Small step ends a long journey

Review of the exhibition 'Moon' at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London 19 July 2019 – 5 January 2020 ★★★★☆

I was four when I watched the first moon landing with my mother. Not long after Neil Armstrong’s boot alighted upon the lunar surface, my mother went to the living room window. My two brothers and I joined her upward gaze. “They are up there – now,” she said, pointing. Half a century on and I can still hear the wonder in her voice.

At the time it seemed like an important beginning. Surely soon humankind would journey to Mars; living complexes would orbit the earth; and space would become a place of adventure, as it was in my, then, tv favourite, Bleep And Booster?

Enjoying the National Maritime Museum’s ‘Moon’ exhibition, I realise just how naive was my reading of Apollo 11’s moment. The years between 1969 and 1972, when there were moon walks, space buggies and golf among the craters, marked far more of an end than a beginning. 

The quest for people to go further, higher and faster can be traced through Stevenson’s locomotives, to the Wright Brothers and von Braun’s rockets. The NASA’a manned moon missions provide the full stop not only to this, but to the entire age of discovery, that began when de Gama, Magellan and Columbus encircled the globe.

Moon’s view of our celestial neighbour opens with a stone tablet carved in Mesopotamia in 172 BC recording lunar eclipses. Orreries, early atlases and painted lunar likenesses continue the story of human relationships with the illuminator of the night sky. Of course the Apollo missions provide the exhibition’s big ticket items, but the story carries through the the current day. Moon missions from Japan, India, China, Germany are either pending or in the recent past.

All, however, are ‘unmanned’. They are collecting rock samples, seeking out water reserves and evaluating the affect of differing light levels. Perhaps this is the commercial and scientific consolidation of the Apollo era. In narrative terms, however, it is thin gruel.

NASA budget cuts did for moon visits, but they are emblematic of a broader change in priorities. Cheap, inclusive and less wasteful became the new guiding principles of technological advance.

It is perhaps this absence of a big story that has made the landings half centenary such a big event. Of course they were spurred by the Cold War, consumed vast resources and employed distinctly analogue-era technology. They were, however, the living definition of heroic, and were delivered in the British homes on prime time tv. If the broadcast epoch had an epic moment, it was this.

Since then, technology has shrunk in scale and purpose – at least when considered across the piece. We carry in our pockets computers of greater power than those available in Houston 50 years ago, but their principal deployment is taking selfies and sharing pictures of cats.

Missions with big rockets and cool space suites provides seductive nostalgia in which to wallow. From children’s toys, to Chinese communist posters, by way of magazine covers and fabric celebrating the spirit of the age, the exhibition is strong on cultural contextualisation. I didn’t hear David Bowie’s Space Odyssey playing, but doubtless that is being saved for an ‘evening at the museum’ event.

Christian Stangl’s film ‘Lunar’, an engaging composite of NASA images, plays on a loop. Only the impatience of my two-year-old daughter stopped me from watching it four or five times over. If you don’t plan to visit Greenwich, you can see it here.

Lunar, by Christian Strangl

Were the floorspace larger, I would have loved to have seen more about the moon’s metaphoric role. The enduring use of ‘lunatic’ as both insult and diagnosis is testimony to its potency. And the amount of actual material from the space program is slight. In the context of the available gallery, however, there was sufficient to transport me on a journey through the ether for slightly over an hour.

Adult admissions are £10 each, with discounts for online booking.

Flight of fancy: Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour Museum is an atmospheric triumph

Far the greatest thrill at Tallinn’s Seaplane Harbour Museum, is the building itself. It has the vast, mysterious quality of a Ken-Adam-designed James Bond film set. Its scale and proportions are those of a modernist cathedral on steriods with a shadowy atmosphere to charge the imagination.

Standing on a strategic outcrop of rock in the Gulf of Finland, it comprises three vast, interconnected concrete domes, each large enough to house aircraft. The submarine that is the museum’s prize exhibit, is a minnow in this vast, sparsely-lit cave.

Contained within the 36m x 36m structure can be found traces of much of Estonia’s recent past. The seaplane harbour itself (as the hanger is known) was built from concrete to an innovative Danish design in 1916. With independence in 1919, the ‘harbour’ became home to Estonia’s fleet of Short 184 seaplanes. Manufactured in Belfast, supply of these came with the UK’s military support for the fledgling Baltic republic, one strand of British attempts to turn Russia’s revolutionary tide.

