Saturday, 27 November 2021

At the Pond: Swimming at the Hampstead Ladies' Pool (Daunt Books, 2019)

Photo from 


I found this small volume of 14 essays utterly intriguing. 
Hampstead Heath in London contains three swimming ponds (and others for angling, model-boating etc; created when the Fleet River was damned in the 17th and 18th centuries as reservoirs for water supply to Hampstead and Highgate). The swimming ponds are one for women, one for men and one mixed. 
The writers who contributed include some well-knon, Like Margaret Drabble and Esther Freud, some not so well-known. It is divided into 4 sections, Winter, Spring, Summer, Autumn. Some swim year-round, some are summer-only. 
The Pond as it is known is legendary amongst certain Londoners. It is "wild swimming" in a huge city ... many describe the wildlife and the vegetation...moorhens, ducks, snakes, reeds and grasses etc. The temperature is never what I would call warm, and in winter there can be ice, and of course snow on the ground. There seems to be several hundred hearty souls who do swim year round. However, there also seems to be a sort of reverence, an elitist aura around them. One writer says "they know the lifeguards". 
Also intriguing are some of the "rules" and customs ... eg there can only be a certain ratio of swimmers to lifeguards, so on a hot summer's day you may have to wait to drop in down the metal railing. Imagine trying to impose that at one of Sydney's (un-lifeguarded) ocean pools!) 
Hampstead and Highgate are high-end London suburbs, nowadays often populated by the very wealthy, though they weren't always - they were arty and bohemian in the past. 
I couldn't help comparing the Pond's mores with those at Sydney's McIvers Baths - the Ladies' Pool at Coogee. Some seem similar - the older coterie of "gatekeepers", sticking within your own groups, the basic changerooms, topless sunbaking, but the convivility in the water, and the style of swimming seems a little more open at McIvers. As well, apart from a couple of essayists with southeast Asian heritage, there is know mention of it as a refuge for diverse cultural groups like Muslim women or nuns or others who want to swim in a women-only environment. 
There was a major controversy a couple of years ago, when the London Corporation, which manages the Pond said it was ok for transitioning or transitioned male to female Transgender users to officially use the pool (they had been anyway), with backlash from some. That seems to have settled down now. 
It probably helps to be a swimmer to enjoy the book, but I think it's also interesting in broader cultural terms as a slice of London life.

Here's the page of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association, a voluntary group of women which cares about the Pond. There's new and info about current campaigns. There is a video called "City Swimmers" in the Gallery.

A story about closure due to sewerage leaks, and a protest against compulsory charges.

Here's some reviews of the book: 

By Natalie Xenos - click here.

By Rebecca Armstrong - click here.

You can easily search for more online. 

Film: Cloro (Italy, 2015)

Chlorine (2015 film) poster.jpg

When seventeen year old  Jenny's mother dies suddenly,  with her father being ill and a nine year old brother to care for, she must move to a mountain village away from the coast, where she is an aspiring synchronised swimmer. She feels isolated and embittered, but is determined to return to the life she longs for, and practices in the pool in the hotel where she works. 

A coming of age film from Italy; directed by Lamberto Sanfelice, starring Sara Serraiocco as Jenny. 

I saw this at the Italian Film Festival in Sydney 10 August 2015. 

Britannia Park, near Warburton, Victoria

Britannia Park in the Yarra Valley, Victoria, is a Girl Guides owned property. I went to some camps there when I was in Brownies, when we lived in Melbourne in the 1960s. Several years later (about 1976) I visited and discovered that they had built a pretty nifty swimming pool. 

I did a search today and found it referred to as "an old swimming pool full of goldfish....not for people to swim in any more."

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

The Invisible Image: The Tomb of the Diver on the fiftieth anniversary of its discovery (Exhibition)

 the invisible image. the tomb of the diver

In 2018, we were fortunate to visit Paestum, in southern Italy, while this exhibition was on. 

