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Updated: Jun 30

It is November, and Lockdown Two, which thankfully permits outdoor swimming as long as it is not at a venue. Hardwick Lake is closed for all activities, it being a club. ‘Don’t go there’ is the dictum there, there being ‘don’t ask’, and there being ‘don’t even turn up’. Pauline and I, as our own bubble of two, have been going therefore to the Thames at Eynsham Lock, and at Port Meadow. Wherever we go, Kristie seems to be there, usually a little before us already swimming or well on her way to swimming. Kristie is usually there a little after us too, getting out as we are dressed and drinking tea on the river bank. Like so many, Kristie is doing the Polar Bear Challenge – Jedi Level; that is beyond Arctic, beyond Gold. Two things that go beyond this are the Ice-Mile, and swimming the English Channel. Kristie has the can-do spirit, youth, fitness, resilience and mental toughness for both, I reckon.

Judy is doing the Polar Bear Challenge Jedi level too, and is as swim-obsessed as Kristie I think; I just don’t quite so much of her, at least very lately, during Lockdown Two. Judy is the quieter of the two, and as with Kristie, wonderful company in and out of the water, with a great sense of fun and adventure. I can see Judy taking on the big swim challenges too – I can see them both doing the Ice Mile or swimming the English Channel (perhaps in relay, as a relay team of two, if that is possible?). Both of them have accompanied me in some of my 65@65 swims. Individually, Kristie and I had our joint birth swim in July 2019 – Swim #4, at Eynsham Lock; Judy and I swam from Eynsham Lock to Port Meadow, my Swim to Work – Swim #16. Judy also joined Swim #21, the Thames from Truss’s Island to Chertsey Bridge. Together, Judy, Kristie and I were on Swim #19 Sunrise and Sunset in the Thames, and Swim #59, Chipping Norton Lido (really this was Jeremy’s 70th Birthday Party Swim, but he allowed me to claim it for one of mine too).

The water at Eynsham Lock has been furious, in full flow, furious at Lockdown Two I have thought on some mornings last week. The rain has fallen in a deluge in the previous two weeks, and rivers do what rivers must – which is swell up and accelerate the volume and weight of water which needs to get to the ocean. I was only able to get a static swim down at Eynsham Lock, that is, to swim upstream for 20 minutes or so but not going upstream at all, just staying in the same place. Port Meadow is a safer bet when the river is like this, because there are many small beaches on the Perch-side (a well-known pub by the Thames in Oxford) some with eddies that make the water calm enough to get in and get out easily. The most common practice is to walk upstream and then swoosh down to the Dodo Tree, or to near it. So Port Meadow has become our daily swim, at different times in the morning according to what our schedules are doing to us. There is a daily steady stream of swimmers here, many people I have never seen before, many of them summertime swimmers pushing into winter as Lockdown Two pushes into people’s psyche – swimming to stay well, physically and above all, mentally.

Judy and Kristie swim together, and with other people, at Eynsham Lock and Port Meadow. They swim across all seasons, and have been doing so now for a couple of years. Usually the swim locally, at either Port Meadow or Eynsham Lock. Judy lives closer to the former, Kristie, to the latter. Under usual, non-lockdown circumstances, they have a routine that the welcome anyone to share. A swim in the early morning, meeting time almost to the minute at one of the two locations, on two working days of the week, before work, usually a short get-in-the-day swim. Before I knew Kristie, it never occurred to me how easy it is to get to Port Meadow from Eynsham before six in the morning. They swim much more than twice a week of course, and they both work their winter Dry Robes hard, seeming less to wear their Dry Robes than inhabit them. They swim at Hardwick Lake as well, as well as anywhere they can get a swim wherever they are. Kristie’s positive mood and general spirit of enthusiasm for everything is infectious. You know if she is there, there will be great time to be had; not to say she is not serious – she takes things very seriously when they need to be taken so, which makes her a great person to swim with. Both are infected by the outdoor swimming bug, and have forged a very strong swim-partnership in their everyday swim lives. They share a joy of swimming which is infectious. As well as the Polar Bear Challenge, they have started their own Swim the Thames project. In this podcast they open the door to their very personal and joyous worlds of swimming.

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