Parliament Hill Lido early May

Stubborn as f*#k

In all honesty, It’s been a bit of a rubbish week. First of all, I had to pull out of a long swim I’ve been really looking forward to, because of last minute changes to the rules. Then I developed a snotty cold. And, finally, as if that all wasn’t enough, by Wednesday I’d developed a twinge in my back and couldn’t walk without wincing. I’ve been a bear with a sore head. And now it’s the weekend, you’d think I should be looking forward to some relaxation and a swim. Right? Yeah.

11am. The Lido. I got there later than usual, plonked myself on a bench poolside, and waited patiently for the morning rush to subside and the water to empty of the wetsuits and testosterone fuelled swim-wankers.

By 11.30am it was acceptably quiet. The water was 16C. Nice. I walked down to the shallow end, splashed my face and started swimming.

First length. Ten strokes in and I have a costume malfunction: I have a new costume on but my left boob keeps trying to escape and I have to keep poking it back into my cozzie lest I alarm fellow swimmers. Not the start I wanted.

Six lengths later I realise that frantically tucking body parts every half length will be pretty bloody annoying for an hour and a half, so I swim another few lengths, get out of the water, grab my spare cozzie from my bag, and stumble to the changing rooms to change. But pulling a tight costume onto a wet cold body is not easy. Ten minutes of trying to wiggle into it — whilst cursing and swearing and tutting — and I’ve made scant progress. I resort to drying my body by standing under the hand driers in the ladies, because I’m trying not to use my only towel for this unscheduled pit stop, in the desperate hope that being warmish and dryish will make putting the new costume on easier. Finally, after twenty irritating minutes of pulling and huffing and puffing, I have my spare costume on.

I hurl the defective costume into a bin with contempt as I stomp back to the pool.

I do not want to be here today. I want to not be swimming. I get back in to the water and pull my goggles on again. It’s grey and not so warm and my swimming feels tired and laboured. There is no joy in this today. I’d planned to swim 50 lengths today and I’ve only swum 20 so far. Just do another 10, I tell myself.

At 24 lengths I start feeling hangry: dizzy and a bit lightheaded. Breakfast feels like a long time ago. I’m fantasising about shakshuka.

I move lane to avoid some aggressive swimmers in wetsuits. 30 lengths passes.

At 35 lengths I bump into Nat. “How are you?” “Miserable, how are you?” “Grumpy: I’m hangry”. We look at each other disconsolately across the water and chat about how neither of want to be here. And I grin because she didn’t want to come and she made it, and for that I’m happy for her. And because I too don’t want to swim and yet here I am. Here we both are. We know the effort it’s taken to be here standing at the shallow end.

“How many more are you doing?” I ask her. “One length! A kilometre is my absolute minimum,” she tells me. And I smile because we all have our minimums and I love that as swimmers we implicitly understand that, and accept it as a thing. My minimum is 1200m, possibly, because that’s 20 lengths. But probably my actual minimum is 1800m or 30 lengths — and that’s on a bad day. “How much longer for you?” she asks. I grimace. “12 lengths” I say. “Should be 18…but 12 will be OK… but maybe I’ll just do 6 more... That will be enough. I can’t be arsed.” I scowl at her. She turns to me and says “I admire your dedication.” I look at her, pull a face, and say “I’m just fucking stubborn.” I laugh. With that she pushes off and powers off towards the deep end and the promise of a warm shower.

I sigh. 12 more for me then. I swim the next 6. The pool is emptying now and there are chinks of blue sky. I only have 6 more to do and I can get out. I am so, so, hungry that I feel somewhat delirious. 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. My last length.

…But if I swim another 3 lengths, I’ll have hit my 50 length, 3km, target. I sigh. I push off the wall and swim. The male duck is idling to my left, the lifeguards are pulling up weeds from between the paving cracks and steadily I plod up and down up and down. 48, 49, 50. My battle (with myself) is won. I’ve made it to my 50 length target.

On the poolside, Nat is fully dressed and smiling and she has bought me a coffee and waves cheerily proffering it up as a reward. We sit and eat, laugh with lido regulars, watch the swimmers still going up and down, set the world to right.

Later, as we head off to our respective lives with a happy wave and a “See you tomorrow!” the moodiness of the day is left behind us. And despite the groans and grumbles and swearing, we are no doubt happier than we were before we arrived.

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Life viewed from the water…

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Sally Goble

Sally Goble

Swimmer, writer, eternal optimist

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