Sunday, 14 July 2013
Sunshine is a rarity in Britain. Glimpses and flashes, sure; rays pushing through grey clouds perhaps, or light filtering past trees. But heat with enough strength to support a day of swimming outside? It's a more elusive treat.
The first half half of the week I've just spent in London passed in a state of sunned-up, active idleness. It was full of picnic rugs spread under trees and afternoons sitting cross-legged with friends. The body is used differently in the heat - sprawling and lolling or lying with eyes closed, mind roaming. Everything slows when there is the space to unravel.
The British press welcomes high temperatures like a rarely seen royal. The arrival is heralded by a glut of photos to accompany editorials that discuss summertime's apparel of ice creams and Pimms with glee. There are motifs by which weather is marked: by swimming costumes and crowded tables outside pubs; by floppy hats and blistered feet; by cool drinks and hot evenings. A kind of collective mentality emerges in urban areas. Every park bench and patch of green is occupied come the weekend. To stay indoors is to waste the day.
I had the pleasure of staking my ground at Kenwood Ladies' Pond on both Sunday and Monday. One of three freshwater pools found on Hampstead Heath, it took several wrong turns and a tramp over Parliament Hill before I got there. Almost entirely concealed from the rest of the Heath, tall hedges hid both swimmers and sunbathers from the curious eye. I slipped through the gate and marvelled at scenes of relaxed contentment.
Despite a name that suggests thirties' bathing suits and hair piled high in silk scarves, the atmosphere is much earthier. Sunbathing topless is the norm, varying amounts of body hair no issue. It is a wonderful place to observe the many varieties of the female frame. Short legs, thick thighs, long shins, small feet, slip-of-a-thing waists, broad shoulders, round hips. All are present and all are accepted
And the swimming? Oh, the swimming! I've had little exposure to the shock of cold water this year, so assumed that initial contact between skin and pool would be a surprise. But despite the slight frisson of first immersion, it was more serene than expected. I kicked out past buoys and groups of young women with hair pinned up out of the water's reach, eyes level with ducks and leaves. I spent just long enough swimming to fully relax into the pond's hold. All around was activity. Old women did lengths, younger girls splashed with their friends. As I hauled myself out again with wet hands gripping the rails, I knew that 'Middlemarch' and a towel warmed by the sun were waiting for me.
But where the pond was a place for reading and solitude, the rest of the week was sociable. As the sun draws out the bikinis, so it also draws out plans between friends. The outside is there to be used. I invited the delightful Dvora over to my grandma's flat for an afternoon. We sat, shaded by trees in the shared garden at the back. Several golden hours of chatting and snapping passed by. She took the photos above, some of my favourites to have been caught this year. I feel that they accurately reflect the stage that I'm at - the cusp of complete independence, but enjoying the sunshine for now.
This was posted from Spain. Links not working as I am on my ipad, but the photos were taken by Dvora of Fashionistable. No internet for a week now. Relish the sunshine, wherever you are.