Nick, at the Serpentine Swimming Club, wanted to introduce me to Pauline Barker last year. I couldn’t make it to London that day, and that particular opportunity was gone. Pauline Barker, Ice-Mile legend, was the first ever to swim it doing fly, after having done it several times swimming crawl. The next possibility of meeting her opened itself at Lake Bled, at the Winter Swimming World Championships last February. I really wanted to meet her, but it turned out to be less straightforward than I thought. There were a thousand people plus at Lake Bled, and there were many blonde women speaking English – many of them Danish, Finnish and Swedish of course, which didn’t help in finding Pauline Barker. But I did meet a number of totally lovely, genuinely helpful Scandinavian women in the course of trying to find her. How did I proceed? As an anthropologist of course. I have shared breakfast with head-hunters in the past, in Papua New Guinea, so this couldn’t be nearly so difficult (the head-hunters were of course totally charming). As an anthropologist, you just ask people, ask stupid questions about things that are blindingly obvious to the people you are talking to, but much less obvious to people who don’t share their life-logic, their culture, if you will. Societies in places like Papua New Guinea have their legendary figures, as do all societies, and people realise that you, the anthropologist, must want to meet their legendary figures, as in places where celebrity culture is strong and where people want to meet celebrities. The society of winter swimmers has many heroes, and I approached the search with gusto. Asking the first blonde woman “are you Pauline Barker?” resulted in a very earnest woman from Finland who wasn’t Pauline Barker, who didn’t know her, but was happy to help find her if at all she could. If all Finns are like this, I must go to Helsinki, I made a mental note. The blonde Danish woman wasn't Pauline Barker either, but she introduced me to her clan of flag-waving Danes, one of them who was also a member of Vinterbad Bryggen in Copenhagen, where I go on dark Danish nights (and sometimes by day) when I am working there, to swim-sauna-swim-sauna-dip.
Pauline Barker, when I found her, was gracious, polite, and in a hurry, swimming as she was, very soon. I was keen to know more of her amazing event, the Polar Bear Challenge, and we spoke of the work it involved on her part – she has started a minor winter swimming movement with this self-motivated project. When Pauline Barker swam that day, there was no missing her, more embodying than representing Great Britain, with union flag swim-suit and union flag swim-cap both bright against the blue of the water, she the most visible person there. She has amazing charisma, and I was so pleased to have sought and found her. We have stayed in touch since, and I was so happy when she agreed to do this podcast. So happy I did a dance I think polar bears should do when they meet her – Pauline Barker the legend, the multiple Ice-Miler, and Mamma Bear of the Polar Bear Challenge. Pauline Barker and the Polar Bear Challenge taking our first podcast towards winter - enjoy and be inspired.