Project H: Should, would, could


I have a love-hate relationship with these three words. In some ways, they motivate me to do things that I’d probably rather avoid. For example, on Monday this week, I was staying over at a (girl) friend’s house in Brixton (hello extra hour and a half in a double bed containing two pregnancy pillows), so I thought I probably should visit the lido. It’s literally 2 minutes from my office and I didn’t have to rush back to St Albans, so there was no excuse really. The weather was rather grey and drizzly, and when I arrived I noticed that most other people were wearing wetsuits. I knew it would be cold, having just read Libby Page’s The Lido, but I also think that the book may have given me a slightly romanticised view of the ‘freshness’ of the water.

I’m the kind of person who commits to something once I’ve decided to do it, so even as I was shivering in my swimming costume, trying to stuff my (new) ‘weekend’ bag into a tiny outdoor locker, I knew that in approximately 15 seconds I was going to be in there.

When I go swimming in a normal, heated pool, I usually just swim for half an hour, so that was the plan. Again, I felt that I should swim for at least 30 minutes to get the most out of my £3.50 and make the whole thing a half-decent form of exercise. I tentatively slid into the shallow end. Now, I was aware that it was going to be cold, but I thought that it surely couldn’t be that cold, otherwise no one would swim there. The temperature was, in fact, shocking. ‘Isn’t this meant to be exhilarating?’ I thought, as I pushed off into the lane, my body recoiling and my brain screaming, ‘no no no no.’ But then, after I’d done a couple of 50m lengths, I actually started to feel strangely warm. Okay, maybe it was more of a numbness, but it wasn’t that bad. I was elated – this is why people do it.

Fifteen minutes in and I started shivering again, which is, it turns out, possible to do whilst swimming. Looking down I could see that my body was purple and my fingers were white. ‘Ah,’ I thought, ‘hence the wetsuits.’ I made it to 25 minutes, but then decided that I probably had hypothermia and an extra 5 mins would definitely be the end of me. Crazily, I felt annoyed with myself and guilty that I hadn’t done what I should have done, which was swim for half an hour.

I dripped across the cold pavement slabs towards the lockers, feeling a mixture of hardy and a little bit pathetic. Some people do this every day, all year round, and here I am in September freaking out because my skin’s gone a bit purple. But the bit of me that felt hardy felt good, although I did know that I needed to get under a hot shower, like now. For a few dreadful seconds, I thought that maybe the unheated pool might mean unheated showers, but thankfully no one is that hardy. The shower was amazing, and definitely felt much better than a usual post-swim rinse.

So, what did I learn from this frankly harrowing experience? A. When they said the lido was cold, they meant the lido was cold. B. My body and cold water are not friends. C. There is no such thing as ‘should’. Realising that I felt guilty after 25 minutes swimming in what was essentially an ice bucket was a (minor) turning point. I could have not gone at all. I could have taken one look at the grey sky and icy blue water and thought ‘nope’. Obviously, goals are great, and I definitely think that most of the small things I’ve achieved in my life wouldn’t have happened if I were not a goal-orientated kinda gal. BUT, if the daily goals I set myself are making me feel guilty when I don’t quite achieve them, how helpful are they really?

Let’s be honest, this epiphany is not going to put a stop to my endless to-do lists, because then I would just feel stressed about forgetting to do something crucial, especially at work. But maybe I’ll be a little more aware of the small goals I’m setting myself, that probably don’t need to be set at all. That would probably be a good goal to have (oh…).

harriet x



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