How effective were these open-cockpit biplanes at patrolling the Gulf of Finland is anyone’s guess. By the time the Soviet union annexed Estonia in 1940, the 75mph seaplanes were well past offensive usefulness. For the half century that Estonia was a Soviet Republic, the hanger became part of a vast military annex occupying much of Tallinn’s waterfront.

The Red Army sold the complex in a fleeting moment on the cusp of Estonia’s independence. There followed a bizarre nine-year dispute between the state and developers. The state triumphed eventually and a €14m transformation commenced, 70% funded by the European Regional Development Fund. It opened as a museum in 2012, and won the EU cultural heritage prize the following year.

The exhibits include an eclectic selection of maritime pieces. The ice yachts are beautiful and opened my eyes to an unfamiliar sport.  For a chilling transport into the lives the 32-man crew who steered its course beneath the waves, Submarine Lembit provides a memorable, climb-on-board, experience.

Built by Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness in 1936, it is the only remnant of Estonia’s pre-war navy. For much of its existence, it served in the Soviet navy and became a museum ship well before the collapse of communism. 

The exhibits and installations distinguish themselves in two ways. 

There is much that is interactive, from flight simulators, to shoot-em-up video games using real artillery pieces and a boating lake featuring a scale model of the ice-breaker Suur Tõll moored outside the museum.

And, the projection on the side of the submarine is as beautifully realised as it is thought-provoking – an object lesson in the imaginative use of an exhibit. The only pity is that there is little to signal that the projection is underway, with the result that many visitors apparently missed it altogether.

Moored outside the main building there are also a fascinating assortment of historic craft that provide further glimpses of Estonia’s maritime past.

Seaplanes no longer perform military roles and none of the Short 184s survived (although the museum does have a replica). Their former home, however, in an outstanding example of reinterpreted military space deployed to promote intelligent cultural engagement. For those seeking a contemporary example of swords beneficially repurposed as ploughshares, Tallinn’s waterfront is a great starting point.

Baltic exchange: Europe’s journalists’ confer in Tallinn

A report on the general meeting of the European Federation of Journalists in Tallinn, Estonia 9 – 10 May 2019

Listening to Estonia’s president (pictured above), it would be easy to feel optimistic about press freedom and media plurality. Kersti Kaljulaid’s address to around 100 attendees at the European Federation of Journalist’s (EFJ) general meeting was, from a head of state, a refreshingly unambiguous commitment to the need for unfettered reporting and openness.

She basked in her country’s impressive 11th place in the Reporters Sans Frontiers 'press freedom' rankings, and made it clear that retaining such a position required determination and bravery on the part of legislators. “Without the open windows of a free media, a society quickly becomes musty”, she said.

Just hours after the president’s speech, however, the Estonian journalists’ union, EAL, painted a significantly darker picture of the state of their national media. It raised current threats to limit media freedom that are more quickly evident in smaller countries. It drew attention to the open talk of closing the Estonian State Broadcaster or taking its content under political control and the calls for critical newspaper journalists to be punished. Those Estonian politicians who refuse to engage with critics in the press were highlighted, as were faltering economic models and struggling freelances. EAL’s motion concluded that without significant additional action, Estonia faces an ‘Orwellian future’. 

The distance between those visions represents, in microcosm, the EFJ’s challenge – and, indeed, that of all of use who advocate for free journalism. We must find ways to represent the deeply challenging conditions in which we produce honest journalism in an environment where being beguiled by comfortable platitudes is easy.

Retaining a sharp focus on this task has tested every one of Europe’s journalist unions. Dramatic headcount losses in newsrooms brought on by tumbling circulations and free-falling advertising revenues have dominated the landscapes for the past decade. Unsurprisingly, it has been no less an issue for our European federation.

EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard

On the basis of the outcome of the meeting in Tallinn, most European affiliates are satisfied with the current leadership’s approach to this. It certainly represented a personal triumph for Mogens Blicher Bjerregard, the Dane who defeated Italy's Anna Del Freo, to be elected EFJ president for a third and final term. Critical voices were eliminated from the EFJ’s steering committee, however, with a ruthlessness that looked defensive and may well be interpreted as hostility by some affiliates.

