Intrigued by the ‘alternative identity’ that people seem to assume when they step into a swimming pool, photographer Madeleine Waller began documenting the winter swimmers at London Fields Lido, Hackney. She found ‘that it was more telling of their personality when they were in their swimming costume than their clothes’.
When I was a lad, we lived in Shooter’s Hill Road, Blackheath (where the annual London Marathon starts) before I went to university. Hornfair Park was just up the road and it had a Lido which was, and I think still is, Greenwich borough’s only open-air pool. It was built in 1939 in the Art Deco style, and, according to a deleted borough link, was “perfect for long, hot, summer days.”
But winter? My father used to rouse my sister and I at 6 o’clock on a Sunday morning throughout the year to go for a pre-breakfast dip. It was free at that time and bloody freezing in winter, and not so hot at other times of the year. I think that in those days early morning dips were reckoned to be character forming. Certainly I took a masochistic pleasure in them; I had little choice in the matter. It was only when I discovered the joys of snorkelling in tropical waters that I began to enjoy total immersion.
It’s a bit different now, not only because it’s been renamed the Charlton Lido and Lifestyle Club (WTF!?) and run, on behalf of the borough, by a London-wide “customer-facing brand“, Better (“the feel good place“).
It’s undergone a multi-million pound makeover and the pool is heated, but it isn’t cheap any more. For a single visit I think it’s £6 for adults and £3 for children. I say “I think” because it isn’t easy making heads or tails out of this page
What is obvious, though, is that for the too many Londoners now reliant on food banks to feed their kids, getting much needed exercise, however gentle or masochist it may be, is now impossible.
We must all hope that Governor Jokowi, or his successor Ahok if he becomes President later this year, does not allow something similar in Jakarta and is able to carry out his promise to make the city child-friendly. At least he won’t have to install heating in the paddling and swimming pools.