Snow can rekindle a childlike enthusiasm in even the most Scrooge-like of city dwellers – and when, during recent heavy snowfall, Hackney became Antarctica for the day, swimmers at London Fields lido couldn’t believe their luck.
Lidos tend to be happy places anyway, but whoops filled the air as people rejoiced at being in this place, at this time, exulting in the spontaneous, transitory nature of the whole experience.
The sheer overload to the senses was disorientating: above water, the flurry of blurred white, and then the sudden, graceful silence below the surface.
Thick snow gathering around an open air pool always makes a remarkable, incongruous sight – except that, with the misty heat rising from the water, the fog of my goggles, and the unabating snow, it soon became impossible to see much at all.
Just the smoothness of movements underwater, and the soft thud of snowflakes, instantly melting, on the head and shoulders when coming up for air. Before subsiding once more into the warm, streamlined serenity of the underwater world.
Roger Deakin said that when we enter the water, survival, not ambition or desire, becomes the dominant aim. It certainly feels that way when it snows – and in addition, the landscape is instantly transformed. We see everything again for the first time.
The lane ropes and lines seemed to be a technicality. No one had really come here to put in the lengths – and anyway, the direction signs had been snowed over. Having stayed in longer than I had intended, I exited and ran through the snow to a hot shower.
Outside, the blizzard was still raging, making a reluctant winter wonderland of scruffy London Fields. Already, an army of snowmen had appeared. Feeling sufficiently fortified, I set out across the park to buy presents and mulled wine, still glowing from the swim, and infused with goodwill. But it was cold, and I had not come well prepared. I gulped a coffee and stood in the queue for a burger, hoping it would not take too long.
‘You look cold,’ said the woman behind the stand. ‘Go home and get some more warm clothes on.’ And so I did, thanking the heavens for such a wonderful Christmas present.
More photos here.