The Lido by Libby Page

The Lido      Libby Page

Swimming down Electric Avenue

Unknown.jpeg
Image: Fusion 2017

London’s lidos, or outdoor swimming pools, dotted around the periphery of the capital, are much loved, but one or other of them always seems to be under threat. Brockwell Lido is nestled in Brockwell Park on the Dulwich Road in Brixton, South London. It opened in 1937 with a classic art deco building and a 50 metre cold water pool. Libby Page’s novel, The Lido, is a fictionalised account of a sustained campaign, by the local community, to ensure the future of the facility.

lido1.jpg
brixtonbuzz.com

Two of those fighting for the pool are lonely women. Kate, at 26, has been in London for only two years, having arrived from Bristol to study for her master’s in journalism. Now she lives in Brixton and works for the local paper.

images.jpeg
wikipedia.org

Rosemary, in contrast, swam in the lido, soon after its nascence in 1937, during the Blitz. Twice the water was borrowed for fire hoses, once bombs landed in the park, but the pool stayed open as an oasis of calm amidst the bombsites.

The Lido is written in the third person, with the narrative alternating between younger and elder woman. Both have important backstories and Page also explores their current, separate, daily lives. As a rookie campaigning journalist Kate interviews people under pressure all over the borough providing a vehicle for Page to explore and analyse modern city life.

images.jpeg
Brixton Market.                          Image: crowdfunder.co.uk

Rosemary, on the other hand, knows the streets and bus routes so that her musings and physical wanderings provide a detailed account of the location and its inhabitants. Brixton has, of course, undergone many changes since the lido was built. These include the arrival of many West Indians of the Windrush generation. Now it has more of a café culture, with a cocktail bar under the arches where Rosemary’s husband’s greengrocer shop used to be.

Page does not overtly speak of ethnicity: hers is a colour-blind gaze. Nevertheless there are accounts of the Brixton riots, there are references to Caribbean vegetables and to Asian delicacies. And the pulsating heart of Brixton with its history as a centre of music reverberates and resonates through the narrative.

electric-avenue-sign-night_slides.jpg
New signage at Electric Avenue.  Image: Gort Scott

 

Page’s style is conversational and the two main characters are fully developed. They are both really nice, good people and the story might have been too saccharine and worthy but Page has other things to say. She does champion community campaigning but at the same time she addresses issues of physical, emotional and mental health.

1f1d2727-7604-4e4f-9c74-681ae580f7f7-2060x1236.jpeg
brixtonbuzz.com

Swimming is a way of tackling depression. The physicality of it releases endorphins, raising the spirits. It is energising and contributes to fitness. Lane swimming generally takes place in the early mornings so that participants must rise early rather than slug-a-bed. Although ploughing up and down the pool is quite isolating it can be meditative and there is the camaraderie of the changing room. People notice if sessions are missed and contact other members. Swimming clubs are, in themselves, a community.

images-1.jpeg
brixtonbuzz.com

Both Kate and Rosemary need this support. Kate, because she has made no friends in London and Rosemary because she has recently been bereaved. The two women find solace in each other and reach out to the pool regulars for support. The real world lido is saved, as can be easily discovered online and is now run by Fusion, a large exercise franchise.

The Lido is branded ‘the feel-good read of 2018’. This means that it will induce empathy for the characters and suggest that people are, fundamentally, moral. But, don’t forget, taking up regular swimming, whether inside or outside, whether heated or not, is also a way of getting to feel good.

images.jpeg

Works cited

Page, L. The Lido. Orion 2018.

 

 

 

There are plans to make The Lido into a film.

C7G-nJsXQAAR7Yn.jpg
Libby Page (in wetsuit) with the original lido saviours – Mary Hill, Yvonne Levy and Judy Holman.  Image: Brockwell Lido Users @brockwellLido

A version of this review was first published on page 36 of the Weekend section of the Irish Examiner on 24th March 2018.  It is reproduced here by permission of the Editor.

 

Advertisements

At Swim One Girl

Turning: A Swimming Memoir

Jessica J. Lee

1075.jpg

This is a gentle book – a slow burn. Jessica Lee is living in Berlin working on her doctorate. Her studies centre on Hampstead Heath in London and her home country is Canada. She is like a fish out of water. The city is presented as a place of transients. No one stays. No one expects Lee to stay. But the lakes enthral her.

As a child, Lee’s experiences of water and swimming were tainted with fear. She nearly drowned beneath a yellow foam duck until rescued by a lifeguard. She watched teen horror films in which swimming-pool-ghosts drag pubescent bodies to their deaths. She stared at black Canadian lakes in which all the other family members swam, but which she dreaded. There is a sense of doom as family rows and parental divorce play out against a background of lowering clouds and slate grey waters.

Mechesee.jpg
A lake in Brandenburg.  Image: outdoor swimming society.

Berlin is surrounded by thousands of lakes. Some of these are anthropogenic, such as disused gravel pits, whilst others are formed by glacial retreat.   Some are lined with silk-smooth sand whilst others clothe themselves in green robes of algae in the summer. Some of the lakes are clotting up and dying whilst others sparkle crystal clear or sky blue. In the winter the shallow ones ice over.

Unknown.jpeg

Lee discovers that the science of lakes is called limnology and this fits well with her own multi-disciplinary area of environmental history. She studies G E Hutchinson’s 1967 treatise on limnology. It seems appropriate that he, like she, left his place of birth, which was Cambridge, England to work all his life in another country, at Yale, Connecticut. Two emigrants.

In Berlin, alone and often lonely, sad and sometimes depressed, Lee invents a project with which to challenge herself. She will swim 52 lakes in a year. This does not mean that she has to swim from end to end or side to side or in a circular manner. She must simply immerse herself, float, stroke, stay in or get out double fast. Sometimes she decides to do three lakes a day. At others, time stretches between one lake and the next.

The book is structured into four main sections named after the seasons. First there is summer. Last is spring. Autumn is fecund: the woods surrounding the lakes are full of fungi, and the scent of mellow fruits. In winter, warm mists rise from the waters and the crack of the ice provides heightened sensual moments: ‘the sharp cut of freezing water on my feet. The immeasurable black of the lake at its coldest. Swimming then means cold, and pain, and elation’.

Bötzsee-1156x775.jpg
Bötzee. Image: outdoor swimming society.

The project is also one that embraces local friends as well as visitors from other countries. Bikes, or trains and hiking, take them to a lake. Some participants cannot swim. Some people don’t like to be out of their depth. And Lee, herself, has a strict rule: ‘Never Swim Alone’. As this is Germany, however, there is nearly always some other competent swimmer in the water.

Unknown.jpeg
Lee.  Image: outdoor swimming society

Although entitled a swimming memoir, the book tells of Lee’s upbringing and early adulthood in suburban Toronto. Swimming takes place, largely, in the Brandenburg lakes. Earlier years in Canada were often painful and joyless as Lee’s Chinese mother and Welsh father fought to overcome their sense of uprootedness. Lee herself coped, if she did, either by withdrawal or by impulsive change-it-all decisions.

But in the city of Berlin with its necklace of lakes Lee begins to find peace and some joy. A lovely, poetic, sensuous and melancholy book.

C8330xKXcAAU5V9.jpg
Image: Jessica J Lee

Works cited

Lee, J. J. Turning: A Swimming Memoir. Virago. 2017.

A version of this review first appeared on page 17 of the Weekend section in the Irish Examiner on 6th August 2017.