I remember, at the end of September 2011, when my depression was just starting to take hold, sitting on a bench at the Lido on a sunny Sunday morning. Sunday mornings at the Lido had become a bit of a ritual for me, an oasis of peace and pleasure in a stressful life and I was sad at the prospect of losing them with the onset of winter, not knowing how much I was about to be given.
Looking around at the Lido on winter Sunday mornings after the races, it’s very like the square in a small town. People are chatting and laughing, drinking coffee and eating cake, catching up with old friends and making new ones. Children and dogs run around underfoot, benignly watched over by the entire community. Here a bit of official business is conducted, there a game of hand-ball is fought out. It’s a wonderful, and as far as I can make out, more or less unique community. For the retired or unemployed, it provides a daily structure, for those who work from home, a chance for some social interaction before hitting the desk. For me, it was a lifeline and has been a source of so much joy and so many wonderful friendships.
It has also changed my life in other ways. Before I joined the Lido, I had always vaguely planned to move out of London when I retired. My family is down in the West Country and I had a long term plan to move to Bristol after I stopped working. Bristol is a beautiful city and the sort of place I thought I could feel at home. By contrast I had never thought of Tooting as my long term home, although I had been there for over twenty years. It was somewhere I lived, not somewhere I would choose to be. The Lido has changed all that. I know I will never move away from it, and that has changed my perception of my wider community, which is no longer somewhere I am just passing through but somewhere I plan to live out the rest of my life. It’s astonishing what a difference that makes. I feel more committed, more involved, more interested, and not just in Tooting as it is at present but in Tooting as it will be in the future. It’s a truism that the more you put into something, the more you get out of it, and this shift has already started to pay dividends for me, and will pay more as I have time to become more involved in community affairs. Tooting has become, not just home, but Home.
Would swimming and the Lido have become so important to me, would I have had any of this, if I hadn’t been depressed? I have no idea, but I’m glad, so glad that it happened. Depression was horrible, but the changes which have come out of it have, in all sorts of ways, been wonderful. Swimming filled a void in me which I didn’t know was there; it, and the community of people I have met through it, have become two of the great joys of my life.
So to finish, I will leave you with a poem which I wrote in the spring of 2012 when I was starting to come out of my depression. Not because it’s a particularly good poem, because it’s not, but because it sums up really what this whole piece has been about. It doesn’t have a title, but if you want to give it one, you could do worse than What I Think About When I Think About Swimming.
Through a long winter I sank into deep water
Past weeds and branches
Down into the darkness where the drowned things are.
But the water froze me so I could not drown,
And the light came lancing so I was not lost,
And the hands came reaching so I did not sink.
Free like water,
Happy like sunlight,
Held like a child.