I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t swim; even as a very small child I could just float like a little starfish without any fear or worry, just lying back in the bosomy water. We were lucky to have a large open air swimming pool near us, Jesus Green. In case you’re wondering about the name, Jesus Green is a big open park, so-called because it is beside Jesus College. We didn’t know it was a lido, but apparently it was or is; built in 1923 it was where my dad swam as a boy. The pool was open from about April to October… it may even have been open at other times too, but this was where I learned to swim. It was a hundred yards long and I think fourteen yards wide, and the shallow ends were probably 3’6″ and I think the deepest part in the middle was 8’… There was a turnstile entrance opposite the middle of the pool, and then wooden changing rooms on either side, men’s and women’s. There were diving boards too, and behind the diving boards was a shop. We spent every free moment there in the summer, except when we were on the nearby River Cam.
I joined the local swimming club, and during the winter when the pool was closed we went to use the indoor pool at The Leys School. My dad also took us over to Saffron Walden where there was an indoor pool. A new pool was built in Cambridge and by then I was serious about my swimming; we trained several times a week with the club but I swam every day. Every year the club held river races – there was the swim through Cambridge, which was literally swimming through the city, but there were distance races, 1½, 3 and 7 miles. I think I won all of them over the years – but I never won the swim through!
Now I don’t swim at all… if I go to the local indoor pool it is lane swimming and others are too fast or too slow for me, and there are often classes going on with music blaring and instructors shouting, and to be honest, it actually bores me now! If my teenage self could read this she would be horrified – bored with swimming? It was her life! When I think back, all my swimming was with other people, it was a sociable thing; now if I go I go on my own so maybe it’s not surprising that I’m bored.
For one of my reading groups I’m reading Waterlog by Richard Deakin; he was a great swimmer and loved everything to do with nature and the natural world. Waterlog is his chronicle of a swimming adventure in rivers, pools, lakes and seas of Britain, and not only am I finding it very interesting, it has pricked my interest in swimming again. Not swimming in an indoor pool, but wild swimming, as I used to in the River cam and its upper reaches, The Granta. Maybe this summer I will find a beach or river where I can swim again, and see if I can reawaken my interest and my passion!
Here is a link to a film by Chris Cox about Jesus Green pool: