A Lido Daytrip: Sally Goble

Sally Goble has written about swimming for The Guardian since 2013, with a blog and features that have documented her many inspiring adventures in the water – including a Channel swim, ice-swimming in Sweden, and doing a mile a day for 50 days as a fiftieth birthday challenge. It was a delight to welcome her to Pells and be given in return this lovely description of what she and her fellow daytripper found here…

There’s a plant on my kitchen windowsill that, when I forget to water it, turns pale. Shrivels and shrinks. When I water it again – convinced that this time I’ve killed it for sure – it miraculously springs back to life: unfurls its dried leaves; turns from pale to dark and vibrant green again; stands tall. As with my poor long suffering plant, so with me. A couple of days without being immersed in water and I become a lesser version of myself. Paler, more tired, less springy, less sure of myself, less vibrant. Less me.

I don’t swim every day – life is too complicated for that – but I notice that after a few days without swimming, without being in water, that I’m less happy somehow. When, eventually, I find some time and space to swim, as soon as I hit the water, the difference is sudden and immediate. I feel like someone has watered me, my thirst has been quenched, my vitality restored. The essence of me returns.

My love of water is not about swimming per se. Which sounds odd, as in my time I’ve swum great feats of endurance and I have worked hard, and swum long hours, to achieve my goals. I still spend many hours in water swimming in a pool. But in reality just being in the water makes me happy. I don’t have to be swimming hard.

This Monday was one of those days when just being in the water was enough. The previous two days I’d swum hard, spent many hours swimming. This afforded me a day of carefree swimming just for fun. I decided on an awayday; to become a lido daytripper.

I set off on a sunny Bank Holiday with Hilary, my swimming partner in crime, for Pells Pool in Lewes. I’d never been but had yearned to go. Seductive photos promised a haven steeped in history. After a two hour drive we arrived at the lido, fearing it would be too busy on a sunny bank holiday morning. Compared to the often frenetically busy London pool we habituate, Pells Pool seemed implausibly quiet.

The pool – a generously proportioned 46m long – was an open empty space inviting us in, with only a handful of families playing quietly in the water. At one side, a laned off section for ‘serious’ swimming. Several athletic-looking swimmers pounded up and down. Why do they all swim in the lane when there is so much space? Four strangers: penned in, slotting in with one another’s pace, ordered and timed, processioning up and down. Following the rules of lane swimming: up the left down the right, swimming clockwise, overtaking or being overtaken. On their side of the lane rope all is ordered – swimmers working together, daring not to step out of line, subsuming themselves to a greater will of maximum swimming efficiency, cogs in a well oiled machine, to swim and drill.

On the other side of the lane rope, a whole expanse of water where rules are few and far between. Bombing and laughter and running dives. And much splashing. Children with blue lips and arm bands. Men with inflatables trying to impress women in bikinis. Swimmers with questionable attire and no goggles and long straggly hair billowing in the water. Freedom is there, on this side of the lane rope, and fun, and handstands and beach balls and disorder.

And amongst all chaos there is the possibility of solitude. I choose the freedom of the chaos almost every time. I don’t understand the need to conform to a lane. Amongst the chaos on this side of the pool it’s easier to go unnoticed. I stood on the edge of the pool and curled my toes around the gently curving stone lip of the pool and tugged my swimming cap down over my ears one more time, pressed my goggles to my eyes and dived in.

Above and below the water are different worlds. Above is splashing and laughter and animated motion. But below the water everything slows down. Time slows, sounds muffle, smells disappear, outlines blur. Only dangling legs or painted toes or a burst of bubbles alert you to someone else’s presence. I slowed down and watched the bubbles form on my finger tips as my hands punctured the water’s surface and stretched forward to pull. I listened to the slap slap slap of my arms hitting the water with my inelegant stroke. One two three breathe… one two three breathe…

The sun cast rippling shadows on the pool’s white floor, and as I swam I noticed a faded strip of mosaic tiles marked a line along the pool, guiding me towards the shallow end. As I turned my head to breathe every four strokes I took in the surroundings. Large trees, a flint stone wall, a lifeguard sitting atop their high viewpoint, sunbathers. Ice cream eaters and thermos flasked tea drinkers, young and old.

After few short lengths Hilary and I stopped to chatter. Normally when we meet to swim we are no-nonsense clock watchers, lap counters, freestylers. But here we could sit on the pool’s edge and watch the goings on, dangling our toes in the water, and sit and sit until we were too hot, until diving into the cool blue pool again was a relief to escape the heat of the sun. We talked of how much we loved the water, of how little we really cared about anything else but being submerged.

Pells Pool knew nothing of our swimming ambitions or our past glories. But it knew somehow of our love of water and welcomed us in. It welcomed us as it has welcomed every other eager lido daytripper – with joy and sparkles and the promise of laughter and of relief. It quenched our thirst and made us us again.

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