I am going to tell you about one of my favourite places in London. I had lived here for a couple of years before I discovered it. Well, i was told about it by other swimmers, when I used to go swimming, almost every Sunday evening, at an indoor swimming pool that belonged to a school.
I have mentioned it in other posts, but swimming has been a part of my life since I can remember. It is still a huge influence on the dreams of my heart. I imagine being able to swim in a lake near to my home every morning at the start of the day. I also dream of being in the water close up to a Blue whale! Swimming has always been in my life. In fact one of my earliest memories was as a five or six year old. I contemplated what might happen if I was to lose my beloved parents. My biggest anxiety at that age was “how will I find my way to the swimming baths on my own?“.
From that day forward I sat up and paid attention to what was going on outside the car window. I was determined to memorise the route to important places in case I had to make my own way. In fact it was only then that I noticed that some clever noggin had vandalised the sign pointing the direction of the swimming pool. My Dad and I used to giggle at that sign! Mum said it was disgusting. She was right of course!
Three nights a week, straight after school, we would head to our local swimming pool. We swam for hours. We had an hour’s coaching from an instructor during the evening who would advise us on improving our stroke to help us to swim faster. We won many races in galas between the three of us (my sisters and I).
I love water, I love swimming. It is my go-to place for instant happiness and de-stressing. You might see me thrashing up and down, length after length and presume it is just for exercise. But no, in my head, the swimming pool is where I play, it’s where adventures play out in my head. I don’t think I am in a swimming pool, I think I am in the ocean, swimming with dolphins!
So when I moved to London, as I mentioned above, Sunday swimming evenings became a regular feature of my life. There were some other very good swimmers who swam every week too. One day they mentioned to me “Hampstead Lido” (I found out later that not everyone calls it Hampstead Lido, but rather, it’s correct name Parliament Hill Lido.)
I had never been to a lido before. I had presumed they were more for children than adults. I don’t know why, but I had always thought a lido was a shallow paddling pool rather than a proper pool that swimmers would enjoy. But one particular couple kept on raving on about Hampstead Lido and how much they loved swimming there.
So one day…I think it was a Tuesday or Wednesday, when I had a day off work and the sun was shining, I grabbed my swimming gear and headed down there. I was a bit nervous at first. The changing rooms seemed dark and a bit scary. I don’t think there were any doors on the changing cubicles. I was nervous when I walked out towards to pool and the handful of swimmers in the water all turned to look at me. But what a lovely sight lay before me:
The pool was huge. I think it was about sixty metres in length. I could see that one end of the pool was very shallow. Rather than enter the pool there, where I could have just stepped in, I slipped into the water midway. Wow! What a shock I had! The water was much cooler than I was expecting. In fact it was delicious. I realized that the water was much too cold to be enjoyable if you were going to stay still. So, I very quickly started to swim. At first breaststroke. Then front crawl. And then after about half an hour, I flipped over onto my back. That was wonderful! I was swimming along staring up at the blue sky with hardly a cloud to be seem, just faint trails left by aeroplanes.
Normally when you swim, the water seems to grow warmer, or you just acclimatise to the temperature and heat up as you exercise. But I remember realizing that no matter how long I swam for, no matter how much I exerted myself, that water was remaining deliciously cold. I stayed there for about three hours swimming up and down with just a handful of other swimmers. I loved every minute of my swim that day – it felt like a pocket of paradise amidst the big chokey smoke of London.
On a hot day in London, the lidos can become packed. In fact on a really hot day, I would be too scared to go there! And I think it’s because so many people have discovered that in London, the best way to cool off is to head down to the nearest lido!
This was my post in response to the writing prompt from Sarah Elizabeth Moore