To the untutored eye, discerning the fault lines between the factions that vie for influence in the EFJ is not easy. For most of its recent history, the federation’s leadership has been dominated by an alliance of Scandinavians and Germans. The core of the opposing block is drawn from the UK, France, Italy and Spain.

One of the few points where ideological differences were exposed came in discussion of a motion of the EU’s recently adopted Copyright Directive. The original motion, submitted by SNJ-CGT (France), EAL (Estonia), NUNS (Serbia), FSC-CCOO (Spain) included the line: “A call to open the text to amendments was lost by just 5 votes”.

This referred to an attempt made, very late in the passage of the Copyright Directive, to completely reopen negotiations on its contents. Those who supported this position argued that the directive might yet be improved. Opponents of reopening the text said that limitations on legislative time would mean that that ‘reopening’ would have the effect of shelving the Directive for a decade or more.

Even though these events are now historical, reference to this initiative hit a nerve. The implication of this line was that the EFJ would have preferred the text to have been reopened. The motion’s proposer and his opponents were dispatched to confer in private. Half an hour later, agreement to delete the offending sentence had been reached.

Such a slight point of contention might be interpreted as an organisation at ease with itself. That the meeting stuck on that wrinkle, however, even for just a moment, showed up the separating contours. On one side a more corporatist, consensus-seeking Scandinavian approach, on the other one shaped by a sense that workers’ and employers’ interests rarely coincide.

Along the way, good motions were adopted that called on the EFJ to intensify work to protect journalists from violence at work, support Belarusian freelances, oppose the jailing of journalists in Turkey, support the independence of news agencies and develop a fresh strategy to deal with the media’s gender divide. Attention was also drawn to such individual cases as the murder of Lyra McKee, and the imprisonment of Swedes Gui Minhai in China and Dawit Isaak in Eritrea.

Such a. meeting provides only limited opportunities to better understand a host country’s culture, alas. The importance of Estonia’s recent story to its national consciousness, however, was shown up in a tiny tableau that I witnessed as I picked up my conference credentials.

The desk was staffed by long-standing activists from the Estonian Journalists Association. As one of them stuck the conference passes to attendees’ lapels, she asked with a smile “when was your association founded?” In most cases, their answer allowed her to observe that the EAL, having been founded in 1919, pre-dated them. Her evident pride in her union’s longevity was heartwarming. Indeed, reflecting on her repeated question, I wished that I had affected ignorance that the NUJ is 12 years the EAL’s senior.

I can’t imagine a British NUJ activist troubling to make a similar point. But, perhaps, were we not so complacent about our national narrative, the UK’s current trajectory would not be quite so convulsed in confusion?

I attended the conference at the invitation of the EFJ's steering committee to be a member of the three-person presidium that ran the conference. I was joined in this role by Gregor Kucera from GPA-djp (Austria) and Dominique Pradalié from SNJ (France).

Images © Tim Dawson

From leave to remain: new rules for EU nationals post-Brexit

New entitlements have been created for EU nationals who already live in the UK and wish stay here. Alison Stanley, the head of immigration and asylum at Bindmans solicitors gave NUJ members an overview of these, focussing on their impact on self-employed workers. Speaking to London Freelance Branch on 11 March 2019, she also answered members' questions. I made this audio package of the presentation.i

Image: Alison Stanley, head of immigration, Bindmans solicitors © Tim Dawson

Sauce For The Goosesteppers

Review of As A Man Grows Younger at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre 19 – 23 February 2019

Calling out resurgent fascism is a recurring trope on the left. Some manifestations uniform themselves unambiguously: the National Front, the British National Party and Tommy Robinson among them. Others are opaque and conjectural – ‘Trump’, ‘Brexit’ and ‘Universal Credit’, for example.

Howard Colyer’s one-hander, As A Man Grows Younger, is a visceral transport into the life of a writer struggling against the backdrop of Mussolini’s rise. Italo Svevo is today best known for his friendship with James Joyce; the setting for this drama is 1920s Trieste where the two writers lived.

Trieste at that time bore the enduring stamp of an Imperial Free City – a cultural and commercial crossroads of plural ethnicities and an international identity. Fin de Siècle artists and thinkers were drawn to this Viennese seaport in an atmosphere far removed from Mussolini’s reactionary populism.

