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.
When it comes to promoting equality of the sexes, we tend to think that we’ve come a long way in the past 40 years.
- 1 To help fuel their propaganda machine against the poor, our government has now decided to redefine the word 'welfare'
- 2 Tower Bridge glass walkway 'smashed' by night-time visitor dropping bottle of beer
- 3 Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
- 4 Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
- 5 Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Anti-gay hate preacher accidentally tweets 4,000 followers cartoon clip of him 'confessing' to be a 'homosexual sodomite'
Woman opens professional cuddling shop – gets 10,000 customers in first week
Grayson Perry: London needs affordable housing because 'rich people don't create culture'
Kenya bus attack: Al-Shabaab militants slaughter 28 non-Muslims who failed to recite Koran
That Sugar Film director Damon Gameua receives shocking diagnosis after going on healthy sugar diet for just 60 days
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
Rochester by-election: Labour MP Emily Thornberry resigns after posting white van and England flags tweet
France 'blocks' Russian sailors from boarding a warship
Revealed: How the world gets rich – from privatising British public services
Myleene Klass: Ed Miliband 'strikes back' by comparing UK's need for Labour's mansion tax to Hear'Say track
Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...
£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...
£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...