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The Men’s Pond has been such a happy place…

30 July, 2020

Hampstead Heath ponds: ‘A duck pond without the frills of a ‘swimming facility’

• THE Heath Management Committee like to refer to the Men’s Pond as a swimming “facility”.

Not quite. Not unless you call the paths, the woods and the grassy meadows on the Heath “facilities”.

What we have is better described as a duck pond with the addition of an open-air concrete compound and a cold shower. But then, I suppose “Duck Pond Management Committee” doesn’t sound very grand.

But, no, a “swimming facility” is one of those things with all tiles, indoor changing cubicles, hot showers, a diving board, a paddling area and bars to hang on to round the sides.

Our duck pond has none of these frills, and that is how we like it. Somehow, out of this very basic provision, a special magic has been born. People come to the pond from all walks of life.

When I started swimming there 25-odd years ago they were proud to tell me that among their number was a rag-and-bone man and the Master of the Rolls; and all sorts in between, young and old, rich and poor.

I love inclusiveness and the fact that anyone can just turn up casually for a swim or a shower, and come and go as they please.

Now I am worried that introducing charges will create division, between the professional classes who can easily afford to pay, and the young, the low-paid, the unemployed (and there’s going to be a lot more of those in the very near future) and the elderly, who may be deterred from attending.

On our protest march on Sunday July 26, on the very day that the government decreed that swimming pools could reopen, we were all dismayed at the sight of the Men’s Pond so unnaturally still and dead-looking, when normally there would be fun and laughter and people frolicking in the water. And there is talk of a prison-camp atmosphere within the compound.

So I appeal to Anne Fairweather and her Heath management committee to adopt a more open, democratic, attitude and actually listen to the people whose lives are now blighted by their high-handed approach.

This disastrous loss of so precious an amenity is an abomination, and ill-timed when we are being encouraged to exercise more for our physical and mental wellbeing.

The Men’s Pond has till now been such a happy band of brothers, devoted to fresh air, exercise, and a sense of oneness with nature, followed by after-swim bonhomie, joviality, and often quite erudite conversation.

In Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Earnest, Lady Bracknell deplores education. “Natural ignorance”, she says, “is like a delicate, exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”

For “ignorance” read innocence, and the simplicity of our perfect start to the day.

Now this dictatorial management committee have touched it, and the bloom is gone…

Countess Road, NW5


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