I’ve gone mad. I’ve just been wild swimming. It didn’t go well.
I have always hated swimming pools. At primary school, there was a giant paddling pool I was immersed in at various times, wearing my mum’s floral swimming cap (I couldn’t fit all my hair in a normal rubber cap). My floral head caused much merriment. At Brentwood County High there was an outdoor pool, just as cold. I never liked showing off my legs to the other girls, as I’ve always had cellulite, and so I would do an elaborate dance with my towel before sitting down on the edge, using my polystyrene float as a sort of changing room door. It was pointless, anyway. I always floundered in one spot, clinging to the steps, while Sarah Trembling, who wore a bra and had had a period (I didn’t go through puberty until I was 18), performed the butterfly stroke at top speed, splashing me badly.
In 2012, I joined the Team GB Olympic swimmers (don’t laugh), in order to try on their new streamlined swimming costume for a fashion piece. It was more of a wetsuit, with arms and legs, and you needed a professional fitter to get you into it – a bit like the man in the Levi’s shop in Chelmsford in 1975 when you made him fetch a 26in waist from the top of the pile. The swimsuit squeezed my flesh out at any available exit, such as my neck, wrists and ankles; the real Olympians didn’t seem to get this effect. I was then persuaded into the pool, and while they sped up and down like otters, I was tied to a piece of string and bobbed in the shallow end until the photographer had finished taking pictures.
The next day, I was sent to the middle of the Thames at dawn to join a huge warship, where 400 marines were getting ready to act as security at the Games. I got seasick in the boat that took me to the ship and had to be helped up the steps, looking for all the world as if I’d survived the Titanic. Having my photo taken with hundreds of marines, in a warship in the middle of the Thames, I was asked to put my Prada bag out of shot. ‘Will it be safe?’ I said.
So you might wonder why I went wild swimming this morning. Well, I live overlooking the Swale, which is apparently the fastest river in Europe, but it hasn’t rained for two days so I thought it would be fine. I walk alongside it, through woods, every day with the collies. It’s usually pretty deserted, so no need for the polystyrene float. I’d read somewhere that wild swimming in cold water is as good as HRT, so I thought it could be anti-ageing, as long as I didn’t drown before I reaped the benefits. It lifts your mood. No one would see me. It would help me get not exactly beach body ready, but Nigel The Hunk ready, which is sort of the same thing, only without sand.
I put my costume on under my tracksuit, and we set off. My dogs always paddle in the river, but they never actually swim, or chase sticks, because they are not stupid. You could tell they were puzzled when I pulled off my wellies and made a little pile of my clothes. I’d forgotten a towel, but figured I could air dry, if I didn’t freeze first.
I then worried my phone would be stolen, so tucked it down my costume; I never get my head wet swimming. I put a toe in the water and recoiled at the cold, and the slime on a rock. I sat down. Mini started to cry; maybe she knows Virginia Woolf threw herself in a river and drowned, though I’m sure she wasn’t wearing a Speedo costume.
That’s as far as I got. My hormones never got boosted. I dressed, and because I had sat on a stone, as I walked home I looked as though I had wet myself. As I wrote at the end of my very first column 20 years ago, things can only get better.
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