The Tomb of the Diver dates back to 470 BCE, when this was part of Magna Graecia, so it is an Ancient Greek creation. The most famous image was found on the underside of the top slab of the tomb. It seemingly depicts as young man diving from a wall or tower into waves. 

The tomb of the diver is on permanent display at the museum; this exhibition told the story of 300 years of archaeological exploration into the mystery of the meaning of this particular depiction - a meaning which remains a mystery. 

It also included the display of ancient and modern works, "designed to illustrate the scientific, cultural, artistic and ideological knowledge which has ensured that, fifty years after the discovery of the tomb, the question of its meaning still remains wide open." 

File:Bathing girls MNE Villa Giulia 106463.jpg
Attic black-figure amphora attributed to the Priam painter 530-500BCE Side A - female bathers. National Archaeological Museum, Villa Giulia, Rome Source: Wikimedia

Nino Migliori's best photograph: a gravity-defying Italian diver |  Photography | The Guardian
Nino Migliori The Diver, 1951. Photographic print, made 17 years before the discovery of the Tomb of The Diver

Vintage Swimwear: A History of Twentieth Century Fashions by Sarah Kennedy

Vintage Swimwear By Sarah Kennedy

A really interesting book, beautifully illustrated. Traces the history of women's swimwear from the early 20th to early 21st century. As someone who was a teenager in the 1970s, I just had to laugh at the crotchet bikinis! 

The book begins with a timeline.

The chapters are:

  • From Brighton to Biarritz - the era of woollen costumes, bathing machines, and the birth of the swimsuit, from the late Victorian era through to the 1910s. Due respect is paid to Annette Kellerman and the sensation she caused when first appearing in a "unitard".
  • The St Tropez Set -the 1920s - the divergence in American and European styles; the emergence of Jantzen as the company whose slogan was "The suit that changed bathing to swimming."The French fashion houses - eg Chanel - become involved, Cubism and Modern Art influences and the emergence of public swimming pools (Lidos).
  • Star Quality - the 1930s, which brought the fabric revolution which brought the end of the knotted swimsuit; Hollywood and stars in swimsuits, as well as beach and other sporting leisure wear emerge; the emergence of the beauty pageant.
  • The Return of the Hourglass - The war years (which saw the wthdrawal of nylon for parachute-making) Glamorous pin-up stars like Ava Gardner, Esther Williams, the birth of the two-piece suit (fabric saving!) and after the war, the development of more fabrics like Lastex, and the birth of the bikini.
  • The Fabulous Fifties - hourglass figures and idealised body shapes, curvaceous and voluptuousness; swimsuits with lots of structure, glamour girls like Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe, and 'sexy innocence' eg Sandra Dee. 
  • Far Out Grooves - The 'Swinging Sixties', the California scene, lots of stretch, and Bri-Nylon, the emergence of the crotchet bikini, and the glitz of the 'jet set'.
  • The Beach Babe Revolution - everything was shrinking during the 1970s, the fabrics evolved towards those used today, big curvaceous bodies were out, the suntan essential. Lots of cutouts in swimsuits, disco influences, developments in racing swimsuits.
  • Let's Get Physical - the fitness boom of the 1980s, muscular bodies, bigger breasts, higher cuts to make legs look longer.
  • New Luxe Nineties - ethnic fashion, world music, ostentatious luxury and clean lines  and cruise collections, retro surf styles, and new Australian labels like Jets and Zimmerman, Watersun and Speedo going glam.
  • Post-Millenium Trends - swimsuits that 'slim', designer resortwear, retro and Brazilian styling, celebrity trends

Beaches of Batemans Bay and the Eurobodalla Coast Beaches of Batemans Bay and the Eurobodalla Coast eBook :  Henry, Peter, Henry, Manuela: Kindle Store

A very useful guide to every beach from Durras, in Murramarang National Park in the north, to Wallaga Beach in the south of the shire.It includes street maps of each village and town. Fabulous colour photos and information about flora, fauna, geology of beaches, and much more. 

Published and distributed by Hyams Publishing, Huskisson, 2007.

The Swim Club by Anne de Lisle


 Five women swim and talk their way through relationships with each other and the men in their lives. They inevitably find their physical and psychological strength. 

See also The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle, which has a very similar theme. 

Published by Random House, 2008.

The Shelly Bay Ladies Swimming Circle by Sophie Green

 44776000. sy475

I felt like I'd read this book before, then realised a couple of years ago I read The Swim Club by Anne de Lisle. It too was about a group of women swim and talk their way through relationships with each other and the men in their lives. And inevitably find their physical and psychological strength. This is similar. Light and frothy as a meringue. I wondered why it was set in 1982-84: perhaps because the social mores of the time were more “stereotypical” than they are now?

Still, it's always good to find a book with a swimming backdrop. 

Published by Hachette Australia 2020

Australian Survivor: Champions vs Contenders - Meet Shane Gould

To read more about Shane Gould, see this blog entry

In this online article in Swimming World, Ms Gould told the author, Craig Lord that 

"She made sure she could cover all the basics, like lighting a fire with a flint; working out the kind of games she would be good at, the kind she would not. While some felt a need to win at every turn, Gould identified the things she was not the best at, did what was required not to fail but wasted no more energy than necessary in pursuit of what could not be won."

Anyone who has doubts about “how she did it” needs to read her autobiography, Tumble Turns! Talk about a story of resilience and the acquisition of the mental and physical skills needed to weave your way through a communal experience and emerge a champion once again! 

Tumble Turns (1st edition and revised edition) by Shane Gould

At the time of writing the first edition (published 1999), Shane was preparing for her involvement in the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The revised edition (2003) has an additional section Part 6 -Reformation, which includes chapters on the Sydney Olympics, Learning to Swim Again and New Life New Love.

Shane Gould was somewhat a childhood hero to me (though I hate the word ‘hero’ when applied to sportspeople! To me heros rescue people from burning buildings....) . When Shane was winning her Olympic medals in Munich, I was on my way to a Girl Guide camp in Perth - crossing the continent on the Indian-Pacific Railway. I remember the excitement in the train as they turned the radio on in the passenger lounges. 

Olympic champion, Munich 1972

I had followed her brief swimming career as a teenager (she is one year older than me) and in recent years took a keen interest in her contribution to cultural history through a shared passion for the role public swimming pools play in Australian culture. 

Then Shane appeared on, and won, the third season of TV game show Australian Survivor. Anyone who has doubts about “how she did it” needs to read this book! Talk about a story of resilience and the acquisition of the mental and physical skills needed to weave your way through a communal experience and emerge a champion once again! 
Australian Survivor winner, 2018 

The chapter in the revised edition of her book, about "re-learning" how to swim, in response to changing body physiology as one ages, and the need to be able to swim without injury when not a teenager in intensive training makes interesting reading. Shane says: "To me my new style feels easier and more graceful, and the less I do the more energetic my movements are. 'Letting go' of muscle strain and tension is a mantra I repeat. It feels light lively, harmonic and very powerful". 

That was evident when watching Shane tear up the water in any swimming challenge in Survivor. It was beautiful to watch. 

The Million Dollar Mermaid by Esther Williams with Digby Diehl

 The Million Dollar Mermaid

I saw a few Esther Williams films on TV as a kid and remember the excerpts in the That's Entertainment films. Williams was a national champion swimmer who was denied the opportunity to compete at the Olympics when it was called off due to World War Two. 

She grew up in a working class area of Los Angeles, was raped in her home for two years as a young teen; had an unsuitable teenage marriage, her second marriage was to an alcoholic gambler who used all her money; husband number three was a narcissistic controller to whom she thetheres herself and all but erased her own identity - he also wouldn't have anything to do with her children. It's a wonder Williams was the strong and assertive professional woman she became. 

In the era of #metoo, William’s story dishes the facts on the casting couch and the sexual harassment of men of her generation (Johnny Weissmuller, Victor Mature, Fernando Lamas, MGM execs), as well as the playing along with it of women. 

