Alas, I’m afraid it is. But probably the only one I’ll do. Every man, woman (actually, it’s mainly women) and their canine pets seems to have a swimming blog, particularly if they are the sorts who rejoice in swimming in unnecessarily cold water, muddy water, brackish water, ice-slush ‘water’, or bodies of water between two different countries. After extensive consideration I decided to permit myself one post, as it fitted within my ‘music and research’ remit: exploring new pools is a form of research, and whilst enjoying my immersion I often tend to hum as a form of entertainment.
So, this morning I went to Parliament Hill Lido. I have been to the Highgate Ladies Pond a few times now, and I enjoy it as long as I don’t have to put my face under, and don’t think about what might lie on the bottom of the pond. However, I’d only heard rumours of the delights of Parliament Hill Lido (PHL from now on). After emerging from Belsize Park Tube, I found myself walking through a veritable swimming pool of rain, and cowered, trembling, in the bus shelter to await the C11. Upon arriving at the Lido I was momentarily baffled by how to gain ingress, but a man doing a drastic-looking hamstring stretch advised me. Then I paid my £1.50 (bargain!) to a polite man who emerged suddenly from an office. People complain constantly about aspects of the changing rooms at Brockwell Lido, but those facilities are luxurious compared to PHL, where the aesthetic is ‘shed’. I don’t object to this, as I come from a land of sheds, shacks, and No. 8 fencing wire. But showers – as I discovered later – are amazing. Scalding torrents of delicious water.
Emerging from the draughty sanctuary of the changing-barn to the rain-swept pool deck (this is good – it cools one before the drama of The Total Immersion), the same polite man appeared again, and asked ‘Are you all right, Madam?’ I must have looked dismayed about something. Can’t imagine why.
The pool itself is amazing. It’s magnificent. Its dimensions are impressive (61 m × 27 m). And, it’s lined with gleaming stainless steel. From outside, this doesn’t look particularly special, but after I performed my usual entry ritual – hopping and squeaking (there was no point squealing as I had no audience, as such) – and did two lengths of breast-stroke, I launched into freestyle and discovered the utter joy of this stainless steel wonder: it makes one feel like a sci-fi super-hero. I was fascinated by how astonishing bubbles look in these circumstances, the bubbles coming off my fingers, out of my mouth, and produced by other people’s lively kicking. It was entrancing, and now and again I had to stop swimming just to look. At the deep end the pool is 2 metres, but at the other end it’s very shallow. In fact, I nearly jumped out of my skin when my fingers brushed the bottom of the pool. I’m not used to that, and it interrupted my swimming reverie.
What I have not yet mentioned is the temperature. Like Brockwell Lido, and of course, Tooting Bec, PHL is unheated. I would say that today the water was colder than it was at Brockwell yesterday. And at one point, when I stood up after performing an ecstatic hand-stand/somersault trick, I noticed that there were gratifying amounts of steam coming off my person. There was also substantial ice-cream headache, far more than yesterday at Brockwell, and this leads me to suspect that it was cold. Now, I’ve no idea how many lengths I did, as the general sci-fi-super-hero reverie, and humming ‘You are my Sunshine) distracted me from mathematics. It was definitely more than 20 lengths, and probably in total I did 25 or 27. Three before getting out I decided that it was cold enough, as I had lost contact with my feet, and it was hard to tell which part of my arm was entering the water first. A visual check suggested that, conventionally, my fingers were, but I couldn’t really feel this.
My hands and feet were still suitably lively to assist with the business of climbing up the pool ladder, and I tottered into the changing barn. One woman was occupying the bench where I’d left my bag. Indeed, she was occupying all of the bench, and my bag was in danger of tipping into a big puddle, so after making sure it was more secure on the minuscule portion of bench allotted to it, I took myself into the shower (without first laying out my clothes) and experienced the aforementioned scalding torrents produced by the fittings; I attempted a rictus-like smile at the other occupant of the showers, but this wasn’t well-received. After pressing the shower button four times, enjoying the recurrent torrents, and realising that despite the scalding torrents, I was slightly chilly, I repaired to the bench, but Whole Bench Woman was still there, and there was no room for my clothes. Now, getting dressed when you are shivering violently is quite tricky. The last thing one wants is for one’s underwear to fly out of one’s hands and into a puddle. Usually I make sure that all my garments are hanging on a hook, in the order that I’ll put them on, but this didn’t work today. Naturally I couldn’t find my pants, which had disappeared into the darkest recesses of my rucksack.
After an epic struggle, I was fully clad, and there was sufficient room to sit down on the bench and apply socks and shoes to my feet. At this point, strangers spoke to me. They were concerned that I hadn’t gone into the sauna (I hadn’t realised that there was one, and also I was in a hurry), and that I hadn’t showered properly, and how long had I been in the water? This seemed presumptuous, so I began to explain my usual post-swimming practices. Naturally these didn’t interest anybody, although my forty minutes in the pool did surprise them. It seems that long-standing, or at least regular denizens of London’s Lidos are a breed unto themselves with certain characteristics in common, whether they are north or south of The River. It is important that one takes a responsible attitude towards facilities one likes to use, but people can take the ‘ownership’ thing a bit too far.
I was then left to my own devices, and after applying a brush to my hair, I sallied forth into the rain, took the Overground to Hampstead, purchased a warming draught (not a scalding torrent, alas) of coffee, and made for the No. 24 bus. It took some time, over an hour in fact, to become reacquainted with my feet. A kind friend suggested helpfully that I needed some strong fellow from the Argentinian rugby team to chafe them (my feet) back into a state of human warmth. Alas, the bus heater had to suffice.
Such a day out! The great beauty of PHL is compelling, and I will certainly go there again to experience the mighty chill, and the mighty thrill of the showers. Everybody needs a little Sunday-morning euphoria.