I first met Craig at a Dodo swim in Oxford – that is December Oxford Dip Outdoors. Or Dip Outdoors December Oxford. Or December Outdoors Dip Oxford. Yes, that’s it – swimming outdoors in December, at Port Meadow, on the day that they cancelled (at short notice) the usual December swim at Parliament Hill Lido. Which brought a very big crowd indeed to this first of the Dodo swims, people from London in need of this pre-Christmas event, now an annual thing in Oxford. Craig was such an unassuming man, lovely to talk to, in many ways personifying the best of outdoor swimming. If there were a typology of outdoor swimmers, he would characterise one of them – kind, polite, sharing, quiet, but with a fierce resilience and determination when he comes into contact with cold water. Back at Parliament Hill Lido, at PHISH back in January 2020, at 65@65 Swim #41, Craig the individualist Dodo did most events, and mostly won. He did brilliantly as ever, winning event after event after event, and we all unreservedly congratulated him. Craig added significantly to his collection of gold caps, and everyone had a great day out.
Jo, I didn’t know, but Craig introduced her to me as his counterpart in championing ice swimming events, and if Craig has introduced her to me, she must be alright – I certainly found her so, very much so. Much more vocal than Craig, speaking a lot of common-sense, certainly the sort of person you want to have in your swimming pod. They get on like a house on fire (I have never really understood that saying) – Craig, quiet and understated, Jo pleasantly chirpy. They both care very deeply about winter swimming, and especially ice swimming. The latter is defined by swimming in water at or below five degrees Celsius.
This cut-off, five degrees, is hugely important to many winter swimmers, whether they think of themselves as ice swimmers or not. Which brings me to Professor Celsius of Uppsala University, who kind-of invented the scale, after some considerable wrangling with Professor Linnaeus, of the same University. I pondered over the temperature scale when I swam swim #15 of the 65@65 in Uppsala, when I was invited to the University to take part in a research workshop in August 2019. It was uncommonly hot in Sweden, and people were delighting in Celsius numbers of 29 and 30. Celsius, the man, proposed a temperature scale in 1742, almost the last significant thing he did as a scientist before dying two years later at the age of 43. And what a significant thing! And what an arm-wrestling match between Linnaeus and Celsius! Over who should get the credit, and whether the scale should go from zero to a hundred or from a hundred to zero from ice to steam. I can visualize them in a Swedish pub on a late afternoon in Winter, darkness set in for the night outside, lit candles, open fire and ale all making the pub interior cozy and cheerful. Jackets off, sleeves rolled up, elbows on the table, best of ten arm-wrestles – Celsius and Linnaeus. “Is it to be Degrees Linnaeus, or Degrees Celsius?” We know the outcome – Celsius won, and the rest is history. It just needs a painting of the (fictional) arm-wrestling event in the Gustavian Period room of the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm to confirm the myth. More realistically, Celsius and Linnaeus were more likely to have locked horns at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which was founded in 1739, and of which both were members (this is the place where the Nobel Prizes are awarded each year). The Celsius scale is intuitive, and related, of course to water. At zero water freezes and at a hundred it boils – liquid, solid, gas. What could be simpler? Degrees Celsius simplifies the huge complexity of water for understanding it in everyday life, and of course understanding it for swimming.
Jo and Craig probably don’t arm-wrestle, are certainly not Swedish, and are companions in ice swimming, not rivals. They really know their winter swimming, by which I mean they really understand their bodies in relation to the cold water, what it does to them, and how to work with it. Their achievements are great, and their advice to those wanting to winter-swim both vast and invaluable. I was so happy when Craig very enthusiastically said “yes!” to doing this podcast, and happier still when he introduced me to Jo, to do it with him. So, put on your winter dry robe (yes you can - we are still working from home under COVID-19 restrictions, so no-one is watching), imagine the water temperature dropping below 5 degrees Celsius, feel the sharp tingle of the winter water on your body, smile as the endorphins wash over your brain, and listen!