Chris Romer-Lee enjoys dipping into ‘Lido’, Christopher Beanland’s invigorating tour of outdoor swimming sites
Batsford, 208pp, £20
Covid-19 has brought so much misery. Underestimated by an inept and sadistic government, the virus will have far-reaching consequences for years to come. A relatively insignificant impact, given the loss of life and economic woes, was the government’s refusal to permit the reopening of swimming pools. Since late March swimmers across the country have been spraying themselves with garden hoses, taking cold baths and trawling the internet for the biggest paddling pools available. So being asked to review Christopher Beanland’s new book, ‘Lido’, seemed to only further emphasise the loss. But with only a handful of swims achieved during lockdown at London’s Serpentine (before it closed for the second time) and at Whitstable, this was a welcome chance to dip into a 200-page watery paradise.
‘Lido’ is handsomely presented by publisher Batsford, and documents a broad range of outdoor pools from across the world. Categorised geographically – Europe, UK, Australia, USA and the World – there is a playful commentary on the well-known and more obscure pools Beanland has chosen. Buried in the pool smorgasbord are two rather fleeting glances at ‘Britain’s Lost Lidos’ and ‘Swimming in Art’, which could have benefitted from a few more pages, perhaps at the expense of some of the more well-known pools.
Ten interviews with swimmers act as lane markers throughout the book, refocusing the reader’s attention on why swimming is so important to so many. (I should declare that I am one of those featured). Joe Minihane draws attention to swimming’s benefit to mental health, while others such as photographer Madeleine Waller and Angela Elvira Bruce, director of the marvellous film ‘LIDO’, talk of swimming as an escape. We also hear about the importance of nature in the city, big skies in Tooting, and astonishing views of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney.
Haludovo Hotel, Krk, Croatia (ph: CCN-images)
The book takes on a global interpretation of the word ‘lido’, embracing all outdoor pools rather than the narrower conventional understanding in the UK, that a lido is a public outdoor pool built in the 1930s. The net is cast far and wide, taking in lakes and harbour pools, Olympic pools and sea baths.
There are some outstanding examples of why outdoor pools knock verrucas off indoor leisure centres. Vienna’s Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa is Austria’s largest housing estate, accommodating nearly 4000 people. Designed by Harry Glück and built between 1973 and 1986, it embodies his aim of “building for the lower classes with the quality the rich people are fond of: close to nature and water”. The 12 blocks are set within extensive parkland with saunas, solariums and swimming pools covering the rooftops of the main blocks. A far cry from London’s Nine Elms development.
Oasis Sports Centre, London (ph: Charlotte Bland); Sandford Parks Lido, Cheltenham (ph: Callum Drummond).
The UK pools are more familiar to a local readership, with a slightly uncomfortable bias to the capital’s pools. Missing are less well-known oases such as Greenbank Pool in Somerset, built by the shoemaking Clark family to provide swimming for the women and children of Street (the men swam naked in the River Brue). Or the UK’s longest outdoor pool, Jesus Green, the most northerly – The Trinkie and North Baths – or one of our mushroom-shaped pools such as that at Ilkley in Yorkshire.
Icebergs, Bondi (ph: Melanie Watkins)
Australia’s swimming culture is second to none. Kids all learn to swim early, and the facilities are outstanding. Beanland taunts us with imagery to melt any non-swimmer’s heart, including Icebergs in Sydney. Icebergs is one of hundreds of sea pools recently celebrated in a mesmerising project by architect Nicole Larkin, who has surveyed and photographed all the ocean pools of New South Wales. Will someone please commission me to record the UK’s sea pools?
Ohlson Recreation Center,Sea Ranch, California
The World and USA chapters are less comprehensive in their reach. How was NYC’s Floating Lady overlooked? One of NYC Parks’ free – yes, free – swimming pools, it floats off Barretto Park and during the winter sails to Florida.
That said, Beanland’s chosen pools are some of finest swimming experiences out there. No outdoor pool experience is ever the same. But heated or not, snowing or baking hot, all offer the chance to wash away your worries alone or with others. In Beanland’s opening essay – dowsed with litres of humour – the pool reduces us to who we are, naked but for our swimwear. This is a leveller, where all walks of life come together to play, train, sun worship and ultimately to escape the humdrum aspects of our lives. Why aren’t pools in the UK regarded as important as civic spaces such as libraries? As we break from lockdown and enter the ‘new normal’, can this country please become a place where all kids get to learn to swim outdoors – and where they are taught to respect the sea, rivers, lakes and pools as they are made to learn about academic topics?