I was to have been in Italy this week, at the Slow Food Foundation. I have work there two sometimes three times a year. It is always pleasurable, always something new to know about food and its production, manufacture, preparation and cooking. The place is full of young optimistic people from across the work, bright people mostly in their twenties and thirties, passionate about food, real food, with ideas and enthusiasm about making the world a better place. They call me ‘Professore’ and listen to what I say, sometimes absorbing, sometimes challenging, respectfully. They say they learn from me, but I feel I learn as much from them. The instigator of the Slow Food Movement, Carlo Petrini, can sometimes been seen in the streets, or more usually in the Slow Food café and deli, Locale, in the small town called Bra, where it all started. It is a privilege to work here, and I am ready for the shot in the arm of optimism that going there gives me. I am generally optimistic, and am optimistic now, in West Oxfordshire, as this country, the UK, goes into a form of lock-down, the second of several I imagine. I am not, as you have gathered, in Bra, or anywhere near Italy this week, although I have sent my messages, emails, of solidarity, wishing strength and courage in their individual and collective ordeals. My heart bleeds for Italy right now, but I remain optimistic. Cristina, an immunologist, tells me of the mobilisation of young people in Bologna to make sure old people get their food and medicines. She is mobilised in research. Claudio and Vita, both in their seventies, remain positive and stoic. Claudio is an immunogeneticist of aging – “It was expected”, he says. Maddalena, a young philosopher, has her head down. She is writing about everything, because this is the time to write about everything. My friends in Italy are locked down, but mobilised in different ways. I can merely offer solidarity, but more important, they say, just keep working with us. This particular plague is different to all the others – the internet has changed everything. Just keep working with us – solidarity, reducing the isolation, getting work done, even now.
Swimming in the new environment requires some adjustment. I have postponed travel to Italy, Copenhagen, France in the coming weeks, and have become very local. Eynsham is my village, and people are ready to volunteer, well-organised as ever, ten sectors have been created, each with its own set of volunteers and helpers. Oxford University has been amazing in its prompt response – transparent with information, everything done according to the book. Andy, and Achillefs, both bioscientists of the top rank, friends and Fellows at my College, St Cross, are at the front line of research against coronavirus. Both committed, devoted scientists, as are their teams, working around the clock. There is a lot to be optimistic about, as we face the reality of isolation for months to come. Optimism, and hard graft. And outdoor swimming. This is one thing that is not locked down. The plan has changed, and my 65@65 will become more local, more intimate. Swim number 51 was not on the agenda at all, but upon thinking, is perfectly logical – the River Windrush at Minster Lovell.
A small stream swelled by the rains, Pauline and got here by parking at the edge of Minter Lovell village and walking through the churchyard to the site of a ruined hall – Minster Lovell Hall. We used to come here with the kids, and we didn’t really learn much about the ruin, the Hall, except perhaps the perfect des - res (desirable residence) of its time. We used to picnic here, dip with the kids, as they busied themselves with damming the stream. It was the perfect place for hide and seek, almost certainly still is. Today we change in a corner of one of the former wings of the house, and dip in tentatively. The water is high, moving fast, too fast to swim against, but not so fast that you can’t swim in the same place. Strong and fast, but with enough of a cold bite to it, to make it worth coming today. Much encouragement taken, as we prepare to dig in for the Summer. In the coming weeks the swims will become more difficult, but we can celebrate the coming Springtime, the change in the weather, and it is more important than ever to keep swimming. Swimming heals; all of us who swim outdoors, in all seasons, we all know that. Stay strong.