Saturday, 17 August 2013



Here's where to start.  

This map (at the link, below) was started voluntarily by an amazingly kind tweeter, @NikkiCoates. Others have since contributed, without seeking acknowledgment or thanks. The moral of the tale? Swimmers are very nice people. Thank you everyone! It's now got all the pools I've reviewed and it's the best way to navigate this blog, which I'll admit can be a bit tricky, otherwise.


Monday, 20 May 2013



It's 6.15 on a Sunday morning, and I'm awake. More than awake: I'm packing my bag. In goes some sesame halva I bought to keep my son going while he's revising but then thought 'fuck it. My need is greater than yours,'* a flask of minimally-diluted caffeine, and everything neoprene I own. I'm doing this as silently as I can so as not to wake the house, but we have a puppy who doesn't understand, I have the Ding Dong Eurovision song going round in my head and I can't find my car keys. Sorry, house.

It's 7.30am on the same Sunday morning. I'm standing on a jetty on the edge of a lake watching the sky get light, and wondering how cold the water is. I'm not in the countryside, I'm not on the outskirts of London, I'm in what is described as 'a picturesque corner of Stoke Newington'. Normally I associate Stokie with couples who were once hipsters but then had babies named Olive or Cecil and had to leave their funtime trousers behind for a more sensible slack. Today, though, it is full of people like me, only younger. People who own neoprene. People who have come to this picturesque corner of Stoke Newington looking for early morning water-based fun. Yeah. You heard me. Water-based fun, N4! These are crazy times.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Costumes present

I am terribly uncool. Cool people get sent free stuff, and I never get sent free stuff. I mean, why would I? But about a month ago, I became a little bit cool. (I'm aware this is like your mum saying 'my bad' then grinning at you all pleased with herself. I ask your kind forbearance.) The PR for Speedo found me, via Twitter I think, and offered me a free costume if I’d take part in their game, a game called We Give You a Free Swimming Costume and You Review It. 
(OK so officially they asked if I would ‘take part in the Keep Going Swim after Swim Challenge and test our long lasting Endurance+ swimwear’, but my version is snappier.)

It made me feel, for about ten minutes, that I was totally a key player. They were an amazing ten minutes. Power went to my head. I fired some people. (My children.) Then I remembered that on this blog I wrote, in dead seriosity, how I worry that wearing a costume with Speedo on it might be contravening the Trades Description Act. I’ve toyed with the idea of creating swimwear called Slowlio. And yes, the S DID once peel off one of my costumes…

I told them this. It didn't put them off. The rules of the game, said Speedo’s PR, were that I had to pledge to swim 20 times in 30 days and review it under certain categories (we’ll get to them). I countered with my own rules. First: I would swim as much as I wanted, and if the weather was truly shit or I didn’t feel like it, I wouldn’t do 20 times. Second: I would follow their categories, but I would be totally upfront about accepting a free costume. Thirdly, I would be direct. If I didn’t like it, I would say.  I’m not for sale, the Maaaaaan.

From this you can see how I went, in the space of about twenty minutes  from being a powerful mogul who fires people, to some kind of stoner loser from a bad 80s movie. Tragic.

Oh, a final thing I pointed out to them. I already wear Speedo most of the time. 

The impressive thing is that even though I am hardly the most amenable of dates, they didn’t give up in exasperation. 

Anyway. They sent the costume, with a free swim hat and a pair of goggles. I was a bit disappointed – it was a cheap costume, I thought I was going to get something wildly out my league. Something carved out of GOLD. And I had told them I was going to be direct, so I was: I cannot wear these goggles, I said. I have the wrong shaped face. I will stick with my own goggles. ‘Forget the goggles’ they said, backing away rapidly, with a clear subtext of ‘get your wrong shaped face out of ours’. I did not feel the need to roadtest the swim hat. A swim hat is a swim hat, and I shunned their discreet black one in preference for my own BRIGHT YELLOW one that SHOUTS: COLD WATER SWIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS. I am nothing if not subtle.

The picture above is me, in the suit of promo, taken by Warren King (@warrenking) at Charlton Lido - swim 15 out of 20. You can see I'm not lying about the yellow hat and the large goggles. You can also see the costume. I think it looks (shrugs) OK. It's a flippin freezing day, and my smile says 'make this quick, and make it kind.' Speedo PR asked me to judge this costume in three specific areas. I’ve been as honest as you would expect of me:

Them: Endurance+ fabric is longer lasting with 20 times more fade resistance than conventional elastane swimwear, with improved snag resistance. Did you find the swimwear to be more resilient?

