Ah, Tooting Bec Lido! 100 yards long by 33 yards wide, containing a million gallons of water heated only by sunshine. And containing, too, at various times over the summer, hundreds of swimmers, hairballs, slicks of sun cream, used plasters, and sundry other things that make swimming in it less than a pleasure. But as September rolls around the nights draw in and the water cools and the public flies South for the winter (they don’t really, but it’s a nice metaphor). Then the Lido closes its doors, to all except US, South London Swimming Club. And, rather like families do after visitors have departed, we kick off our (also metaphorical) shoes, loosen our waistbands and…. relax…..
Once more the water contains nothing worse than autumn leaves, and the weird little robot-like bottom sweeper which pootles around in the deeper water, momentarily entangling unwary swimmers in its cable. Once more the café empties out and makes itself available as an ad-hoc club house supplying tea, toast and gossip. Once more one can run to and fro between showers and changing cubicles clad only in a towel and gather nothing worse than few lewd comments from one’s mates. And once more one can swim freely, in a pool innocent of all save club members.
And oh, what a joy that is, to be able to swim autumn miles as the water cools down, unimpeded by others, enjoying the play of light on water and the colours of the floating leaves. To cram in brisk swims as winter tightens its grip before languorously warming chilled limbs in the gossipy warmth of the sauna. To enjoy the chummy teasing of the winter races as the water temperature plummets below five degrees and exposure is measured in yards and minutes rather than miles and hours. To luxuriate in the comradeship.
For swimming in Tooting Lido in the eight months of the winter season is a supremely friendly experience. There are usually few enough swimmers in the water that one can recognise people by their stroke, often even while one is swimming. You can be in your own little world, ploughing up and down, and yet still be pleasantly aware of friends in the water around you and on the sides. And if one sometimes swims into someone, as is almost inevitable in a big unlaned pool where lots of people are doing laps**, well, no biggie – you stop, apologise, laugh or have a bit of a chat, maybe, and carry on. It is, on the whole, a calm, gentle and above all civilised little society.
*No similarity with any swimmers, living, dead, wetsuited or non-wetsuited, intended.
**It’s astonishing how often, even in a pool the size of Tooting Bec, people do swim into one another, even when there are only two people in the pool. It’s like swimmers have a magnetic attraction to each other, or something.
More tomorrow. Or soon.