I’m not quite sure when it happened, but Usual Pool has created an extremely nice new website with a lovely panoramic view of the pool itself. Looking at it reminds me all over again why I first fell in love with this pool. To be completely specific, it reminded me of the pool in Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton’s Cat People (you can what I mean in the trailer, but don’t let that put you off either the film or the pool – I have never seen a big cat at the 52 Club). Usual Pool is a sports and social club for hospital employees (to which I claim associate membership as a student in the associated University). But in case you’ve found this a bit tantalising, I should say it doesn’t really look this clean, can get very crowded at times (and doesn’t have lanes to regulate it), is often really too hot and the changing rooms can get a bit manky (largely to do with the poor personal habits of some of the users – I’m sorry, the paper towels you’ve used to dry yourself, the tag from your new cozzy, the plastic lining from your swimsuit or sanitary towel, they belong in the bin, not the cubicle). Phew, hope that’s put you off. One of it’s great features is that it’s not too crowded.
On another note, I’ve finally given in and booked a swimming lesson. I’ve been spending far too much time agonising over it and need to sort it out.
Usual pool introduced a compulsory swimming cap rule a couple of years ago. This isn’t a problem for me as I’ve been wearing one for years on the very important advice of my hairdresser. However, I did swim for a long time without one for a number of reasons, not least that I had no idea that the silicone cap had been invented. I thought I was going to have stretch one of the enlarged rubber bands of my youth over my head, leaving me with a permanently surprised look and pulling large quantities of hair out. When I was at school, it was still possible to get the ‘bubble cap’ variety, but only old women wore them, so we never went near them, which is a shame as they are by far the best fitting and most practical. I believe you can still get them online as they are preferred by swimmers with alopecia.
Anyway, I have to say that when I swim in pools which don’t have a mandate for caps, I do notice the amount of hair in the water, tickling me as I swim through it. I also think that swimming caps on men and women add an extra level of anonymity which helps to remove any sense of sexual tension among people who are otherwise getting breathless and not wearing many clothes. It probably increases pool rage, as one is more inclined to view other swimmers as obstructions rather than human beings, but on balance, they are a Good Thing.
I went to the lido last night and what a contrast from the last time! Not being half term and not being especially hot made a big difference and three of us had the pool to ourselves. This is always pleasant although my desire to swim in circles meant I rather irritatingly still got in the way of my other swimmers (if you’ve ever seen how big Gospel Oak Lido is, you’ll know how hard I must have tried to achieve it). I found it a very cold 18 degrees, despite having run to the lido from the dentist’s. Perhaps I have just forgotten what 18 degrees feels like, but I found myself willing the time to go by and ended up getting out after 15 minutes as my extremeties really did feel like they were losing sensation. Still, a hot shower wasn’t a problem as it is when the water is under 12 degrees, so maybe I should have stuck it out longer.
I am now happily back in Zoggs Athena II goggles following a miserable experience in London Fields Lido on Sunday. I was unable to appreciate the attractive pool and sunny day thanks to the disintegration of my Zoggs Medallist II shortly before entering the water. I was only able to swim with my head in the water by keeping the lenses on with a mixture of pulling the strap too tightly (on the side which wasn’t broken) and sheer willpower.
On another note, I’m having more crises of confidence about my breaststroke. I read on somebody’s blog recently that breaststrokers shouldn’t think about propelling themselves forwards with their legs, but about being as streamlined as possible. That’s how I used to swim, before I changed my leg action! It seems completely incompatible to me that I can at one and the same time push out and round and be long and pointy. Maybe lessons would be a good idea, but I’d have a hard time making the time commitment.
I finally made it to the Serpentine Lido yesterday evening, after months of intentions foiled, largely because Kensington just isn’t somewhere I am very often. However, the serps is just about halfway between my office and Holland Park, where I was going to the opera last night, so I just made it for the last admission at 5.30. The evening was ideal for it – muggy, but sunny and gentle rather than aggressively humid. The water does have a more ‘industrial’ feel than Hampstead ponds – and you can see the concrete bottom – but swimming in the middle of Hyde Park is amazing, being simultaneously surrounded by trees, flowers and wildlife, and being in the middle of London. The water temperature was just right – cold but not so much that I had to worry about my temperature dropping. Much warmer than Hampstead ponds, but then it’s much shallower.
And it’s huge – it doesn’t seem like it, because the roped off area looks quite close in, the length is substantial, and it has a really spacious feel, especially when there were only 5 of us in there. My companions were a nice contrast, two middle-aged men with their heads out of the water, chatting as they went, two young women wearing wetsuits who later were heard discussing their tri-times in the changing rooms (although in the interest of balance I should say they also discussed nights out and boyfriends). Such facilities as there are are great – spotless changing room, beautiful sun terrace and very, very friendly staff, who could not have been more helpful. But be warned, the only shower is a cold one just by the water itself. I used it – a lot of weed had attached itself to me – but a hot one involving shampoo would have been quite welcome had one been available. I’ll go back for the outdoor experience, although having a Hampstead Heath swimming pass, Usual Pool pass and SwimLondon pass makes paying even as little as £3.50 (cheap for London) a little less enticing.
