It’s been a difficult few weeks:
‘What are you reading?’
‘A book about open-water swimming.’
Actually a far more subtle and interesting book than one might think, Waterlog is a homage to John Cheever’s classic short story ‘The Swimmer’, in which the hero decides to swim the 8 miles home from a party using his neighbours’ swimming pools. I blogged about Roger Deakin’s other book, Wildwood, some time ago, and this is equally good.
The swimming, like the trees in Wildwood, is just a vehicle for meditations on British life, and on the relationship we have with water. Deakin parallels swimming pools with lawns: both are sanitised versions of nature, and neither will fully satisfy. Far better to wander the woods, or swim in rivers, natural pools or the sea.
It was also a lovely surprise to read a chapter about Jaywick, where Deakin spent many childhood holidays, and to hear him describe my Great Grandfather, who bought the land and developed the resort:
Like a lot of makeshift landscapes, Jaywick grew up as plotlands, sold off in the 1930s by a developer from Dulwich, F.C ‘Foff’ Stedman, with ambitious plans for the place as a holiday resort. In 1928, Stedman paid £7,500 for the reclaimed marshland, dunes and dykes, but Clacton Town Council refused him planning permission for houses because they were unhappy about the sewerage arrangements on such low-lying land. Undeterred, Stedman got permission instead for ‘Beach Chalets’ and ‘Bathing Houses’. By 1929, he was offering beach chalets in the London papers for £20 to £100, and plots with land for car-parking or a garden for anything from £25 to £200. The chalets caught on with East Enders and by 1931 there were 200 of them at Jaywick.
Strangely, my wife and I almost bought a house in what would have been the garden of the house he had be born in in Dulwich, South East London. His wife, my Great Grandmother, lived next door. Her parents thought him unsuitable; too much of a wheeler-dealer. Troubles with dirt, reclaiming land, I love his spirit. We live just up the hill from, and I often think of him.
The last of the family’s holdings in Jaywick were sold last year. I feel I want to go back and swim there again, and spend more time in open water.