Updated: Oct 19, 2020
The running head for ‘swimmingpod’ is ‘a podcast series for people who like to swim (outdoors)’ - a deliberate cheese-take on the proliferation of cheesy titles in the virtual-sphere. Yes, I have taken to the virtual sphere as well as swimming, now that my 65 swims are done. For the record, I am doing the Polar bear Challenge this winter, gold level, which is not heroic by the standards of this incredibly popular self-monitored event. The cheesy title, well, I have cheese on my mind. I am hungry, and I have good cheese waiting downstairs, and I am visualising a toasted cheese sandwich right now, made with sourdough and good Montgomery cheddar – a thing of delight. I have lit the candles behind the laptop that are for me a part of what makes winter, winter. There is Christmas of course, that defines winter and the manic partying season that fills the darkness at this time. But also for me blood red sunsets from my office window when the sun drops over the horizon at four in the afternoon. And rain, and wind, and a light dusting of snow and a hope of ice on the water, all part of winter. And swimming. The thought of winter swimming right now, in season-turning-time, when the leaves are orange and yellow and falling off the trees, fills me with a shivery delight. The delightful prospect of late afternoon swim-swooshes on Port Meadow, in Oxford, watching the livid-red sun drop behind the skeleton-branched trees, and padding back to the car with friends in companionable silence. The prospect also before Christmas of the Dodo swim, again on Port Meadow, the New Years Day Dip at Hardwick Lake, winter swimming events and visits to cold countries where they love to dip and sauna. This is all part of winter-anticipation.
Which brings me to Copenhagen, where candles, coffee, winter dipping and sauna all merge as one delightful hyggely entanglement. I gave an inaugural lecture at Copenhagen University a few years ago, something they ask you to do when appointed to a prestigious professorial category – thank you KU, thank you to my friends and colleagues who put me forward for this position. The inaugural was one autumn evening, as day-light grew noticeably shorter, and as the season to ‘make it cosy’ was quickly entering through the front door. Hygge – meaning literally in English, making it cosy. An idea in one word, a complete design concept in one word for how to live your life even when it’s cold and damp and dark and raining ice when you are cycling home after work. After an inaugural lecture, it is customary to give gifts to the presenter, a way of forging bonds beyond the institutional ones. Anne Katrine gave me a candle, a very proper Danish candle, made of stearin. I thanked her but didn’t think much of it at the time. I took it back to Oxford and lit it after the sun had dropped one wintery early evening. I lit it repeatedly, early after early evening when the sky turned black or the sky was particularly low and grey – you know the grey, not the stylish slate-grey one they get in Copenhagen, but the English ‘can’t make up my mind which colour I want to be, that’s why I am grey’ grey. The stearin candle, I discovered, as it slow-burned it length from tall and proud to short and still proud, burns strong and hot, and leaves a filigree exo-skeleton of un-melted stearin around the flame like the Victorian wrought iron framing around a gas-holder. Remember gas-holders? Like behind Kings Cross train station in London, or part of the back-drop to the cricket field at the Oval, if you are cricket minded. My candle became a Kings Cross gas holder in miniature, as it burned bright, giving sharp focus to the darkness like a bright star in the night sky.
Now I have many stearin candles (I am really a fan), burning next to my autumnal laptop-recording set-up at home. Going back a few years, when Anne Katrine came on one of her visits to the University of Oxford, she must have felt she knew me well enough to give her considered view of how my office was arranged, which I admit was mostly functional. I asked her about hygge, and she spared no words in showing me what was not hyggelig in my office, many things it turned out. The way she said it, hyggelig sounded like hugge-ly, which is how I say it now, like a toddler learning a new word. “The tree in a large pot, that is hugge-ly… The filing cabinets – no, not hugge-ly!. The old scratched up table with its own history of anthropologists having sat at it – yes, very hugge-ly; paper everywhere – not hugge-ly at all!”. She did it in a Danish matter-of-fact way; the fact really was that I was very clearly on the wrong side of hygge, and she was helping me tip the balance toward office-hygge. I have had one graduate student award me her informal ‘most hyggelig office’ award – I was deeply honoured, because it really matters to me now. What was the award? – of course, a Danish candle.
