The Current Issue

July 2020, Issue 488 Michael Burleigh on soft power * Fran Bigman on swimming * Patricia Fara on merpeople * John Banville on William James * David Abulafia on ancient cities * Sean O'Brien on Larkin & Hull * Richard Vinen on Churchill myths * Richard V Reeves on modern liberalism * Will Wiles on bunkers * Roger Highfield on science fictions * Felicity Cloake on food myths * James Delbourgo on minimalism & collecting * Donald Rayfield on Vladimir Putin * Philip Parker on Alaric the Goth * Richard Canning on the world's queer frontiers  * Emma Griffin on sport in England * Sarah Ditum on Ali Smith * Joan Smith on Curtis Sittenfeld * Melanie White on Callan Wink *  and much, much more…

Fran Bigman

The Life Aquatic

Until I read Howard Means’s Splash! and Bonnie Tsui’s Why We Swim, my main encounter with the history of the sport had been a Victorian-inspired swimming gala organised by members of my local team at north London’s Parliament Hill Lido. We competed in novelty races that predated the streamlining of swimming into a competitive sport, swimming upright holding umbrellas in one race, wearing blindfolds in another. We jumped into the pool in vintage dresses to see what it was like to swim hampered by heavy fabrics. I learned much from both books. The first-known depictions of swimming are pictographs made eight thousand years ago on the walls of the so-called Cave of the Swimmers in the middle of the Sahara, where there were once deep-water lakes. The ancient Greeks often triumphed in battle due to their swimming prowess. After the fall of the Roman Empire, swimming all but vanished from Europe... read more

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