Me: No. Not ‘more resilient’. I wouldn’t expect a costume to fade or show signs of wear after 20 swims. I didn’t snag it, but I don’t think I’ve ever, in all my life ‘snagged’ a costume. How does one even do that? There are rarely sharp snaggy things in pools. But what I did find was that when I was doing swim training,  an hour of fast laps, the seams  where the colour strips down each side were sewn in, rubbed. I have photographic evidence, but I’m sparing you. I ended up with striations down each side. They irritated my skin, basically. If I was on a real endurance swim, that would make things very sore. But I am quite sensitive (I KNOW!).

Them: Endurance+ fabric is 100% chlorine resistant and contains no elastane, so it will not degrade in chlorinated water. Did you find the fabric retained its colour /quality compared to your normal swimwear?

Me: Well, here's the thing. My normal swimwear is Speedo Endurance. And I certainly wouldn’t expect a brand like Speedo to lose its colour after twenty swims. It started off as a very soft fabric and lost that quite quickly though. It also was not flattering in the bosom department, and my god I need help there. Lovely shape generally, though. And it ‘looked good in the pool’ said my very supportive friend.

Them: Endurance+ fabric is quick drying as it has a lower level of moisture absorption. Did your Speedo Endurance+ swimsuit dry quicker than your normal swimsuit?  

Me: My oh my, it DOES dry quickly! You can almost practically wring it dry. About as much as my existing Speedo Endurance costume. It’s also the kind of fabric that you can put on a bit damp (meh, it happens every now and again) and it doesn’t feel shuddery.

Verdict overall? They asked the wrong questions for only 20 swims. But still: the way I’ve written it allows them to get their message across about Endurance + three times, and I’ve got a new costume with itchy bits. So we can all be ‘reasonably’ happy. 

And in homage to Leanne Shapton’s lovely book, Swimming Studies, the following photos are my swimming costumes so far in 2013.

Promo suit back
Promo suit front
1) The suit we shall call 'promo'. 
With the Stripes of Evil down each side. Nice back, but any outdoor swimmer will tell you that you have to choose your summer costumes VERY carefully, to get the required tan lines exactly right. Apart from aforementioned seams, this is a great comfy fit but the wrong back for me in Summer. I note, too, while photographing my cossies that it's the only one without front lining. Which could explain the naff bosom thing. I wouldn't  knowingly pick a pink trim, either. Not for any anti-girly thing but er, that, probably. 

Hot suit front
Hot suit back

2) The hot suit
No, not because it makes me look hot. There is much psychology involved in cold water swimming. The psychology involved in this costume says ‘These longer legs will keep you toasty warm.’ As if. But they do mean you don’t have to shave your bits all winter unless, well, wow, your pubes grow right down your leg that far.

Aus costume back
Aus costume front
3)  The Aus costume. I bought this costume in Melbourne last Easter. It is one year old, I wore it all last year. Great colours, eh. From it I learned that I’m a little longer in the body than your average Oz woman (oooch, hunch those shoulders), it’s a pain to wiggle in and out of and if I had boobs I reckon they’d pop right out the top. But it holds me in well and I love the shape and colour of it. Tricksy back for a summer outdoor swimmer, though, but thin straps. We like thin straps. 

Sauna costume back
Sauna costume front
4) The sauna costume
Now, check the back of this one out - this is what I mean about a good swimming back for the summer tan. (I'm not obsessed. (I am a bit. I admit. Blame the 70s. ) This one has now been relegated to wearing in the sauna - it's knackered, a bit out of shape and the colour has faded. It's from the Speedo 'Sculpture' range even though I don't have the kind of body that needs sculpture. My friend Jackie has the same one and it looks a million times better on her (I look like the twin deprived of sustenance in the womb). 
But I love the shape of this one, it's very easy to get on and off, very very comfy. THE SEAMS DON'T RUB! 

Really what I want is a halterneck, Speedo. A halterneck for flatchested birds, that I can train in. If you wouldn't mind ... 

