Love letter to my Lido.
I didn’t pay you much attention at first. I knew you were in walking distance of my house but with babes in buggies and the UK climate I never really explored what you had to offer. But then, lockdown, covid, months of being either in doors or behind a mask nursing the sick, I finally visited you. A cold March morning, one of the first days the world reopened I jumped in (metaphorically- it was far too cold to do it literally).
I wore my underused wetsuit, beach shoes and a woolly hat, thinking I looked quite the expert. But when I walked down the steps into the bright Caribbean blue, an unexpected cold engulfed me. I felt like I was being wrapped in a blanket of shards of glass. I can’t articulate the coldness. I lowered myself into the water, so my shoulders were submerged, my wetsuit dampened around me. It was too brutal I stood up to walk away, to turn back.
What was I thinking? Who does this for fun? I hated it.
‘Do a length.’ the kindness of a stranger a woman swimming towards me mid graceful breaststroke spoke. ‘You’ll feel better, I promise you, just do a length, it’ll be worth it.’
I listened. I honestly think if it hadn’t been for this wonderful, kind woolly- hatted woman, I would never have developed my lido love affair. I was so close to giving up, to walking away straight into a warm shower and comfort. But I stayed. I swam.
I’ve done more than a full year now of all-weather lido swimming. I’ve worn wetsuits, bikinis, woolly hats, swim hats, swim shoes, swim socks, gloves, t-shirts. I have all the clobber, and I thank Father Christmas for my much-appreciated dry robe. But why do I do it? Why do I outdoor swim? What makes me love my lido?
Some days I go alone. I watch the pigeons fly overhead their bellies as blue as kingfishers from the reflection of the water. I hear the goldfinches in the wisteria as the parquets squawk and squabble nearby. I am alone, I don’t think, I’m no longer Mum, Wife, Nurse. I am just one with the water, an empty thought-free mind. A truly mindless experience as opposed to a mindful one. I don’t count my lengths, have no need to perform, to monitor any progress, instead I just swim I get out when I feel tired or cold or hungry.
Other days I go with a friend. The whole time as we swim we talk, of books, of family-friendly dinners, of our children and our work. And we remember the woman we once were, when we worked and played hard in one of London’s busiest hospitals. We remember how we partied the mornings after nightshifts, then drank endless cups of tea from floral Cath Kidston mugs we brought for our shared houses. We remember how we wondered around London booking last minute theatre trips and comedy clubs. We were alive with our love for London, we drank up the opportunities the city poured into our cups with an unquenchable thirst. Those thrill filled days long gone, now filled with mothering, wife-ing and domesticity. That thrill, that excitement for the unknown the city had to offer us. Yet we get a sense of it now during our lido swims.
Each swim is different, offers a different experience. From the cool rain hitting our faces, the water stinging our legs, to when the sun hurts our eyes, to the days the clouds cause a blanket of grey where we can look up at the sky. From the chill of that first step in, to the heat after we have swum 20 lengths, to the sweat washed away in the height of summer. We watch the trees fill with leaves then witness those same branches become bear. From the lido we can watch the seasons change. We are part of that change. The hot cup of tea as our lips turn blue, as we shake and we shiver. The comfort of our scarves as they slowly warm us up, to the days we bathe on the poolside a pizza and aperol spritz as our prize.
And therefore, I have fallen in love with you Lido. From the swimmers I have met, the ones who like me seek this thrill, this stepping into the unknown, the unpredictable. This ever-changing entity. The ones who wake early to dip before work, the ones who stay late until the doors close. The women who change and dress in confidence, boobs, and bums unashamedly on display. The conversation and the giggles as we dry and dress. This is lido swimming. This is lido loving and living.