The Lido opens for springtime - pity it still feels like winter

With Britain caught out by unseasonable bad weather, Simon Usborne takes a dip

Good Friday started badly at the “summer” opening of Brockwell Lido in south London. But then, I was wearing swimming trunks and a head-condom, and preparing to plunge into water chilled by the coldest March for half a century with a man they call the “Polar Bear”.

When managers at the outdoor pool decided months ago to open up before the normal April launch to capitalise on the early holiday weekend, they might have expected splashing families to bask in spring warmth. Instead they got the big freeze and me.

The water sparkled in sunshine, creating at least an illusion of warmth. But it was soon shattered by head-to-toe goosebumps and the lifeguard’s thermometer. At 8am, the water was 3.9C. The air was two degrees.

An hour passed before anyone else turned up. Peretz “Polar Bear” Milstein, an Israeli-born joiner from nearby Dulwich, arrived wearing flip flops. “Crazy? No, it’s healthy!” he said, stripping to his trunks before his Arctic plunge. As I walked out of the changing rooms, my extremities recoiled and my feet started to go numb.

Milstein, 63, advised against jumping in, as The Independent’s photographer had suggested (“the shock will be too much,” he warned) and so I inched down the steps. Even this way the icy jolt made it feel as if the Olympic-sized pool had been hooked up to the national grid.

As Jack Kitchen, a young lifeguard, looked on (he wore a thermal vest, a T-shirt, a hoodie, a winter jacket, tracksuit bottoms, hat and gloves) I did the unthinkable and sank all the way in, determined to swim a length.

By this time, Katie Kingwell, 29, from Brixton, had joined us, and floated serenely past me as I tried desperately to fill my shrivelling lungs. “Keep breathing!” she said. Fans of cold-water swimming talk in raptures about the rush of endorphins and sense of wellbeing it can cause.

Kingwell and Milstein are members of a core group known as the “icicles” who swim during the lido’s limited winter schedule, when snow and ice frequently bind the pool. “This is quite warm,” Milstein told me.

It didn’t feel like it, and my body was seconds from seizing up as I hauled it out of the water. Staff later told me that only 20 swimmers arrived on opening day, only one of whom was not part of the winter crew. I’m not surprised and while I’ll admit to feeling more alive than I have for ages, it would take me four hours and as many hot cross buns before I stopped shivering.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions