Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Cathedrals of the Flesh by Alexia Brue

From the blurb on the back of the book: "A lot of books make you feel dirty. This one makes you wish you were clean." Guardian. Well, that's one of the funniest puffs I've ever heard. Look at that picture on the's the Gellért Baths in Budapest, and it's the real reason this book makes this Blog, which is titled "Swimming", not "Bathing". One of the great regrets of my (travelling) life is that I never went to the Gellért when I was in Budapest. I did pop my head in, and we did spend the day at the pool complex at St Margaret's Island, but passed up the Gellért. Been kicking myself ever since. Here's another blogger's homage to the Gellért complex: Heaven, dinner and a rooftop bar by Di Campbell. 

 So, back to the book. Alexia Brue and her friend Marina (a Kazakhstani princess, no less) harbour fantasies of setting up their own bathing complex, so Alexia sets out to visit public baths in a variety of countries, including * * home town New York; * * Turkey (where, sadly in my view, she doesn't visit the best hamams in Bursa and its suburbs and Termal, confining herself to Istanbul); * * a search for no-longer existing Roman baths in Ancient Korinth, Greece * * the rich bathing traditions of Russian banyas, Finnish sauna, Japanese onsen (hot spring resorts) and sento (city bathing houses). It's a lovely travelogue/guide to bathing sensations, and some of the facilities and bathing traditions include plunge pools or swimming as one aspect. The Resource Guide at the back has added a few possibilities to my swimming wish list, for example the Caracalla Therme in Baden-Baden, Germany; several more in Budapest, some amazing bathing experiences in Iceland and the luxury hotel/spa Therme Vals in Switzerland.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Swimmers: Andrew Boy Charlton

Last night on TV I saw a terrific program in the series Face Painting With Bill Leak. Leak is best known as a cartoonist, but is also a portrait painter, and in this series he paints six people who are dead. He talks with friends and family of his subjects, and visits locations relevant to their story. Last night's episode was on legendary Australian swimmer, Andrew "Boy" Charlton. You can download the entire episode from here. The finished portrait is simply marvellous. 

 One thing I picked up in the show was that Boy Charlton used to spend his time fishing at Rosedale, on the NSW South of my favourite haunts: see my Rosedale and Beyond blog. Charlton came from Manly in Sydney. His nickname "Boy" came from the fact that he was only 14 years old when he first came to prominence by beating visiting champion from Hawaii, Bill Harris (the 100m bronze medallist from the 1920 Paris Olumpics) - and it stayed with him. He was 15 when he took 19 seconds from the world record to win the NSW 880 yards freestyle title in January 1923, and 16 when he beat the mighty Frank Beaurepaire in a 440 match race. Beaurepaire, one of the nation’s heroes - a man who had swum in his first Olympics when Charlton was less than a year old - was then twice his age. (Source: Australian Olympic Committee site) 

 There's a swimming pool in Sydney named after him - called the ABC Pool for short. It was previously known as the Domain Baths and celebrated its 100th birthday this year (not in its current form!). I've shown it on this blog before. Less well known is the Manly Andrew Boy Charlton Swim Centre. 

Here's what the entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography Online has to say about Charlton:

 "CHARLTON, ANDREW MURRAY (1907-1975), swimmer, was born on 12 August 1907 at North Sydney, only son of Oswald Murray Charlton, bank manager, and his wife Ada Maud, née Moore. 

Known as 'Boy', he was brought up at Manly where he revelled in the surf. Educated at Manly Public School, and at Sydney Grammar School in 1921-22, he entered Hawkesbury Agricultural College in January 1923. 

 On 13 January at the State championships Charlton swam 880 yards freestyle in 11 minutes 5.2 seconds, taking 19 seconds off the world record. In January next year at the State titles held at the Domain baths in Sydney he defeated the great Swedish swimmer Arne Borg over 440 yards freestyle, equalling Borg's world record of 5 minutes 11.8 seconds—the cheering was heard in Martin Place. Next Saturday before a wildly enthusiastic crowd he beat Borg in the 880 yards freestyle event by 15 yards, setting a world mark of 10 minutes 51.8 seconds. 

These feats helped to revive public interest in competitive swimming and, dubbed the 'Manly Flying Fish', he became a popular sporting idol. His trainer was Tom Adrian. 

 At the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris Charlton won the 1500 metres title in 20 minutes 6.6 seconds, setting new Olympic and world records; he was only the third Australian to be awarded a gold medal in swimming. In the same race, 13 minutes 19.6 seconds was a world mark for 1000 metres. He was third in the 400 behind Johnny Weissmuller and Borg, and one of the 4 x 200 relay team which came second. Despite illness, he won other races in Europe, including every event he entered in the Tailteann Games in Ireland, before returning to a tumultuous welcome in Sydney. 

In December he left Hawkesbury Agricultural College without graduating in the diploma course, and worked on Malcolm McKellar's station, Kurrumbede, at Gunnedah. On 8 January 1927 Charlton, now trained by Harry Hay, set a new world record of 10 minutes 32 seconds for 880 yards. He returned to Gunnedah and next year was seriously ill with rheumatic fever. 

In 1932 he set new Australian records for 440 and 880 yards, but was unplaced in the 400 and 1500 metre events at the Los Angeles Olympic Games. In 1934 Charlton moved to Canberra and entered a pharmacy business with a friend and former Manly swimmer John L. Davies; he became captain of Manuka Swimming Club. Representing Canberra at the New South Wales championships in Sydney in January 1935, he beat the French and Australian champions Jean Taris and Noel Ryan in the 880 yards in one of his greatest swims and last race. Next year he took up sheep-raising with J. Hyles on part of Woolowolar, near Tarago. 

On 20 March 1937 at St Mark's Church, Darling Point, Sydney, he married Jessie Muriel Hyles. He then settled on a 12,000-acre (4856 ha) property, Kilrea, at Boro near Goulburn, and became a successful grazier. Extremely shy and modest, 'Boy' shunned publicity. He refused offers to turn professional saying: 'I would never be forgiven by the Australian public … I am not in the sport for what I can get out of it'. He never won an Australian title, but to Australians in the 1920s he was a popular idol and national hero. 

 Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Charlton died suddenly of a heart attack at his Avalon home on 10 December 1975, and was cremated. His estate was valued for probate at $131,850. 

 Charlton's stroke was a four-beat, trudgen crawl, called by some at the time the single trudgen crawl. There was very little leg movement: the wide scissor kick was made horizontally at the end of the left arm drive with the body turned well sideways, then followed two or three vertical kicks. His powerful arms and withering final sprint made him a champion, despite the fact that he rarely trained, preferring to surf instead. 

In 1968 the new Sydney Domain baths were named after him and in 1972 he was honoured by the International Swimming Hall of Fame at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States of America." 

Below: Medal ceremony 400m freestyle, Paris Olympics 1924. Boy Charlton (Bronze), Johnny Weissmuller (Gold) and Arne Borg (Silver).

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Midwinter Swim at Brockwell Lido

Above: Postcard of Brockwell Lido the year after it opened (1938)
Above: Midwinter

I subscribe to a Yahoo Group called Lidos, which concentrates on British open air swimming pools (Lidos), and the battle for their preservation.

Recently I received this message:

"Hello, I thought other group members might be interested in knowing about this:

Midwinter Swim at Brockwell Lido – Come on in, the water's lovely!
Woolly hats or swimming caps essential.
Saturday December 20th
Swim from 12.00pm - 1.00pm
Activities/Refreshments from 11.45am - 1.15pm

Last year we had 73 swimmers and a water temperature of 3.2 degrees Celsius. This year we're hoping for over 100 swimmers but with the cold setting in the water temperature could drop even further so be prepared and bring a woolly hat or a swimming cap – or both!

If you don't fancy taking the plunge come and cheer the swimmers on – bring a hot towel to wrap them in and while you're waiting for them you can have a hot drink and a mince pie and learn about the history of winter swimming at Brockwell with BLU (Brockwell Lido Users).

Whether you're a swimmer or a supporter you can have a go at the art activity and customise a woolly hat for the swim or for wearing afterwards to warm up. We'll have some hats but do bring your own and any you have spare will be very much appreciated.

