"Pondlife: A Swimmer's Journal"
by Al Alvarez
Reading history and reviews
Finished on 10th June 2014Although subtitled "a swimmer's journal", Alvarez's book turns out to be more about getting old, and how this challenges your self-image as your powers fade, you're faced with physical and mental decline and the realisation that - unlike with an illness - things aren't going to get better.
However Alvarez does swim - he was a regular at the Hampstead Heath ponds and swam through the year, particularly relishing the cold water and the restorative effects it seems to have on his physical ills and his emotional state. And like all swimmers who are addicted to their regular doses of swimming, he hates when he misses his swims. It is particularly important to him as someone who'd previously led a very active life: the last refuge from total decrepitude.
Towards the end of the book his health seems to decline very rapidly, along with his mental state - so much so in fact that it's something of a surprise to learn that he's still alive a couple of years on from the last journal entries in 2011. I think a part of me wanted him to get better, while acknowledging that ultimately - as Alvarez himself remarks - ageing is a disease you don't recover from. In my early 40s I found it quite sobering to reflect on that. Not always an easy read but a good one.