Adventures Across the Pond Part 1: London Lidos

I arrived in London half a day later than expected due to some typical local flight cancellation shenanigans that required me to book another flight to Vancouver and take a later flight to London. But better late than never, because I had big swimming plans!

When I arrived, I felt a lot worse than the typical jet lag/breathing in airplane farts for 9 hours/travel ickiness with a sore throat and congested head. I could hardly keep my eyes open on the Tube on the way in. Nobody noticed because everyone else had their eyes closed too.

I met up with my pal Sadie in Hoxton and started planning my week of swimming.

I knew I wanted to swim in as many London lidos as possible. But I also know that I’m happiest with a flexible plan that allows for some spontaneous decision making. I’d done a little research and learned about the London Royal Docks Open Water Swimming Society, who run a daily swim in the eastern docklands right in the Thames. It sounded like my cup of tea (when in London, right?) so I added it to my itinerary.

After an early first night, I set off  early Wednesday morning southbound on the Northern Line for the Tooting Bec Lido. You’re darn tooting!

I’d learned a lot about this lido from Jenny Landreth’s book Swell, and I was eager to soak in the history and significance of this London landmark. The Tooting Bec Lido opened in 1906. It’s the U.K.’s largest fresh water outdoor pool – 91 meters long, non-heated, rustic, and oozes charm. The boxing scene from “Snatch” was filmed here, but nobody was fighting, not even Brad Pitt, during my visit. The only thing I fought was the fear of my nipples falling off in the cold cold cold water.

I changed in one of the colourful cabana lockers and prepared for the chilly rush. At 15 degrees, my first few minutes were rather “exhilarating” and I wondered why I wasn’t cozied up in a nice pub with a hot toddy and and a good book like a normal person. But as soon as I started swimming, my happiness meter rose and I did a kilometre feeling strong and rejuvenated.

After my swim, I grabbed a hot tea from the on-site cafe and started making my way to Brixton to the Brockwell Lido for swim #2. The Brockwell Lido opened in 1937 and did not disappoint aesthetically with charming brick buildings, cabana lockers, and a poolside sauna. This pool was a tad bit warmer at 19 degrees, but I noticed that there were several wet-suited swimmers and I kind of wished I’d also brought mine. Read More

Eating, Sleeping, Breathing…and Reading

If there’s one thing I love as much as open water swimming, it’s reading!

I always have 3-5 books on the go, and my choices run the gamut from fiction to business to personal development – and my current favourite: memoir. I belong to a lively local book club and look forward to our monthly meetings the way other people look forward to Christmas or their Botox appointments. In fact, tonight I am hosting our get together and I have bought lots of chocolate and red wine to help stimulate the discussion. No boys allowed.

I will devour anything related to adventure and exploration (vicarious living?) and have always enjoyed anything about Shackleton, Everest expeditions, and being lost at sea.

Since I’m a keen swimmer, I’ve been adding a few swimming titles to my library. If you’re a reader like me, you might find some of these to be perfect titles to curl up with post-swim, under a blankie with a cup of tea or a snifter of Fireball, smelling of chlorine and feeling like tired magic.

(I haven’t provided a link to purchase these books, because I think you should always check at your local bookstore first!)

Turning: A Year in the Water by Jessica J. Lee (Hamish Hamilton Publishing)

This melancholy memoir recounts Lee’s experience swimming the 52 lakes that surround Berlin. It’s full of rich and beautiful writing, full of emotion and self-exploration. It resonated with me in terms of the time frame Lee sets for her goal, and the personal issues that drive her to depend on swimming to work shit out. I read it in short, small doses and found that allowed me to soak up the lush descriptions and powerful prose.

Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox (Harcourt)

If you’re an open water swimmer and you haven’t heard of Lynne Cox, then we can’t be friends. Ok – maybe we can be friends, but you have to read this first! Cox’s open water story is so inspiring, and so amazing. This accessible book was a page-turner for me as I couldn’t wait to see what challenge she’d conquer next. It also sparked my interested in the arena of cold water endurance, since I’ve been wondering if that’s a future possibility for me. Cox is my patron saint of open water swimming. She’s done the English Channel (setting records!), the sharky Catalina Channel, the Cook Strait, the Strait of Magellan, the Cape of Good Hope, the goddamn Bering Strait, and motherfucking ANTARCTICA. This woman’s excellence knows no bounds and reading about her accomplishments literally has me on the edge of my seat and researching crazy ideas. Lynne Cox is simply a remarkable human. And bonus – there are pictures! I love books with pictures.

Swimming in the Sink: A Memoir by Lynne Cox (Vintage)

I haven’t actually read this one yet but I thought I should add it because LYNNE COX, and it’s sitting on my nightstand right now.

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton (Blue Rider Press)

Canadian author and artist Leanne Shapton captures so much of the experience of growing up as a youth in a swim club, and how those experiences impact the making of a life beyond the practice and the pool. It’s a hard book to describe, both deeply personal and surgically sharp in observation. Shapton’s art is interspersed throughout, and creates a wonderfully sensory reading experience.  Her photo archive of her beautiful bathing suit collection is breathtaking.  A reviewer of this book states, “My talent crush is official and deep.” I have to agree. 

The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou (NeWest Press)

Angie Abdou is a Can-lit goddess, and her first novel perfectly captures the exhilaration of Olympic dreams, the uncomfortable choice architecture of teenage romance, and the mindset of discipline that is so elusive to anyone who’s ever really loved a sport. She writes about pressure so effectively, through characters who are both relatable and inspiring.

Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth (Bloomsbury)

First of all, I wish I’d coined the phrase “water biography.” Isn’t it brilliant? I’m halfway through this account of the feminist history of the swimming suffragettes, and I’m enjoying it so much. Landreth tells the stories of groundbreaking and inspiring swimming women with brilliantly cheeky humour and joy. Her own story, woven throughout, is insightful and very fun to read. And again – pictures!

I’m sure there are a zillion other really good swimming books out there. I’d love to hear about them all. All of them! If you’ve read something that inspired you, made you laugh, or challenged you to slip into a Speedo, let me know and maybe you can come to my next book club. I’ll share my Fireball.