Svevo’s monologue describes the haphazard trajectory that has brought him literary success, and to the brink of psychological collapse. Joyce is invoked to sprinkle stardust and a couple of good gags. The real off-stage interlocutors, however, are Il Duce and the disintegration of a multi-ethnic supra-national state.

David Bromley delivers a kinetically compelling 70 minute, performance, brimful with the contradictions under which his character struggles. He dotes on his wife, but she is an enthusiastic fascist fund raiser. He fears the secret police, but goads the authorities in his work. His greatest success is stopping smoking – so he does it repeatedly.

The contemporary parallels are clear, although the take home is nuanced. Vigilance is vital when reaction pulls on its jackboots, but the gulf between a handful of thugs and the horrors of interwar fascism is mercifully wide. Recognising the difference is a genuine challenge. 

The play’s most resonant line, is the reported nostrum of Svevo’s wife. “When everyone is being foolish, it can be foolish to act sensibly”. That is surely a clarion call to those who might allow reaction to flourish in the benign glare of relativism? Reassuringly, such a thought-provoking performance as this is at least a modest bulwark against that possibility.

Double magnum: the conception of Robert Capa and photojournalism

Review of TARO, at the Brockley Jack Theatre 19 January – 16 February 2019

The defining moment of darkroom photo processing occurs in the tray of developer. In to this pungent liquid slides a white sheet of paper revealing no sign of infused light, or the anticipatory anxiety that wills its transformation. Seconds tick by before shapes and grayscale emerge. Form and detail often make an uncertain start, but eventually a semblance of that originally spied through the camera’s viewfinder appears in sharp relief.

It found myself reflecting on this antique process as I watched Ross McGregor’s TARO, produced by the Arrows and Traps Theatre at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre.

The play tells the story of Robert Capa, the arguable father of photojournalism – or more precisely the Jewish exile couple who invented ‘American photojournalist Robert Capa’ as a disguise from behind which they could achieve better rates for both their work. 

The cast of eight conjure the story Gerda Taro and her relationship with Endre Friedmann through fragmentary scenes, choreography and conceit. Enjoyable as these are, I spent a good portion of the 95 minute performance wondering if this dancing collage of grey and white, dreamy episodes and moments of fantasy could possibly coalesce. But as the conclusion approached, the subtle beauty and power of the whole revealed itself in a distilled moment to equal those for which Capa himself become so famous.

Historical narrative supplies the play’s furniture, but its theme is identity and its capacity to be at once self-determined and rooted in our backgrounds. Capa, of course, was a figment from the outset, but there were plenty more. Neither Taro or Friedmann were observant Jews, yet heritage, and anti-semitism shaped their imaginations.  And though they played instrumental roles in creating modern photojournalism with its apparently shocking veracity, both knew well how sometimes deceit is necessary to tell a powerful truth.

Issues of dispossession, identity and representation animate contemporary life every bit as much they did in the middle of the twentieth century. If TARO has a shortcoming it is that this continuum is not clearly signalled. That does not detract from the quality of this work, however, nor of the energetic and eminently capable cast.

Today, of course, few darkrooms remain, and the revolutionary impact of lone photographers framing our world view is subsumed by a tsunami of phone-captured snaps.  A reminder of the human gaze behind every recorded image, however, is all the more impactful for focusing on a time when a single exposure could change the world.

