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There’s something about stripping off and swimming that embodies the notion of “gentle” that floated through The Monocle Book of Gentle Living as our editors put it together. Maybe swimming is important because we remove the layers we put between ourselves and the world to do it. It could be the shedding of inhibitions that come with a dip. Or could it be that getting somewhere under our own steam is an act that’s health-giving, refreshing and life-affirming? Perhaps it’s that a paddle creates a bond with nature and our own bodies that a little too much time at a desk has numbed? Then again, it could be the simple fact that we leave our phone on the shore and break – if only for a while – from the fizz and buzz of emails, entitlements and updates. It’s also linked with place and time: you can’t swim in your bedroom, or in a city that doesn’t take pride in its waterways. That makes swimming political, a recreation that takes place in shared space for which we’re all responsible.

Whatever it means to you swimming, alone or with others, badly or brilliantly, is about being in the moment. Do that more often and you’re one stroke closer to a gentler life already.


Test the waters

City swimming
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More of us live in cities than ever. And as we’ve been provided with more prosperity, excitement and opportunity, we’ve also too often turned our back on the rivers, harbours and lakes that first gave rise to our settlements. That’s changing: from the clean-up of Copenhagen’s harbour to unlikely urban beaches on a crook of the Vistula River in Warsaw, we’re turning towards a healthier relationship with the world around us. We need to think about how we interact with our towns and cities, and that includes with the water that keeps us buoyant as we trace their skylines from afar.

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Why I swim

by Sophie Grove

I swim to escape – to feel weightless, like an aquatic astronaut. To dive into a blue sea on a hot day is to leave the wherewithal of bikes and bags and dinner plans behind and plunge into a watery otherness.

Even a few laps of my local pool and I’m in a David Hockney rectangle of turquoise – floating; completely transported. Some days I swim with sunglasses on, looking up at the trees and the sky, while others I submerge to an abstract world of limbs akimbo, goggles and sunlight filtered through chlorine. Swimming is an antidote to screens and all-encompassing technology. It’s sobering. It’s also instant. Until I dive into a lake, pond, river or sea I don’t feel I’ve really arrived. I need to be in the view – not just looking at it from a distance.

I swim to sleep more soundly, to reap the benefits of a post-dip appetite, where every mouthful somehow tastes better. In summer I swim to cool off and in winter to get so cold it hurts. The buzz after a freezing dip is better than anything you could bottle. It’s life-affirming, electric and intensely human.

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