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Not a pool review

A chance to put a poem on my blog, and him:

You’ve got to love Robert Newman. Don't worry, you won't be lonely, lots of us already do. He is a proper creative genius of the old type. You don’t know who he is? Eons ago, when I was but a girl, he was one half of Newman and Baddiel (he was the ‘Newman’, David Baddiel was the ‘Baddiel’)  the first comedy duo to play Wembley Arena in the days when *ahem* comedy was the new rock n roll - NOT MY PHRASE don’t shoot me. He’s a superb comedian, one of the most intelligent of his generation, which might tell you that it ain’t all knob gags*; he did a brilliant show about peak oil which was stunning in its breadth of reference as well as for the laughs. He’s a writer too -  here’s a link to his new novel, out on April 11th - The Trade Secret. I have pre-ordered my copy already. (And yes, I’m using ‘pre-order’ after Robert said I was wrong to complain about ‘pre-order’ not being a thing and that it was actually a thing. He's so much smarter than me I believed him.) 

So why else have you got to love him? Because Robert, when we were talking about swimming, told me that to stop it getting boring he had an Auden poem - A Walk After Dark - that he recited in the pool and it took him two lengths of Marshall St - about 60m. It is entirely fitting - he’s an erudite, literate, well-read man with, it turns out, a good memory. I asked him what the poem was, because I wanted to find out if I swam faster than him. That too is entirely fitting - I’m a shallow woman. The poem is below; I can’t tell you how long it’s been since I memorised a poem, but I’m going to try this one. You could, too. For the purposes of this exercise I think I shall re-title it: Am I Faster Than Robert Newman? I suspect that for most of us, the answer is ‘bloody hell yes, but he is a far superior writer’. 

A cloudless night like this
Can set the spirit soaring:
After a tiring day
The clockwork spectacle is
Impressive in a slightly boring
Eighteenth-century way.

It soothed adolescence a lot
To meet so shameless a stare;
The things I did could not
Be so shocking as they said
If that would still be there
After the shocked were dead

Now, unready to die
Bur already at the stage
When one starts to resent the young,
I am glad those points in the sky
May also be counted among
The creatures of middle-age.

It’s cosier thinking of night
As more an Old People’s Home
Than a shed for a faultless machine,
That the red pre-Cambrian light
Is gone like Imperial Rome
Or myself at seventeen.

Yet however much we may like
The stoic manner in which
The classical authors wrote,
Only the young and rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.

For the present stalks abroad
Like the past and its wronged again
Whimper and are ignored,
And the truth cannot be hid;
Somebody chose their pain,
What needn’t have happened did.

Occurring this very night
By no established rule,
Some event may already have hurled
Its first little No at the right
Of the laws we accept to school
Our post-diluvian world:

But the stars burn on overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgment waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States.

I wonder what other people do to fill their minds while they're swimming? Share, if you want, particularly if it's more poems.

* I am not anti knob gags. Neither is he, I don’t think. Maybe he is. I’m not, though.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Back to college

Waltham Forest College, 707 Forest Road  E17 4JB
For the people from the people.
Against: moaning about the state of the changing rooms is beside the point (but hard not to do).

Do you know this pool already? If you look at my map*, the Optimists Swim Tour, which is on the banner at the top of this blog but I repost here if you're so lazy you can't even scroll up a couple of centimeters, you’ll see that it’s got a GREEN ICON. Meaning: it’s been SAVED! Hurrah, for this pool, and a big HURRAH for the people who set about the complex and time-consuming task of saving it - AND WERE VICTORIOUS! I'm pointing heavily at them going 'see? SEE? IT CAN BE DONE' to people in similar circumstances. And if you're not involved in a pool campaign yourself, well heck, (it helps if you read this sentence as if you’re singing a country song) sometimes it’s good to be reminded what ‘standing for something’ can achieve.

People have worked hard to save this pool, it's going to be something pretty special, no? Well yes - and no. I'm glad to include it on the blog because it's a bit off the radar, but - how to put this kindly -  it's for those of us who identified with Beast more than Beauty. Like that story, this one’s  about peering beyond the immediate, not judging on superficial looks. The immediate, here, is an imposting frontage, a grand sweep of steps up to the six-pillared entrance to Walthamstow Forest College, a big old brute of a 1930s building. If this was a film, Government men would scurry up and down the stairs doing veh important but Terribly Secret Government work. You're barely through the front door before the lino on the floor brings that impression sliding to a halt. A security guard pointed me to the basement, where the door to the changing rooms looks like one of many in a long corridor jostling with students. NB there are lots of young people around, this is a working college. Don't let that put you off, as none of them are in the pool. Well, come on, who went swimming when they were at college? Not me, that’s for sure. Ha, I thought, getting fit is a MUG’S game. (Though I did get asked to swim once, by my creative writing tutor. He suggested we all went naked swimming at night, to get ‘ideas’. I think we all know what he meant by ‘ideas’. I declined.)