The entry fee is a suggested £1 minimum donation to Age Concern Lambeth; thousands of older people die each minter from cold related illnesses – help Age Concern to Fight the Freeze and keep them safe and warm.Also, at the midwinter swim BLU will be selling books and t-shirts and Elena Tognoli, August's artist in residence, will be there to launch her book "A Step-By-Step Users Manual To Brockwell Lido For People Who Don't Like Water" which she created in collaboration with Lido Users this summer, so as well as an invigorating swim you'll get the chance to do some Christmas shopping!

Hope to see some of you there... "

These people are hardier than I !! I wonder if the Bondi Icebergs and the Brockwell Icicles ever had an exchange program?

Brockwell Lido is in the London suburb of Herne Hill.

Official website of Brockwell Lido

Brockwell Lido Users Group - a group dedicated to maintaining and extending the facilities and services of the Lido.

London Pools Campaign

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Dawn Fraser Baths, Elkington Park, Balmain

The oldest swimming pool and swimming club in Australia, now named after Australian swimming legend and long -term Balmain resident, Dawn Fraser. 

Fraser grew up in Balmain, learned to swim here and was spotted by coach Harry Gallagher here at age 13. A Heritage Building, it is on the National Trust and on the Register of the National Estate. It is a salt water tidal pool on Sydney Harbour. It was built in the early 1880s. The first water polo match in Australia was played here about 1888. There's a great set of photos on flickr - here. The ones below are mine.


Friday, 12 December 2008

The Cave of the Swimmers, Egypt

Wikipedia says: "It was discovered in October 1933 by the Hungarian explorer László Almásy. It contains rock painting images of people swimming estimated to have been created 10,000 years ago during the time of the Ice Ages. Almásy devoted a chapter to the cave in his 1934 book The Unknown Sahara. In it he postulates that the swimming scenes are real depictions of life at the time of painting and that there had been a change in climate since that time. This theory was so new at that time that his first editor added several footnotes, to make it clear that he did not share this opinion. The cave is mentioned in the book The English Patient and the film based upon it. The cave shown in the film is not the original but a film set created by a modern artist." 

 More from: "Is it just fiction or a real cave? The Cave of Swimmers has a central place in the movie The English Patient. A cave where prehistoric paintings show swimming people in the middle of the desert. This seems impossible, but there is an easy explanation: this area wasn't a desert some 10,000 years ago during the Ice Ages. To say it clear: the cave in the film is not the real cave, it is just a film set. The area around the cave is a location in Tunisia, near Degache. The cave interior was painted by an Italian woman painter. She painted the cave, and she is shown painting in the title sequence of the movie. 

 "The real Cave of Swimmers lies in southwest Egypt, at the border to Lybia. It was explored by the real László Almásy: who wrote a book about his discoveries. He also wrote a whole chapter about his archaeological findings, which unfortunately was left out in several editions. He mentions the theory, that there the motives of the drawings were real live scenes of daily life at this place. He explained this with a dramatic change in climate since then. This theory was so new, that his first editor added several footnotes, to make clear that he did not share this opinion. 

"As far as I know, Almásy's book is only available in Hungarian and German. The discovery of the prehistoric rock painting sites in the Uweinat mountains, was the most important result of the 1933 Almásy expedition. This expedition explored the Uweinat and Gilf Kebir region: Ain Dua, Karkur Talh, and Wadi Sora. Despite he was adviced and promised not to cross the border to Sudan, he did so and discovered several rock paintings in oases over there. Gilf Kebir is a large mountain ridge, which extends over three countries, Egypt, Lybia and Sudan. The mountains consist of sandstones and crystalline rocks, like granite. Sandstone layers are porous which makes them good water reservoirs. They collect rain water and, at low points around the mountains, there are several springs which make small oases. Typically the rocks around the springs get eroded by the water, so each spring forms a sort of cliff or cavern. Most of the erosion happened long ago, when the area had much more rain and the production of the springs was much bigger. The caverns around the spring were used for shelter by stone age man, and of course they were important, maybe holy places. So they used paint to draw scenes of their daily live on the walls of the shelters. Flint stone tools can also be found, but as far as I know, no scientific excavation was made by now. This kind of caves was found all around Gilf Kebir, most of them at the south western corner in Lybia. The cave of swimmers has a different geology. It is located in granite, so it is not the place of a spring. But it is located at the bottom of a wadi, a valley which once contained a river. So it is a cave formed by the flowing water at the undercut slope. It is easy to understand, why peolpe would draw swimming people, while sitting at the banks of a river. A last piece in the puzzle is the question how the paintings remained in the extreme climate of the desert. It seems, the natural pigments of the colours can resist temperatur changes very good. Paintings on certain rocks, where the surface is eroded by temperature changes, are lost forever. But granite is rather resistant. And the last problem is light, especially ultraviolett light, which destroys many colours (bleaching). Almásy: descries the absence of pintings in the part of the cave, which is reached by sunlight. It seems that direct sunlight destroyed the paintings at this place. To make one point clear: it is not easy to visit the real cave of swimmers. The geographic and political difficulties make it difficult for the regular tourist. But some tour operators from Egypt organize desert expeditions which include a visit of the cave. You should organize and book such a tour in advance, as you will not find it on the regular day trip schedule in your Hotel..." Lots of pics here.

