Social Science blog

01 February 2012

Swimming to work


Whatever the outcome of the transport ‘issues’ surrounding the London 2012 Olympics, the problem has certainly been (endlessly) debated. Nearly 6 months in advance of the actual event a website has been set up to let people and businesses know what’s in store and plan accordingly : and London mayor Boris Johnson has suggested that Olympic officials think about taking the tube to get to the Games, so confident is he that the transport system will take the strain.

 The website pin points congestion ‘hot’ spots; and there are quite a spread of these throughout the UK, though obviously the hottest ones are centred in the capital. Clicking on these reveals the details of what will be happening at tube and rail stations and people are encouraged to try alternative forms of transport like the buses (subject to diversions) and the river.

The thought of sailing serenely up the Thames is an attractive one, and really opens up the prospect of an additional Olympic legacy: that of returning the Thames to its old prominence as a major means of transport for Londoners.

 This may not be news of course for those who regularly commute from Putney to Blackfriars or from Woolwich Arsenal to Embankment, as river buses have been happily plying their trades on these routes for some years, and especially since the advent of riverside housing and apartment blocks. It seems such a wonderful option to me, and a terrific way to start the working day – or indeed to go to the Olympics & Paralympics: back to nature, with the gentle plash of wavelets accompanied by a flotilla of weed-gathering waterfowl. If only we still kept above ground the old London rivers like the Fleet and the Wandle which fed into the Thames. I can quite easily see my self rowing into London on the River Effra (alas forced into a tunnel now by the tides of industrialisation) instead of slobbing it on the tube and bus.

Or even swimming my commute! Which brings me via a very circuitous route to sports involving water, which have undergone something of a revival in this country over the past few years. The British have always been enthusiastic sailors and pool swimmers, but with increased participation in the sport of triathlon, open water swimming has become extremely popular and we seem to be very good at it. For aficionados of icy water (and I know several) there is an outdoor swimming society which campaigns for waterways to be opened up to leisure swimmers, and it has a super website with lots of historical accounts of swimming and waterways old and new I’m also pleased to say that the BL’s sound archive has some cold water swimming interviews in its oral history collections- See below.

 As far as the Olympic Games are concerned, I’m expecting the wonderful Keri-Ann Payne, the British world 10K open water champion to emerge as one of the stars of the 2012 Olympics. Watching her swim in Beijing was one of the absolute highlights of that Games for me.


 Cold water swimming interviews

British Library Sound Archive

 Gavin Mortimer The great swim New York: Walker & Co, 2008

DS shelfmark: m08/16107

 Janet Smith Liquid assets: the lidos and open air swimming pools of Britain

London: English Heritage, 2005

London reference collections shelfmark: YK.2007.a.6366

DS shelfmark: m09/18468





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