Chief constable shoots the messenger as gun men roam free

Picture Northern Ireland’s most senior police officer, George Hamilton, settling down to watch the film No Stone Unturned. It must have left him worried, angry and possibly betrayed. It certainly landed a big decision in his lap. The documentary feature, made by Oscar-winner Alex Gibney, and originally a BBC co-production, forensically unpicks 1994’s Loughinisland massacre and the woeful response of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. The bones of the story are well known. On 18 June 1994 Italy’s footballers faced the Republic of Ireland in the World Cup. Deep in the Northern Ireland’s countryside, drinkers in Heights Bar, Loughinisland, were enjoying the match when masked men burst in and sprayed the bar with automatic gun fire. Six people died. Disgust was widespread, not least as Loyalist and Republican paramilitary ceasefires came within months of the shooting. Police and politicians promised justice would be swift and proportionate. In the days following the shooting, developments apparently went the way of the law enforcers. The getaway car, rich in forensic evidence, turned up in a nearby field. By a bridge close by, the automatic rifle was found. And within the community, most people knew the names of the killers within a month. They lived scarcely five miles from the crime scene. But convictions, there were none. Months became years, and then decades. The bereaved families showed a remarkable dignity in their mourning, but eventually, and quite rightly, they started to ask questions. Why had nothing happened? Twenty three years after the killings, Gibney’s film provided quite a lot of the answers. Based on a secret document compiled by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, it names the four Ulster Volunteer Force members who are the chief suspects the atrocity. It unpicks the police investigation which by turns was deliberately slow footed, woefully incompetent and orchestrated in collusion with the killers. It shows how the police destroyed evidence and, in one particularly shocking exposé, suggests that a Detective Constable pressured the gang’s leader to eliminate a personal enemy. As the narrative unfolded, George Hamilton could jump in one of two ways. The Police Service of Northern Ireland’s chief constable could have opened a new investigation to catch the killers and bring to justice the RUC officers whose bungling had landed this on his plate. Or he could pursue the journalists who had shone light on a shameful episode in the history of the force he joined at the age of eighteen. He chose the latter course. It was a terrible misjudgement that will, in time, bring further dishonour to policing in Northern Ireland and may yet bring his career to a premature end. Very early one August morning, a massive detachment of his officers, bristling with guns, burst unannounced into the Belfast homes of producer Trevor Birney and reporter Barry McCaffrey. Both had worked on No Stone Unturned. As the journalists’ families and neighbours looked on in horror, officers removed phones, memory sticks and computers and took the arrested men for questioning. For fourteen hours, Birney and McCaffrey were held and interrogated. Eventually they were bailed, since which time their bail has been renewed until March 2018. They are accused of theft, handling stolen goods, data protection crimes and offences under the Official Secrets Act. Such an assault on press freedom is an outrage in itself. But in a manner reminiscent of the original Loughinisland investigations, as many questions are thrown up as answers. Initially the PSNI said that it was acting on a complaint of the theft of documents by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland. That body has since made clear that it made no such complaint. The searches and subsequent investigation is apparently being carried out on behalf of Durham Constabulary which says that it is carrying out an ‘independent investigation’. Of what Durham’s investigation is independent is not clear – certainly not PSNI, whose officers were present at all the interviews. Then there is the timescale. The film makers told the PSNI that they intended to name the chief suspects in their film six months before its release. It was a deliberate move intended to allow the police to act if they thought that lives might be put at risk by such a public revelation. Injuncting the film, so that it could not be shown, would have been straightforward at that time. The police did nothing. Nor did they act when the film was released in November 2017. It was a box office success in Ireland north and south, but the journalists were not troubled until August 2018. Birney and McCaffrey are traumatised by the experience. They can’t leave Northern Ireland without giving the police prior notice, reams of data wholly unconnected with the film has been removed from their computer server, some highly sensitive, and theirs and their families’ property has not been returned. They have, however, been buoyed by the support they have received. The NUJ quickly came to their side, of course. We have organised screenings of the film and support meetings in London, Manchester, Belfast and Dublin. More are planned. In Westminster last week Birney and McCaffrey received a warm welcome from Labour’s Northern Ireland front bench, who promised to lend their support to the case. Other parliamentarians followed. Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that their treatment was ‘outrageous’, and undertook to intervene on their behalf. Former deputy prime minister Lord John Prescott gave them a sympathetic ear, as did MPs from the SNP and Sinn Féin. Many asked if there is some back story that explains the Police behaviour. The best hypothesis is this. There is a political hiatus in Northern Ireland. As a result, efforts to deal with ‘legacy issues’ arising from ‘the troubles’, have foundered – save in one area. The Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland has continued to do its work investigating complaints, current and historical, about the conduct of the police. Those who are emotionally connected to the Royal Ulster Constabulary (the force that the PSNI replaced), have felt a spotlight on their past actions, that other communities have been inadvertently spared. That might be an explanation, but it is no excuse. The best thing that could now happen is for George Hamilton to admit his mistake, drop the case and get on with pursuing the killers. If that does not happen, then the more people who register their concern about this case, the better. Birney and McCaffrey are clear. This is a deliberate attempt to discourage investigative journalism – particularly when it concerns difficult subjects from the past. Whatever your feelings about the police, or the politics of Northern Ireland, or the conduct of the media, democracy is a risk if we don’t make our protests as noisily as possible. While I was with Trevor and Barry, I made this short film of them talking about their case.

