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Night Swimming in Hampstead

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Posted by Directionless on Tuesday 24th of July 2012


‘And we should definitely lock some night swimming in!’

My friend Evi is leaving London and we’re planning her farewell dinner. I nod. I like the idea of night swimming, but I do not like the idea of Evi leaving and a nod is about the highest level of enthusiasm I can muster. It’s one up from a shrug.

Her vision is to head out on to Hampstead heath once it’s dark and break into one of the swimming ponds. ‘We’ll need a good bottle of Rioja,’ she continues, ‘and probably some brandy. And it ought to be after midnight.’

I break the news to our friend Magnus who is also attending the dinner. He texts back ‘I am up for going a bit wild, but need an early night as I have to work the next day.’ I also tell our friend Redd. ‘I’m not sure about that.’ she looks doubtful, ‘I have this wisdom tooth coming through and I don’t think cold water is good for it.’ I tell her that last time she said she couldn’t go in because of her asthma. ‘I still have that too.’ She says.

On the night itself, Evi produces a bottle of post dinner Rioja. ‘We’ll put some Oasis on,’ she says, ‘then we’ll go.’
‘I never quite understand why you always have to listen to Oasis,’ Magnus says.
‘It’s our song!’ Evi says. ‘Live Forever. Listen to it.’

Eight of us set off towards the heath, but three turn back once we reach the trees. ‘We have to work!’ Magnus shouts as they disappear into the gloom. The rest of us march toward Parliament Hill singing Wonderwall. We take in the lights of London, let off a fire lantern then head for the women’s ponds.

‘I’m not sure I can come,’ I say when we get there. ‘I’m not allowed to climb fences with spikes on top. It was always one of my mother’s rules.’
‘Don’t be a weed!’ Evi says, jumping over the gate.

The water is very black. Everyone is stripping. My housemate Rose who was bought up in the Irish Sea jumps straight in. ‘It’s really warm!’ she says. We follow more slowly. Possibly because the ponds have had some time to warm up since we last went in, or possibly due to the Rioja and brandy, the water does feel quite warm. Even Redd forgets the perilous tooth situation and jumps in.

We’re in for about half an hour, then two men appear. Apparently they are also there for a night swim, but they break in to our singing of Wonderwall and tell us to be quiet. We point out that as men they shouldn’t be there at all.

‘We’re going to walk back this way,’ Evi says when we reach the bottom of Parliament Hill. ‘Great evening. Night swimming was totes the thing to do.’


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