On a bright, cold, and deceptively sunny Saturday morning, a crowd of borderline insane people gathered at Brockwell Lido to "enjoy" a refreshing mid-winter's swim. We sent DeanN down there to cover it, and the fool only went and decided to take part. Here's his report...
Arriving half an hour before the midday 'big jump-in', it was a little disconcerting to see the lido covered by a thin layer of ice. Despite the best efforts of the sun, it wasn't going to shift with an air temperature of zero degrees Celsius, so poles were brought out to break it up whilst other early arrivals mused about how painful death by icicle laceration would be.
After signing a release form and being given a pep talk about the hazards of hypothermia, we stripped down to our swimwear. Some wiser cats had come prepared with wetsuits, bathing caps, and water gloves to protect the extremities; other fools (like, for instance, your hapless correspondent) had brought just a pair of swimshorts and a bloodstream full of Friday night's alcoholic intake to ward off the cold.
Come 12.00, with the ice mostly broken up, we were given a countdown, and then into the drink we went, en masse. The initial surge of adrenalin lasted all of ten seconds, at which point I became mildly troubled by a strange gurgled panting sensation emanating from my vicinity. Ascertaining that this was in fact my own respiratory system wheezing and wailing like a steam locomotive chugging up the Kilamanjaro, I nevertheless pushed on forward into the gonad-shrinkingly cold water, sinking my shoulders beneath the surface, with my skin shrivelling as it scraped past umpteen unseen blocks of ice. Despite the presence of tens of similar strugglers, I felt quite alone, and a primordial terror about drowning in an icy lake lodged itself in the imagination. My aim had been to swim half a length then turn around, but by this point, perhaps twenty seconds in, the limbs had mutinied against the mind, and I was crawling back toward the edge, my body fighting to turn itself inside out and my mouth contriving repeatedly to break a recent promise not to curse in front of minors. A few seconds later I was out and into the comfort of the heated changing room, risking chilblains by running my hands under the hot tap.
Around 100 of us 'Brockwell icicles' took the plunge, and while the more pusillanimous like myself lasted less than a minute, some of the hardier and more experienced types, including seasoned representatives from the South London Swimming Club, did lengths and even managed to make it look easy.
Pictures by Lindsey and DeanN. For more (and better) pictures, see Mike King's Flickr pages