the pond and £2.50 for an early morning or late-evening lido swim and it’s not often I’ll get to either during the day, even while they’re still open). However, it’s very close to home and I’ve found that at 18 degrees I can do 25 minutes fairly comfortably and 20 or higher is fine. This was not true two years ago so it’s really true that you get used to colder water and even start to crave it. I still wear neoprene socks and mittens in these types of temperatures which makes me stand out a bit: most lido-goers just wear their costumes at this time of year and competition swimmers are in wetsuits. Quite frankly, if there were neoprene bum and nose protectors, I’d buy them as it’s those bits that really start to hurt after 20 minutes. I’m a lightweight really.
I recently started back in full-time work and had my first pre-work swim, a painful experience for this non-morning person. There seemed to be a lot of regulars (one woman said to another ‘you weren’t here yesterday – don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone’) and I incurred the wrath of one. The lido only has one adjustable shower: the others are ‘too cold’ and ‘too hot’. I was amazed to find I was the only person in the shower when I got out the pool and excitedly nabbed it. However, I subsequently discovered the privilege was too much to bear. Being water-conservation minded, I turn the shower off when I’m not actually rinsing shampoo or conditioner off and one lady, braving it out in ‘too cold’ pointed at me and said ‘is that shower on?’. Not getting her point, I said ‘no’, then realised the unspoken ‘then why are you hogging it’ and had to add ‘but I promise I’ll use it again in a second’. Thereafter, ensued the fastest rinse-off I could manage and a swift departure so that my companion to get to use ‘her’ shower…. But, after all, you won’t see me at the lido when the temperature drops below 10 degrees. No, thanks very much, I’ll be at the pond.
It’s been a while since my last post due to ridiculous quantity of studying, working and domestic commitments. But, finally, something’s happened which has prodded me out of my inertia. The Oasis ladies’ changing room has had a refurb which has really made a difference (something I said could never happen). The new tiling, wooden benches and lockers really do make the subterranean changing room look nice and the ‘vanity’ area is nicer than some hotel spas. Of course it will date but I’ve been here before with this pool and this is the first time that a renovation has resulted in the loss of that grim and dingy feeling (and there have been many over the years).
Of course it’s not all perfect… there’s only one bin in the entire room and it’s miles away from the shower which didn’t exactly encourage me to dispose responsibly of the hair I’d combed out while washing it. The only tissues are in the loos. I had to queue to get hold of some so that I could wipe my face of make-up before I got into the pool. And, while they’ve got rid of those weird benches with no solid surface on which to put things, the completely solid wood benches now leave nowhere to hang a wet swimming costume without it dripping all over the floor.
But, it really does look nice and makes weeks of walking through the ENTIRE sports centre in a wet cozzy to get to the back entrance during the building work feel worthwhile. Meanwhile, progress on the indoor pool seems to be slow, meaning that outdoor pool crowding continues apace. But, one problem at a time, eh?
There was a real party atmosphere at the pond this morning, largely to do with the lovely weather. The water temperature is only 9 degrees, and that’s cold but, as they say, you feel every half degree below 10 and it was 6 degrees only a few weeks ago (it must work the other way? surely?). Anyway, it’s officially still winter swimming before the clocks go back, and thermos flasks were in evidence, but the rope restraint had been moved back a few feet in honour of the increased temperature. And it is exciting to think that every day from next week the ponds will be open later (and maybe the water will get warmer too, who knows?).
The presence of a male Corporation of London employee didn’t seem to worry anyone much. In fact, it was nice that he was having a chat with the lifeguards while having a cuppa. This reminded me that I have mixed feelings about the ladies’-only aspect of the pond. On the one hand it seems ridiculous to have segregated swimming when even topless sunbathing isn’t allowed. On the other, the ladies’ pond has a very special atmosphere and it’s possible that the single-sex nature is part of that. Having said which, there’s already a small amount of mixed bathing (the men are invited over for an hour next Saturday, 7.30am to 8.30am, shame I’ll miss it as I’ll be in bed). And there’ll be plenty more if the Hampstead Ponds dam redevelopment programme takes place as planned. Perhaps this is the best compromise – we keep our separate ponds but offer a bit of hospitality from time to time. I’d certainly like to try out the men’s!