Last year I experimented with Aqua Sphere Vista goggles and, while I liked the visibility, I had terrible trouble with leakage. For some reason I just could not get them stop letting in water. After they finally bit the dust (and that was after I’d spent a lot of time swimming with one eye shut), I ordered some Eagle goggles, in the hope that the different system of strap adjustment would make the fit easier, but the postman never delivered them (or a ‘sorry you were out’ note) so they were sent back to the supplier. In the meantime, I’d bought some Zoggs Athena goggles and, while they certainly don’t have the cachet that aqua sphere has (I mean, I bought them in John Lewis), they caused me no trouble whatsoever. Which is why I’m gutted that I’ve now lost them and am having to cope with Zoggs medallist goggles I bought in an emergency. Not only are they uncomfortable and leave me with horrible red rings, but the bridge keeps breaking. I’ll just have to get myself back to Johnny Lou-lous sports department, where the Professionals hang out.
Not that I like to moan, really, but I did get a bit hacked off in the Clissold Pool this morning. Two swimmers preferred to swim up and down the middle and constantly take over slower swimmers (like me, for example) to swimming in the next lane up. There are three faster lanes in this pool! and the slow lane really is – as it should be – for vereee… gentle… breaststrokers (mostly with heads out the water). If I started swimming in the slow lane, these people would have nowhere to go. So I tried not to feel bad each time I was taken over, but it did seem unnecessary. Of course I’m slower than I once was and have to admit did lapse into streamlined, straight leg kicking at points when I started to be embarassed at people stuck behind me. It doesn’t seem right that I’m so much slower when I kick out from my hips, than when I kick straight, but I suppose it’s a bit like learning to type.
On Friday I went to Gospel Oak Lido for the first time this year. I felt like a bit of a fraud, because it was the hottest day of the year and the Friday of half term, so was absolutely packed – none of my feelings of snooty exclusivity applied. It was fine though – it’s big enough to absorb a lot of people and the shallow end was roped off for cavorting (by children, mostly). Not too many floating plasters or coke bottle tops either.
This isn’t strictly relevant to a swimming blog, but at the mature age of 37 I have taken up running for the first time, and my first attempt was getting home from the lido. I made it as far as the organic food shop in Kentish Town (at which point I bought some things so was no longer hands free) which was about 8 minutes and Quite Hard. I’ve done two 10 minute runs since, both immediately prior to swimming and really enjoyed the swim. I might be bright purple when I get in the pool (that’s after I’ve had a shower and cooled down) but it’s as if I have put all the pain into the run, and the swim is pure pleasure.
Today I went to the Clissold Pool for the first time and really, really liked it. It’s super-clean, lit by natural light and wide enough for lots of lanes (including an ‘unspecified’ one in which two women were having a chat). In fact, the medium lane was wider than the rest, allowing for overtaking and reflecting the fact that ‘medium’ is a convenient category for many of us to place ourselves in, regardless of strength, speed or stroke (to be fair, I did start off in the slow lane, but it just wasn’t going to work). Interestingly, if asked, I couldn’t tell you what makes it so different from the Queen Mother’s Pool in Westminster, but it is – and is better. Perhaps it’s just in better condition – Hackney, as an Olympic host borough has invested somewhat in swimming pools and the Clissold is quite shiny. Keep polishing, I say.
Last weekend I went to Whitby for some walking on the lovely North Yorkshire coastal path. On Saturday we walked to Robin Hood’s Bay and I had brought my costume just-in-case, but although it’s very atmospheric, the jagged rocks and shallow water (it was low tide) made it rather unenticing to swim and, despite the rain, there were a lot of people about eating ice cream and chips. On Sunday, therefore, I was determined to have a dip and was so disappointed when 24 miles per hour wind meant walking up to Sandsend was a challenge, never mind getting into the water.
However, the weather (if not the wind) eased off at this point, and we had about an hour of sunshine walking to Runswick Bay. Although the clouds had started to gather at this point, I felt it was now or never and boyfriend (who used to be a pool attendant you know) and I hurriedly got changed and ran into the water. It was amazing – choppy, but swimming wasn’t impossible – and very, very invigorating. We probably weren’t in for more than a few minutes, but the feeling of elation lasted all day. My only problem was that getting dry and dressed modestly was almost impossible and the locals didn’t seem to think averting their eyes was the right thing to do. Trying to struggle out of a wet cozzie and into pants and trousers is hard enough in windy sandy conditions anyway, without a curious old pensioner having a nosey.