I am reading Roger Deakin’s delightful Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain and yesterday I found this:
Swimming is often enhanced by company, and sometimes by solitude. The same individual may swim for different reasons on different days. I certainly do. The joys of swimming are sometimes those of silence and solitude, sometimes of communion with nature, and sometimes the more friends who join you, the merrier. As with any mildly dangerous sport, there is safety in numbers when you swim in company, as when you climb or walk in the mountains. But there is also strength in numbers if your right to bathe in this or that particular mudhole is at all questioned.
Outdoor swimmers, especially in the wild, have always been outsiders with a shared vulnerability to the rigours of the elements and seasons, and to whoever seeks officiously to prevent them from risking their necks, or disturbing the trout.
(Except for the trout) does this remind you of any other type of sport?
Deakin recognises this too.
He goes on…
Swimming without a roof over your head is now a mildly subversive activity, like having an allotment, insisting on your right to walk a footpath, or riding a bicycle. It certainly appeals to free spirits, which is why the talk is invariably so good in those little spontaneous bankside, beach or poolside parliaments that spring up wherever two or three swimmers are gathered, as though the water’s fluency were contagious. (2000:115-116)
Deakin’s romantic and poetic account of swimming in the UK got me thinking about a cycling encounter I had on Saturday.
I was cycling from Herne Hill to central London when I got chatting with a man on an impressive cargo bike. I admit I am easily impressed by cargo bike but this was of a scale and elegance not normally sighted in the city. Frequent red lights provided excuses to talk and he told me of it’s structure, steering and load capacity – it was usually used to ransport 50kg but was capable of 100kg! These companionable bursts of conversation continued from South London to Covent Garden. Stuck once more in a snarl of traffic, he asked if I wanted to try it. I said yes. We swapped bikes and I set off to cycle a very busy street while he held my road bike on the footpath. I was nervous. Not only that this was a very expensive machine, but I was in road cleats on flat pedals and the street was filled with tourists, cabs doing 360s and many many cyclists, including pedicabs. At first it wobbled a lot. It was disconcerting not to see the front wheel and have the steering column turn even though the big cargo box in front remained straight ahead. And the seat was too high. I returned and he adjusted the seat. I tried again, this time down hill and something clicked. I cycled on, turned around and came back. It felt incredibly smooth and responsive. And the potential of it was exciting. We chatted again, introduced ourselves, swapped bikes and cycled away.
This spontaneous encounter with a cycling stranger made London feel like a very friendly place. It engendered an extraordinary level of trust in a city where cyclists we are constantly reminded about theft and security, of accidents and safety, of cycling defensively and being aware of traffic. Yet, here we simply connected over a lovely bike. Our shared interest in cycling made talk easy and it made my day.