It wasn’t all one way with Anne Katrine – I introduced her to winter swimming (as opposed to dip-then-sauna-then-dip-again, as most Danes do). She is now a member of Vinterbad Bryggen in central Copenhagen, as am I, and has a similar view on winter to me, swimming most days. She has always had her hygge well-sorted and now, with the winter swimming plus sauna (and the coffee in a be-candled café after), she has hygge-plus.
I think we can all do with hygge-plus right now, or even some hygge where there is little or none. People are an important part of hygge, and it is difficult to do in a socially-distanced way (they are OK in Copenhagen – they got their COVID-19 act together very quickly and now they can hygge pretty well together, in an extra-socially-responsible way). Right now, my way of sharing a little hygge with you as winter approaches is by offering you some podcasts, which I have recorded at this little Danish table, my office and studio combined. I have the candles (yes, they are Danish, yes they are fine and beautiful and filigree as they burn down), I have the microphone and headphones, I have the love of outdoor swimming, and I have people to talk swimming with. This podcast series is called swimmingpod – together, swimming in a pod, in a socially-distanced way. Think of it as audio-swimming-hygge, water-between-the-ears-hygge. Light a candle if you can; throw on a sloppy jumper; find a cosy place you like to sit in; get some coffee/cocoa/wine/aquavit; in your favourite mug/glass/shot-glass. Headphones and ear-pieces can be hugge-ly too, especially if they set an intimate mood - so put them on/in if you have them. Swim with me, swim with my guests, with swimmingpod…
Reality check - actually, you don’t have to be hygge to like swimmingpod. You don’t have to curl up in your cosy-corner in your jim-jams with your cup-a-soup. You can turn on the ceiling light if you like, and you don’t have to risk burning the curtains with lavish use of candles and incense. It’s OK not to be hygge - listen to swimmingpod any way you like, in the bath, on a bicycle, while chopping vegetables in the kitchen perhaps while making sauerkraut (or perhaps not – fermenting your own vegetables is VERY hyggelig), while sitting in the wardrobe hoping for Narnia, while eating porridge (again, very hyggelig), dancing, in bed, while eating while dancing on your bed - it’s all OK for swimmingpod. I just hope you like these conversations, whether you are dancing or hiding in the wardrobe. Who have I talked with so far? Pauline Barker talks about her winter swimming achievements, and about the Polar Bear Challenge, her own event, which is EXCEEDINGLY popular. There is a podcast with Craig Holmes and Jo Jones, ice-swimming champions both, where they share a lively conversation about the difference between winter swimming and ice swimming (with lots of advice about how to go about winter swimming whether you are a starter or well-winter-seasoned). Then there is Helen Edwards talking about her Dip-a-Day project, initially planned for one year – a swim every single day, now into its fourth year. Kristie Waller and Judy Pearsall have a great conversation about why they swim together and the projects they share, including swimming the length of the River Thames (a work in progress, and they are making good progress). And talking of swimming the Thames, Jeremy Wellingham, Sefryn Penrose, Chris Dalton and Sharon Curtis have a great time talking about the first Swim the Thames project, which involved swimming the non-tidal Thames, from the source to Teddington. Grumpy Old Woman Judith Holder talks about why she is addicted to outdoor swimming and why comedian Jenny Éclair is not, and Anne Katrine Kleberg Hansen (remember - hygge-plus) talks about swimming and bathing Danish-ly, summer and winter.
I think that’s a decent enough start; the next thing to do at my Danish table-study-studio is to upload the first of these Swimmingpods onto the website, by candlelight (yes, genuinely, by candlelight). I hope you enjoy them, as I put them out across the coming weeks.