Pondlife: A Swimmers Journal

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An athlete in his youth, Alvarez, now in his eighties, chronicles what it is to grow old with humour and fierce honesty — from his relentlessly nagging ankle which makes daily life a struggle, to infuriating bureaucratic battles with the council to keep his disabled person's Blue Badge, the devastating effects of a stroke, and the salvation he finds in the three Ss — Swimming, Sex and Sleep.

As Alvarez swims in the ponds he considers how it feels when you begin to miss that person you used to be — to miss yourself. Swimming is his own private form of protest against the onslaught of time; proof to others, and himself, that he's not yet beaten. By turns funny, poetic and indignant, Pondlife is a meditation on love, the importance of life's small pleasures and, above all, a lesson in not going gently in to that good night.

Even the title Pondlife is spot-on: unlaboured, light and right. You can unsubscribe from newsletters at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in any newsletter. For information on how we process your data, read our Privacy Policy. This website uses cookies to improve user experience. The photo shows an old man, bald head, and grey moustache above a rather pained smile. I was convinced the man I saw was Al Alvarez. The coincidence made me giddy. What made me go to those pools? I had no idea they were there.

What made me go to the Quaker House? The only reason I picked up that particular book was I knew the name — I thought he was an American climber!

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It was weirder than weird. Of course I had to buy the book. The journals begin in and charts Alvarez as he stumbles from his home near the Heath to the pond for his swim. He swims all year round and along with a daily water temperature note he lists the birds and the blossom, the changing seasons. There is a real sense and love of the place. The shifting cast of characters are wonderful, fellow swimmers and lifeguards.

It is like an old boys club and very companionable. The author is troubled by a bad ankle that plagues his walking and as the years spread over the pages he becomes more and more debilitated, suffering a stroke and many falls. His frustration is heart breaking but I shy from feeling sorry for him because that is what he loathes most. By the end of the book his life is a constant battle against pain and his declining years.


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The book ends in and by the end I began to doubt whether it was Al Alvarez I saw that day. I hope it was because it means he is still winning.

View all 6 comments. Jul 14, Liz Moffat rated it really liked it. A book which starts chronicling the life at Hampstead Heath Ponds, wild life, plant life and human life. A place I didn't even know existed, but Al Alvarez has swam there regularly all of his life. The book is a diary covering his late seventies into his eighties and gradually becomes an account of what most of us will face, old age and decrepitude.

I like to think of Al still swimming there yet, even periodically and perhaps he is. But this book is a wonderful record of the community who meet t A book which starts chronicling the life at Hampstead Heath Ponds, wild life, plant life and human life.

But this book is a wonderful record of the community who meet there regularly in all weathers to swim and restore their body balance. Uplifting and sad at the same time. View 1 comment. Jun 03, Lynda rated it liked it. Al Alvarez writes a swimming journal which really turns out to be a journal of ageing and refusal to go gently into the good night. Come rain, wind, snow or shine, amidst swans, ducks and a solitary heron with a bunch of maverick Life Guards and elder statesmen from all walks of life Alvarez swims and the aches and pains of old age drop away from him As one would expect from a poet there are lyrical descriptions of the seasons, the wildlife and the iconic Hampstead Heath, interspersed Al Alvarez writes a swimming journal which really turns out to be a journal of ageing and refusal to go gently into the good night.

Come rain, wind, snow or shine, amidst swans, ducks and a solitary heron with a bunch of maverick Life Guards and elder statesmen from all walks of life Alvarez swims and the aches and pains of old age drop away from him As one would expect from a poet there are lyrical descriptions of the seasons, the wildlife and the iconic Hampstead Heath, interspersed with glimpses of his home life with his wife Anne in Italy and London.

I feel I could revisit this book, two and five decades on and get entirely different reads from it each time. Sep 17, Sophy H rated it it was amazing. This book, although supposedly about outdoor swimming through all weathers; is admittedly described by the author, more about ageing, maturing and depreciating through increasingly rough metaphorical weathers.

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Alvarez is naturally charming and has a breezy conversational approach to writing which draws you in. Then when he hits with a unexpected pique of sadness at his ever diminishing abilities and physical potential, it makes it all the more doleful. He describes the changing of the seasons, t This book, although supposedly about outdoor swimming through all weathers; is admittedly described by the author, more about ageing, maturing and depreciating through increasingly rough metaphorical weathers. He describes the changing of the seasons, through the weather, the warmth of the water, the trees and birds, and indeed through his changing body.

Beautifully throughout, despite his rapidly declining physical health, his emotional health shows to be as sharp as ever, with descriptions of his wife and their relationship affectionately handled. One favourite passage of mine is this:- "This book on old age seems to have been overtaken by its subject; that is, by the things that come with old age- exhaustion, sickness and complaint Bodily decrepitude is a prison.

You are shut in with a boring and vindictive jailer, who happens to be yourself And he takes us along for a splash! Delightful read. Jul 01, Donna rated it liked it. This was an interesting find at Margaret Law's book sale.

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Al Alvarez swims outdoors near his home in London. He writes about this, always on the weather and the water.


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The lifeguards, his fellow swimmers and his beloved wife are mentioned often but seem secondary to his thoughts on his world. I thought this would be the perfect bed time book and in many ways it was. Just the musings of an over 60 guy who likes to swim outdoors in all weather. But as the book went on, I realized that he was writi This was an interesting find at Margaret Law's book sale.

But as the book went on, I realized that he was writing a lot about aging. It really got me thinking about my own mortality. Perhaps not the perfect bed time book after all! May 25, Ben rated it liked it. The majority of journal entries serve as a precise of the entire book. The book can therefore feel repetitive. However, it serves as good inspiration to swim and make time for the little things that are enjoyable. It's also a good reminder to literally look up and enjoy the natural world and it has some great literary references from King Lear to Poncho Villa.

Philip Eade

Well written with scarce but precise language, revels in the British tradition of self-deprecation and the author is very honest and alm The majority of journal entries serve as a precise of the entire book. Well written with scarce but precise language, revels in the British tradition of self-deprecation and the author is very honest and almost savage in some parts.

Mar 06, Clare Pawta rated it it was amazing. Al swims to renew himself. He might go in frazzled, with an increasingly bothersome ankle. He always comes out feeling wonderful. He loves the cold water of Hampstead Heath's ponds. His commentary on the birds, fellow swimmers and nature are always refreshing.