Updated: Aug 31
The Christmas period 2019 was a special period for swimming and dipping. When the swims were so perfect in their own way and the Christmas period being what it is - timeless - the swims merged into one happy period. The ground was laid for this before Christmas, when the Kristie and Judy swim thing was adjusted with the Thames flooding , when Eynsham Lock became unswimmable with fierceness. The Tuesday 6.20am swim at Eynsham Lock was shifted to Port Meadow, where the breadth of the meadow as flood plain sweetened the flow to something manageable, and where the multiple little beaches allowed a number of possible get-outs as we were taken down the river. Swims soon became a swooshes, starting upstream a hundred meters or so, swimming/being taken for a swim back to the regular changing place, under the Dodo Tree. Upstream to The Perch landing became the usual place to start. The Perch is a pub with a good restaurant, a long garden, and a landing on the river, where you can usually row or punt to, especially in the Summer. My first Oxford memory was rowing to the Perch. Right now, the River Thames is on Red Boards, which precludes any rowing on it, which makes it oddly safe from rowing boats and their scary-long blades with heads large and sharp enough to behead. On the Saturday before Christmas, it was Helen’s third swim-aversary, celebrating her swimming outdoors every day for three years. All-weather, all seasons, rain and sun, even on one occasion when water was not forthcoming in a river in Italy, rolling in the mud that would be river once the rains returned and the water flowed. This was not a proud moment for her I am sure, but I think she can take pride in the fact that she made the effort every single day for three years, even when the odds were against her. Helen is one of the sweetest, toughest people I know, always kind, sensitive, she is a privilege to know and have befriended. On this third swim-aversary, we swam to the log on the side of the Thames where she started this quest. The log was really on the bank of the river, but with the flooding, was a lone object in the Amazon-Thames, bathed in the sharp blue light of the Winter sun. We swam hard against the current to get to the log, then sat on the log, in the sun, bathing in the sun, laughing. The photos taken, five swim-souls sitting on a log in the winter sun – me, Federica, Jeremy, Kristie, John, quickly spread on social media, and was much-liked on Facebook. A unique morning, among many unique mornings. That’s a reason to get out of bed – you never know what you will see or you will do or think. This flurry of posting and liking brought pleasure among the daily roll of emails and messages that form the mundane back-drop of present-day life. Saturday’s swim-aversary was very special.
Over Christmas, the Tuesday – Thursday 6.20am routine became an almost daily 8.30 or 9am swim. Meet at the top of the path which comes out at Binsey Lane, the short drive from the village to Binsey before the church, then walk down on puddled ground, avoiding the deepest where possible. Over Christmas, at this time, the sun was more-or-less risen, Helens third swim-a-day anniversary was to be celebrated (the Saturday before Christmas), then Christmas Day, Boxing Day, and most days up to New Years Day. I got to most of them. The sun shone, it disappeared behind dense cloud, and it appeared one morning from the thick mist, over the water lands that was the Thames flood plain at Binsey and Port Meadow. On Helen’s anniversary, we swam across to the log she started from, now three years ago, now appearing as if suspended in a lake. We swam across (led by Neil, as ever intrepid), sat on the log, ‘sun-lounged’, laughed and chatted, took photos and smiled, then set off down the river to the get-out at the Dodo Tree.