It’s normally a cold, cloudy day… probably a Tuesday. I set my alarm for quarter past seven and eventually drag myself out of bed, make a cup of Yorkshire tea and quickly eat a few rich tea biscuits. I put on my swimming costume that I’ve been warming on the radiator (a navy blue Speedo, which is a bit worn out) and get dressed for work over the top: jeans, a sweater and a Uniqlo gilet. My cat is meowing, so I give her some chicken treats and fill up her bowl. I make sure I have my shampoo, conditioner and a hairbrush, grab my bag and lock the front door.
I get in my car, switch on the radio and pull out onto Essex Road, swerving a cyclist. I stop for the lollipop lady, park, fiddle about with the parking meter app on my phone and find my swimming card and a 20p. I run into the leisure centre past a gaggle of lycra’d ladies with pushchairs waiting for their 'BuggyFit' class to start, scan my card and dump my bag in a damp locker. I pull on my red swimming hat and goggles, and scuttle over to the pool (skipping the pre shower: too cold), where I stand at the edge thinking I should have stayed in bed, and, eventually, pluck up the courage to jump in and start my forty laps.
I never make a bigger splash.
But as I take my first stroke and for a second or two am suspended, weightless in the cold water, it’s 30 degrees outside and the sky is clear and blue. The water in the pool is sparkling, two palm trees slowly sway on the horizon, and someone has just left the directors chair at the end of the pool to make me a whiskey sour. As they slide open the glass door of the dusty pink house to ask if I want ice and a cherry, I hear strains of Poulenc’s 'Les biches' ballet suite drifting from the modernist kitchen. I feel my lungs begging me for air, and break the surface of the water.
The splash subsides and the water is still again.
I’m reading a great book at the moment called ‘Swim’ by Lynn Sherr, which is basically a meditation on all forms of swimming, and there’s a quote in it by an unknown nineteenth-century philosopher that I can’t seem to get out of my head:
'The definition of swimming… is to keep yourself afloat and make progress. It matters little how it is done – in what mode or form – as long as it is done.'
David Hockney is swimming.
He’s not congratulating himself on his blockbuster retrospective at Tate Britain (which crashed the ticketing website on the first day it opened), his vast exhibition ‘Current’ on show at NGV Melbourne, or the intimate collection of his early etchings on display at Hazlitt Holland Hibbert.
He’s not looking back over his staggering collection of pictures printed in the new sumo-sized Taschen monograph...
Two boys together clinging; air breathing, water drinking.
A packet of Typhoo tea sent from his mother.
Standing shyly next to Gandhi and Walt Whitman,
‘I’m 23-years-old and wear glasses’.
Arriving in America on a ‘Flying Tiger’ aeroplane.
Pearblossom Highway and Melrose Avenue.
Tulips, birches, cherry blossom and palms.
Sizzlingly hot canyons painted in orange.
A photo collage of a zen garden in Kyoto;
Red sock, black sock, red sock, black sock.
Etchings, lithographs and prints made from paper pulp.
Playful pictures made with fax machines.
A quick iPad drawing of the first thing he sees as he wakes up.
Portraits of friends;
John, Gregory, Henry, Paul.
A line-drawing of his frail mother.
Boodgie begging for a treat.
Parade, The Magic Flute, Oedipus Rex, Turandot.
Yorkshire, New York, Egypt, Hollywood, Home.
A morning view from the terrace in Montcalm.
Sparkling swimming pools, water pouring,
Peter Schlesinger swimming breaststroke towards him,
A Bigger Splash.
He’s probably drawing. Enjoying making the work he is making today, at this moment… ‘as there is only now’.
His cigarette gently burns down to the filter, as he thinks about what to draw tomorrow.
Rose Blake, artist and daughter of Peter Blake