I thought of the Lido again this morning, as I woke up with my hair sticky against my neck after another hot and restless night. I thought of that moment of standing on the edge of the water, literally dipping a toe in and instantly regretting it as the icy shock made me question my life choices and ponder the preferable option of a coffee from Fitzbillies instead. I quickly learned to never hesitate when visiting this outdoor pool. Plunging in is the only way to fly, even if all of your internal organs scream in unison when you first hit the water. It’s worth it.
I’ve never regretted a trip to Jesus Green Lido. Even when the season rolled towards its end and the temperature of the water would be so low that I would emerge after a 30 minute swim with blue lips and the feeling that I would never know true warmth again, I would spend the day in the most amazing mood. An indoor pool has never been able to come close to replicating that feeling. It feels so soulless somehow, like the roof prevents the magic from hitting the water. I like hearing the trees rustle when I swim, sweeping away fallen leaves and the occasional disgruntled insect and bobbing bird with my broad, clumsy strokes (a natural swimmer I am not). I like feeling the breeze on my shoulders as a squirrel scampers across the grass, all accompanied by the low hum of traffic from Chesterton Road, mixing with the birdsong. I like squinting into the low sun in one direction and feeling the relief between my eyes as I change direction for another 91 metres.
Yes, you heard that right. For anyone who doesn’t know, Jesus Green Lido is 91 metres long and just 14m wide. It’s one of the longest outdoor pools in Europe, designed in such a way as to mimic the feeling of swimming in its neighbour, the River Cam. The deepest part of the pool is in the middle, something I find oddly reassuring (after a tiring length it’s pleasant to be able to place your feet on the bottom, regardless of which direction you’ve swum in). The changing huts are comfortingly retro, made from wood with a sizeable gap at the top and bottom, and there is something freeing about the unabashed way my fellow female swimmers use the communal showers and chat about the weather. When you’ve seen each other in minimal amounts of form fitting lycra, nudity suddenly seems like a very minor next step (something the Brit in me has generally felt uncomfortable with, but strangely not at the Lido).
With Covid-19 having shut the lido for much of the 2020 season, when I heard that it was opening again, I didn’t feel excited. I felt sad, as I knew that due to my discomfort around the pandemic I was going to miss the entire season. I’m not ready to get on a train again to get there. I’m not ready to be near so many people. And I’m not ready to see the lido in such a different way. I’m not ready to book an hour-long slot for my swim like some strange forced fun and spend the entire session with one wary eye on my belongings on the side of the pool due to the gloriously old-fashioned basket room being closed. I’m not ready to rush. Jesus Green lido was made for lazy social swims (only one third of the pool is usually reserved for “fast” swimmers), relaxing under the surrounding trees and generally experiencing a feeling of nostalgia for simpler times.
So instead I’m looking forward. Jesus Green Lido will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2023, and what a glorious celebration that’s going to be. I (hopefully) have many summers left in me to set a stupidly early alarm so that I can be in the water by 7.30am. And in the meantime I’ll reread one of my favourite books, The Lido, by Libby Page. I’ll browse the lido collection by artist Lou Taylor and maybe treat myself to that brooch at last (or even better, that silk scarf). I’ll google “1930s lido” and fill my boots with fabulous images and feel a moment of sadness for those that have been long since filled in. If there is any risk of the pandemic bringing about the closure of Jesus Green, I will play whatever part I can in ensuring this doesn’t happen. I would happily donate the £5-£10 a week I usually spent on my swim to the Lido if it needed it, as it’s given me so much happiness that extends far beyond this.
Maybe I’m romanticising Jesus Green Lido. But this is a love letter after all.