Positive about The Negatives

Watching BBC’s Informer last night a snatch of music unearthed deeply buried memories. The song was ‘We’re From Bradford’ by The Negatives – a band who were together for less than a year, never performed outside Yorkshire and who released one single in a 500-copy pressing. It did not feature ‘We’re From Bradford’. How such an obscure track made it on to prime-time telly 39 years after I first heard it, I can’t imagine. Sometime around the election of Margaret Thatcher in May 1979, three friends and I happened, unprepared, upon The Negatives. Their set was basic, ram-a-lam-a rock of a kind familiar from the ’77 punk explosion, but yet to be rebranded as ‘Oi’. Several factors distinguished the band. They were incredibly tight and powerful with a lead singer, Dave Wilcox, whose wailing sneer and crazed delivery merited comparison with John Lydon. Just as important was their travelling band of fans. They were a melange of day-glo, studded leather, rip-shirted, glue-sodden, spike-haired, po-going, puking punks, united by Doc Martins, bondage and Special Brew. They dragged us into their midst for 90 minutes of glorious rucking as the band thrashed their instruments. Our tribe had claimed us. For the rest of that year, we saw The Negatives whenever we could. We may not have seen their every performance, but we came close. The only time I recall them disappointing was in a support slot for Stiff Little Fingers. The Negatives electrified the upstairs room of any pub, but struggled on the Queens Hall’s big stage. When the band split in January 1980 my friends and I were bereft. The guitarist, bass player and drummer went on to form the Mysterious Footsteps – musically more interesting, but less compelling. Dave Wilcox recruited a true-to-punk but musically inept backing band in front of which his increasingly wasted frame appeared somehow lost. The tight-knit scene dispersed. ‘We’re From Bradford’ was always a favourite in live sets. In its recent tv outing it animates the raucous wake of a right-wing thug. Politically and culturally that setting was a travesty. A lot of the Negatives gigs, possibly most, were Rock Against Racism benefits. The gang of fans were racially mixed and included women and men. Had they classified themselves politically, many would have identified as anarchists (several, myself included, would later turn up as early stalwarts of the 1-in-12 Club). What really characterised them, though, was openness and tolerance. Chanting ‘We’re From Bradford’ to a three-chord thrash – in the days before the Iranian revolution's fallout, before Ray Honeyford’s obnoxious fame, before Satanic Verses – was an ecstatic statement that locality and common interest defined us more than anything else. It was a moment in time.

Chill factor: Tooting Bec’s million gallon antidote to overheating

After the longest hot stretch in recent memory, I had expected a pulsating throng at Tooting Bec Lido. Instead, it was a surprisingly select gathering of refugees from the sweltering Smoke who assembled at the venerable south London oasis on this July Saturday. The Lido is among Britain’s oldest and largest freshwater pools at 100 yards by 33 yards (91m x 30m). It opened in 1906, having been proposed as a make-work scheme for local men. For much of its existence, London County Council was its operator, followed by Wandsworth Council and, since a campaign to save the facility in the 1990s, Places for People. At inception, there was concern that the facility might disrupt views over the ancient commons. This was avoided by surrounding the pool with banked earth. The subsequent century of tree growth means that, save for the signage, it would be easy to miss the pool altogether. Finding your way in through the new entrance, at the northern end, is to enter a shimmering scene of splashing water, sea-side colours and tanned bathers enclosed by tall deciduous trees. The encircling city slips easily from the mind. There are brightly-painted changing cubicles on two sides of the pool, an entirely separate children’s swimming area and a delightful ‘wedding cake’ fountain. Provision at the cafe is slightly unreconstructed, but inexpensive, and capable of providing food to sustain a day out. The pool itself is a pure delight. Its crystalline waters had reached 22 degrees centigrade when I visited, although the hearty South London Swimming Club practice immersion even when it is preceded by ice breaking. Its size does take a little acclimatisation. If the longest length you have ever swam is 50m, even a ‘there-and-back’ can seem like a marathon. After six weeks of sticky heat, however, the million gallons of water that fill the pool were a joyous antidote. The pool is open to the public from May to September. At other times of the year, one has to be a member of the club to obtain entry. The pool is a seven or eight minute walk from Streatham station.