29/11/2015 by Carl Reynolds
Bathing as a term for swimming is to the modern mind confusing. Whilst I grew up going to the swimming baths, most people now go to the swimming pool. Where once there was a tin bath in the kitchen – for a weekly, if you were lucky, bathe – there are now bathrooms. And while there were once public baths (as in places you went to wash in a bath), most of us now have bathrooms…even if they only have showers in them. And in the States they may only have loos and sinks.
As to outdoor swimming – consider outdoor bathing. Victoria Park in east London was once host to a weekly horde of thousands of men, washing in its lake. So while we might still bathe in waters, it is perhaps time to say that we dip or swim in water, when we are not washing!
The pictures below offer a number of contrasts for consideration. One is a painting, one a photograph. One is in warm weather, one in cooler climes. Both have protective garb for the swimmer, but one is thermal and the other anti-solar. One seems, to me romantic, the other a picture of practicality, but also post-swim pleasure. Both of the central subjects have been in the water. I assume the younger one has dipped, but perhaps the elder one has too?
How do we understand Mrs Ape’s pose and look of contentment. Do we assume that she is smiling because she has just dipped; or has she swum to some far flung place and back? Look also at her feet shod in flip-flops, whilst her head is ensconced in a wooly beanie and fleecy hood. Is she cold or just ensuring that she doesn’t get cold? And note that despite not having a branded coat, both her flip-flops and bag are branded.
Now look around and behind her. The steps are chipped, the walls are a botanical fiesta, the tops no longer even. She is not in a newly built place. What is hidden from us gazers? A large harbour, a small cove, an army of kids crabbing? The frame dictates our comprehension, and our knowledge, assumptions, and unconscious biases determine how we receive and then interpret this picture. Even if we are not aware that we are doing so.
At this juncture, your inner dialogue might be saying, “What gibberish is the Ape on about?” Well, in short, I’d like you to think about the representation of our sport/art/pastime. Are we a movement with ‘I am endolphined’, or ‘Orca’, emblazoned across our chests? Are we random middle aged thrill seekers happy to co-opt a catch all like ‘wild swimmer’ or ‘outdoor swimmer’, to weave us into the greater shoal of swimmers who indulge in their pleasure outdoors? I think we are some and all of these and more, depending on how we want to identify. And I think that sociologists and anthropologists would also have other labels and themes to analyse us by.
But despite all that we shouldn’t forget that we came from, and were inspired by, places and people. For me, it was the sniff of the sea as a child; pools in Dales rivers as a teen; wandering with Dan Start in search of dubs and pots in the Lake District; learning how to swim (again) with Kari Furre; being inspired by a host of marathon swimmers in SW Ireland, not the least of whom is Ned Denison; and mixing with the OSS massive – especially Tom Reed, Bryn Dymott, Sarah Tunnicliffe and Lynne WildWomanSwimming.
So the next time you’re swimming and exuberating in company; adrenal and endorphin kicks; and cakes, consider your surroundings. Consider how extraordinary it really is and how we are privileged to be able to swim in these waters.