I have spent the last 20 years under the illusion that I was a teenager. My visit to Brockwell Lido proved that I am not. It may have been the most existential swim I’ve ever had.
I set myself the goal of visiting as many lidos as possible during the course of 2017 and to help me, I’ve been using social media to read about other people’s outdoor swimming experiences. The downside of this is that the more I read about other people enjoying cold swimming, the more I seemed to believe I myself was also made of tough stuff.
I ‘brocked’ up at Brockwell Lido on a cool morning, ready to swim a mile. There’s a small, but free, car park outside, and there were no spaces when I arrived. Two people sneakily drove the wrong way round and nabbed spaces before me, meaning that when I finally got inside, it was 9.45am, meaning that I’d only have 45 minutes before the session closed at 10.30am.
I was delighted to pay just £3, ambled into the very clean changing rooms, and was caught off guard by a compliment on my dress. As an utter scruff bag, this doesn’t happen often, so it might have been a factor in blindsiding me and making me unable to work out how the lockers functioned.
I then spent another 10 minutes berating myself for somehow forgetting my wetsuit. Fortunately, the nice lady who liked my dress reappeared and helped me work out how to use the locker and with time ticking by, I walked quickly to the pool. There were about 3 other people in it – 2 of them in wetsuits.
The pool was 11 degrees. “Toasty” I thought to myself before getting in. My maths is rubbish whatever the temperature. I got in and it felt cold, but my body didn’t register just how cold until I’d pushed off from the side and submerged my whole self under. I actually thought I was going to die.
I had pins and needles throughout my entire body and my heart felt like it was going to explode. I then realised the weird noise I could hear was my breathing – it sounded like I was having a panic attack. I kept going – I might be about to die, but stiff upper lip and all that. It was marginally better if I didn’t go underwater, so I did a total of four lengths, making my £3 (75p per length) now feel expensive.
My body did start to get used to it, but after 200m, I had to admit defeat. I got out, trying to walk and act normally back to my locker. Which I then couldn’t open. Surprisingly, I wasn’t shivering, but I looked quite red and my internal organs felt like they’d been packed in ice. I was so cold, I couldn’t remember how to put my jumper on.
I got back to the car and composed myself and congratulated those people who can swim in the cold. It takes practice, I guess, so I’ll be back! But note to self: You are not 17 and you need to remember your wetsuit.