Williams has a lot of tell-all tales about her contemporary stars: Victor Mature and Jeff Chandler, with whom she had torrid affairs; Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, complementary about - one is Shirley Maclaine.

There's also all the behind the scenes stuff about how those swimming musicals were made. 

Williams died aged 91 in 2013. Her latter career, as a swimming pool and swimsuit business operator and her role in promoting synchronised swimming as a Olympic sport, as well as her final marriage is dealt with in one chapter. 

This book is a rollicking read. Some doubt has been case by some reviewers and friends of some of the people mentioned about the veracity of it all - especially, was Jeff Chandler a cross-dresser? Whatever the truth, she hardly comes out terribly well. I was also flabbergasted about her clams to have swanned around with the Spanish dictator Franco's crowd. This included a story of a drunken Duke of Windsor and his snarky wife. 

On of the best aspects is the goings-on at MGM. 

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Ancient Assyria


Cecil Colwin writes in  Breakthrough Swimming (Human Kinetics, 2002 (available on Google Books as per link) : 

"In the ancient world, diverting rivers to protect city-states led to swimming for military purposes. Bas-reliefs housed in the British museum show a river-crossing by Assurnasir-pal, King of Assyria, and his army. When these reliefs were found in the ruins of the royal palace at Nimroud, students of swimming techniques were excited because here, at last, they expected to find evidence of swimming skills used in ancient times. Nineteenth-century observers thought the reliefs showed soldiers swimming either sidestroke or the trudgeon stroke, while 20th-century observers concluded that the Assyrians were actually swimming the crawl stroke! And so, as always, conclusions are drawn from one’s own vantage point. 

wall panel; relief | British Museum

Above: Bas Relief of Assyrian army crossing river, from the British Museum.

Great Bath of Mohenjo-Daro, Indus Valley


Photo credit: Copyright J.M. Kenoyer/; Courtesy Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Pakistan from

Mohenjo-Daro is located in Sindh province, in modern day Pakistan. It means "Mound of the Dead Men". It was built around 2500 BCE, contemporaneous with the Ancient Egyptian, Mespopotamian and Minoan Crete civilisations.  It was abandoned in the19th century BCE as the Indus Valley Civilizsation declined, and the site was not rediscovered until the 1920s.

From Stokes of Genius: A History of Swimming, by Eric Chaline (Reaktion Books, 2017):

" The world's oldest purpose-built, in-ground, enclosed swimming pool is the 'Great Bath' of Mohenjo-daro (2,500 - 1.800 BCE), one of the largest cities of the Indus Valley Cizilization (IVC). The pool, which was part of a larger complex, measures 12 x 7 m (29 x 23 ft) and 2.4m (8 ft) at its deepest. The superbly crafted structure made from close-fitting bricks held together with gypsum plaster, was coated with a layer of natural tar to make it completely water-tight. Bathers entered the water via two wide staircases at either end. Although the pool is just about long enough to do lengths, and deep enough to accommodate springboard diving, water polo and synchronized swimming, it is unlikely that it was ever used by the matrons of the city for lenghts of 'old-lady breaststroke' or for any other kind of recreational swimming activity. Based on later Indian religious practice, one theory holds that the complex that housed the pool was a college for the city's priesthood and that the Great Bath was reserved for their purification.

"....we know little of the daily lives, social and political organization, customs and beliefs of the residents of IVC cities...and much of what archaeologists think they know, such as how they imagine the Great Bath was used, is inferred from later Hindu practice. Because the pool was part of an important complex in the centre of the city, it is presumed that it was used by its elite - most likely its priestly class. 

"....the one thing that strikes me about the pool, as a swimmer, apart from its rather modest length (as such it is not unlike many small hotel pools), is that it is quite deep. Whoever used it would have needed to have some competence in the water." 

Sunday, 21 November 2021

The airport with a pool - Changi Airport, Singapore

 Friday 25 March, 2005: stopover on the way to Paris. 

I don't know any other airports which have swimming pools in the terminal. On a reasonably long stopover, this was the perfect place for a relaxing swim and massage.