Update (22 Nov 2021): 

Howard Means, in his book Splash1 10,000 Years of Swimming (Allen and Unwin, London, 2021) writes about the cave in the prologue to his book - 'Once Upon a Time in Egypt. 

Swimming in Ancient Egypt

Source: Eszter Stricker

There are references all over the Internet to swimming in Egypt. Most of them use the same words, for which I have provided Reference links. Many also use the image shown at top, which I can't find anywhere, but appears to be a stylised hieroglyph (see Eszter Stickler's article below). Some also use as evidence of female swimming the images of  Egyptian cosmetic spoon like those below from 1300-1400 BCE. 

Some of the oft-repeated quotes:

"Swimming was the favourite sport of the ancient Egyptians as far back as 2500 BCE. They made use of the River Nile to practice it. The Nile was not the only place for swimming contests. Noblemen's palaces had swimming pools in which princes learned the sport. The calm waters of the Nile encouraged youths to hold swimming competitions in which they could show their skills." (Reference) 

"Egyptians were very good swimmers, and they loved to do it. One hieroglyph shows a man swimming; this and other drawings make it look quite likely that ancient Egyptians could swim a style resembling the modern front crawl. Royal and noble children often took swimming lessons, as mentioned in a biographical inscription of a Middle Kingdom nobleman." (Reference)

Wikipedia mentions "An Egyptian clay seal dated between 9000 BC and 4000 BC shows four people who are believed to be swimming a variant of the front crawl." I searched and couldn't find any other reference to this seal, or a depiction. 

One historian, Eszter Stricker has a page entitled 'Did They Really Swim In the Nile?'  in which she evaluates evidence around swimming in the Nile, and women swimming. She concludes that it is unlikely that they swam in the Nile (crocodiles, hippos), but Egyptians of the upper classes certainly did swim and had swimming lessons. There is a lot of evidence that the rich had private pools in their gardens. 

Stricker concludes: 

  • there are almost no written texts about people going for a swim, especially not in the Nile;
  • the illustrations we have show slave women with a strong erotic message (swimming underwater with lotus flowers);
  • people were afraid to enter the Nile because it was filled with dangerous animals;
  • to die in the Nile would make it impossible to get a proper burial which was one of the life goals of the Egyptians;
  • Swimming courses were part of royal education and it was a huge privilege to attend one;
  • the richest could afford to have a private pool in their garden.
Read Stricker's piece and ponder the swimming life of the Ancient Egyptians. 

Source of illustration: Wikipedia.

See also my blog on The Cave of The Swimmers

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The world's largest swimming pool

The Largest Swimming Pool in the World » TwistedSifter

San Alfonso Del Mar Resort, Chile. 8 hectares, 1 km in length. 250,000 cubic meters of salt water fill the pool. Equivalent of approximately 6,000 backyard pools. $1.5 billion to build. Maintenance fees $4 million a year. Not somewhere I have swum, but what a fantasy!

Update (22 Nov 2021): We visited Chile in March 2020. I investigated this pool to see whether it is worth a trip, but, sadly, it is only available to the residents of the condominiums and resort of which it is a part.

Saturday, 6 December 2008