Beyond the door it’s grotty: tiny cubicles barely enlivened by stripy plastic curtains  of the kind you buy in pound shops, the kind that spook you when they stick to your damp skin. And cold mean showers in a grim and wonky ditch.  You can practically see the veruccas leaping onto your feet.  Up to the pool itself, set in a plain hall where the square-tiled ceiling reflects the square-framed windows. It is a mostly unadorned room,  blank and functional, which makes it feel like a slight step back in time, so used are we to the over-adorning of every available space. The pool is chunky: 30m long and decently wide; it has a cloudy bottom that looks like someone unsuccessfully applied white paint on top of black. Or tried to Tippex something out on a grand scale. There are old black lines on the bottom, which looks and feels like it once was gritty, but the edges have been worn away by years of keen feet. You can just make out 3’6 in faded red paint on the shallow end.  The water has taken on those clouded blooming colours, slightly almost-greenish; yellowish. It doesn’t look like ‘modern’ water, not that crisp fresh blue. At the deep end, a sombre row of tatty white plastic chairs interrupted by two dark chairs make me wish I was a photographer of the kind who does those grotty urban photo-realism type shots.

Did you miss the crucial bit of info? It’s a 30m pool. We love 30m pools in this blog. This one is very warm (there’s a very new red digital read-out up high in one corner, which said 29); it was also very quiet the day I was there – the two girls faffing in the changing rooms about whether or not they would go in, didn’t, natch. So just me and a woman zigzagging her way across in back stroke.

So - it’s a good find, a solid pool excellent for solid no-frills training; it's well-used by groups and open to the public at certain times (check their website – also for buying tickets in blocks, as there’s no entry booth as such beyond the security desk which seemed a little vague). What makes it special is what it represents.

Five years ago, Waltham Forest College announced that their pool was not ‘key to delivery of services’ (shudder at the very phrase)  and decided to shut it. It’s hard to imagine why they would do that  – the pool is within the structural fabric of their building. Of course, as we've established, students don't swim in great numbers. But still, it was a much loved local resource. And because of that, local people stepped up and started a Friends of the Pool group. This group eventually (and we know the hard work and drive contained in one simple ‘eventually’) persuaded the Council to get involved, but the arrangement was short lived and at the end of 2009 the pool was closed. BUT - the Friends of the Pool did not give up (oh god the files and files of meetings and minutes and phone calls and more meetings and quorums and 'would the chair please'  and 'can anyone volunteer' inherent in there) and for six months paid to keep the closed pool ticking over so it didn't fall into ruin. An admirable task. The pool was reopened in April 2010 and a regeneration company - from Manchester, I think -  temporarily ran the pool whilst a not-for-profit Community Interest Company was set up and a thirty year lease negotiated. And so - da daaaaa - the Community Pool was born. £200k  was raised for a new plant room, air handling units and a pool cover: practical things that reduced the running costs by a third. The College still owns the freehold for the site – as I said, it’s built into the integral fabric of the building -  but the lease is now owned and the facility is run by The Community Pool CIC as a completely separate business. The college do not, and will not, spend one penny on the pool. Nice, innit. 

CIC’s are a really interesting way forward for some groups. They're not right for all – as Friends of Mosely Baths pointed out, if the council handed over their building they’d essentially be handed an £8million bill, which would be suicide. But for those where it can work – and there’s quite a few CIC pools round the country – it’s great. Testament to the power of folk. That this pool is up and running - same.  People with the will and effort and the bloomin PASSION for an ordinary place.  Oh, if we could harness that  passion, the passion we swimmers feel, we could run NATIONS.  People have power. We shouldn't forget that. We have power, people. Let's use it wisely.

*NB: PLEASE get in touch if you have new pools in danger to add to the map or to add info  – Twitter is the quickest way, where I’m @jennylandreth