“And after the swimming there was watching. Watching a writer at work…with the patience and strength to kneel for her craft, and a great capacity for thought and communication.”
As co-author of the forthcoming Lido Guide, Emma Pusill has had a busy summer: Around her demanding day job, she was in training to do 5k of butterfly for her home pool of Portishead while travelling the lidos of Britain for business and pleasure both. Here she reflects on her recent visit to Pells Pool and the Wild Patience project of writer-in-residence Tanya Shadrick…
Patience and I are not on speaking terms. I can waste time, but waiting times I find hard. This has delivered in me a talent for biting off more than I can chew. I’ve long known that I am deadline driven. Even before the age of 16, some 30 years past, I understood that if I had one thing to do and 3 weeks to do it in I would be up through the night to start, and complete, the task in the closing hours.
So I found myself surprised at the tolerance I showed for the waiting to swim at Pells. I had met Rob, a committee member, earlier this year and his eloquence, humour and enthusiasm on behalf of the pool cut through the grey April day like a shaft of sunlight through water. Prior to that Pells had lurked in my periphery; too far away, too many other things jostling for space in my head and my life. As I sat next to him, listening, I resolved to make the time and space. Rob also made a passing reference to a potential writer in residence project at the Pells. No names, no pack drill, nothing confirmed. More waiting. Waiting to know.
When it came, the knowing delivered Tanya Shadrick and her Wild Patience.
I am, what I have heard called, an ‘adult onset swimmer’. I did not consciously wait for swimming to find me, or me it, but that is how it went and it came at a time of loss and transition. I necessarily reinvented or perhaps rediscovered myself: swimming outdoors became the root system from which that grew. Growth takes time, and sometimes it goes in unexpected directions. Lidos became my unexpected direction. I had begun the reinvention with swimming in the sea, but a side-shoot took me to outdoor pools. I could easily have pruned it out. I’m glad I did not, because ultimately it has delivered me people, purpose and, finally, a kind of patience.
I stood in line to get into Pells. I don’t think I have ever stood in line to get into a pool before. I’ve actively avoided it. But the weather was hot and still, I had come a long way already, and the waiting was inevitable. I acquiesced. Ceded control to the process before me. The weather took me back to the 1970s long hot summer, when my Aunty Maureen’s heels sank into the softening tarmac as she walked me home from primary school: How we waited then too, for her to be freed by a passing woman in more sensible shoes. So I stood in line, with my memories, and I did not mind. Having waited most of the summer to get there it seemed a trivial thing.
I met Tanya for the first time a month earlier. We would both have preferred, I am sure, to meet first under the blue sky of Pells rather than to greet one another, as we did, on a rainy day under the boughs of a mighty, but dying, tree: She came in July to the Devon hospice of my close friend and wild-swimming expert Lynne Roper; Lynne, herself a gifted writer, was an early admirer of the Wild Patience project who, after learning of Tanya’s work as a hospice life-story scribe, asked her to visit so they could talk straight about what lay ahead. After that first meeting, bittersweet for being earlier and different than we planned, I hadn’t seen Tanya again until she appeared, tools of her trade in her arms, just as we reached the ticket desk at Pells. Had she appeared earlier our waiting might have been curtailed, but I’m glad it wasn’t.
Once within those brick and flint walls, embraced in the history that rings between them, I waited a little more; for Rob to arrive. My child, her mother’s daughter, did not wait. The water calls her. It always does. And who needs patience at the age of ten? She has no need of the back story, it is all about the here, the now and the getting wet. As it should be. But for me this journeying to open air pools has come to be about so much more than getting wet.
When Rob arrived the circle closed. The people that had led me to this place were all within it. There was some chatter, there was some swimming, there was some thinking. The water there is crisp and clear; it throws things into focus.
And after the swimming there was watching. Watching a writer at work, and watching people enjoy her for what she is – a woman, with the patience and strength to kneel for her craft, and a great capacity for thought and communication.
I have, I think, taken away with me a little of Tanya’s wild patience. I hope I can nurture it.
The Lido Guide is a practical, beautiful, inspiring guide to the outdoor pool of the UK. Researched and written by Emma Pusill and Janet Wilkinson, it will be a guide to all of the country’s public access open-air pools that continue to breathe life into the communities that surround them. It aims to connect swimmers, by providing a guide that will inspire people to visit, and enable them to plan those visits.