Issue 41 Coastal (digital only)
WE ARE FORTUNATE IN NORTH LONDON to have several places where open air swimming is possible in our neighbourhood. There are the famous Hampstead bathing ponds – a real oasis in the city, open all year round and patronised by enthusiastic individuals. We also have one of the few remaining lidos, built in the 1930s, the Parliament Hill Lido is a vision of blue sky reflected in water surrounded by colourful changing rooms. Although this is undoubtedly a feast for the eyes I am far too lily-livered to enjoy the reality of its icy water. I emerge after the briefest dip slightly nauseous and hyperventilating.
The English summertime can be similarly deceptive. I might remember childhood days spent in my grandmother's garden eating Victoria Sponge and lying among the daisies, but deep down I know these occasions were few and far between – dispersed with more usual breezy afternoons when a snug cardigan was much more useful than sun cream. Sometimes hindsight is not so much 20/20 as distinctly rose-tinted! Distance softens our recollections, blanks out the shivering and recalls instead the sunny moments as our shopping feature, A breath of salt air, admits.
This issue we embrace the reality of the summer rather than the fantasy. We celebrate blue, the cornflower blue of the sky and the deep indigo ocean. We find out at how people have protected themselves in the latter, Bathing beauties, looks at the appeal of rubber bathing caps, and A waterman’s tale, tracks the invention of the wet suit. And we discover the brave souls that launched themselves into the former in our article on hang-gliding. Also we celebrate the rich blue of indigo, and its paler cousin woad or pastel.
During the easter break I was invited to the beautiful Chateau Dumas, just north of Toulouse, an area in south west France famous for its rich textile heritage. I brought back souvenirs of woad soap made by Denise Lambert. She and her husband Henri revived the production of woad, a once lucrative crop which dominated the area and underpinned the renaissance of the city of Toulouse. Woad is not the only industry of interest in the area. A town in the surrounding countryside, Caussade, was once the centre of the straw hat industry. I visited two of the three remaining millinery factories and the simple, undyed, stitched braided hats they craft would be my choice for Ascot if I were to go... and weather permitting maybe I will. I hope you enjoy your summer come rain or shine!