Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Lido Love

When I was asked to write a piece on Lidos for Lido Music I wasn’t entirely sure what I could say about Lidos that I haven’t already been wittering on about on my blog. You see, in an effort to put off the pressing things I should be dealing with in life I recently set myself a to-do list. In amongst learning to ride a bike at the ripe old age of 33 and posing for a still life class is to swim every Lido in London.
Then it came to me, exactly what I want to tell you about the wonder of swimming in a Lido, in a city. It is this and it has become a precious thing to me.
I feel like I am going on holiday.
I grew up on the Devon coast where being in the water almost became your home away from dry land. From an age that my mum would probably argue was too young my dad chucked every single one of us into the pool at Brixham’s Dolphin holiday camp.  That old fashioned teaching technique of literally sink or swim. Out of four children two of us became water babies, the others still doggy paddle if you manage to get them in the water.
The pool itself, despite being set in a Pontin’s that we would sneak into, was a Lido. That concrete expanse of shallow through to the murkier deep, unheated water and surrounded by concrete steps that stacked up like an auditorium. It was not only where I learnt to swim but where I was taught how to whistle and stay statue still if a bee landed on you. Where we were allowed a coke in a glass bottle from the bar, where we saw Big Daddy wrestle. After a day spent attempting lengths underwater or choreographing lonely synchronised swimming routines we’d climb into the back of the cherry red cavalier still in our swimming costumes and burn the back of our legs on the leather seats, the remaining drops of water turning to steam as we’d rock from bum cheek to bum cheek to avoid the heat.
So despite living down the road from The Dolphin, every time we rolled out the towels it felt like going on holiday. The constant sound of splashes, choc ices for treats and the pool. Always that beautiful pool. Looking back on that now I wonder if, as a child, I ever really grasped how lucky we were to grow up there.
The Dolphin sadly burnt down in 1991 and it was never reopened. I took one last look around at the charred chalets and tennis courts when it did. The pool was sealed off, but through a crack I could see black water and dead leaves. My childhood resembling an oil slick. Even now I sigh at the memory.
Through this self-imposed challenge of swimming London Lido’s I have clawed back some of that feeling I had when I was a carefree child. Of being under the water and amazed that I can still hold my breath enough to reach the other end, the smell of pool water drying on my skin as I lie poolside like a shattered mermaid, of being ravenous starving hungry (that true hunger you only really get after a swim). Of standing at the deep end, knees locked and ready to dive even though I know I am terrible at it and most likely I will fail but not caring anyway.
And of course with London I find myself travelling to places I’ve never been to before, a feeling of the new in a city so old. Sunday morning I found myself on a train to Richmond. Swimming costume on under my dress, towel rolled up under my arm, clean underwear for my return on my bed where I frequently abandon them out of forgetfulness. I love train journeys to unvisited destinations, my nose is pressed up against the window to peek in back gardens, deserted building sites and dirty rivers. I’d never been to Richmond before, just like I’d never been to Tooting Bec until I visited their Lido the other week. I know there’s a pool waiting at the other end of it for me, just like I did when I was a child.
I like taking all these watery holidays.
Hannah x

Hannah writes the From Desk Till Dawn blog

Parliament Hill

Tooting Beck

Bixton Beach

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