Radio review: Searching for swimming pools

Nuala McCann

Seriously ... Searching for Swimming Pools Radio 4

Charles Sprawson is 77 years old. He has dementia.

He lives in a nursing home where he paces the corridors, opening doors and searching because he believes that behind one of them, there is a shimmering pool just waiting for him.

In this sensitive and clever documentary, producer Paul Smith, introduces us to Sprawson as he is now, clutching for his words and Sprawson as he once was, fluent in language, a writer passionate about his love of swimming.

Sprawson wrote Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero. We follow him back through time to when all was fluent and fluid.

The Hellespont was a high point in his life. His daughter talks about going to do that swim with him.

They got greased up like Atlantic swimmers. It required heroic effort... a swim that connected them to ancient myth when Hero swam out each night to his lover Leander, until one night when he did not arrive and she waited, but he had drowned.

It was a life goal and a true challenge to swim the Hellespont... Lord Byron called that swim his greatest achievement.

This was a finely crafted documentary that pulled us back in time – swimming upstream – to find Charles Sprawson in his prime.

We hear the story of the Tiber. He had to swim the Tiber. Once it was crystal clear, but the cloaca maxima sewer has a lot to answer for – by the time Sprawson arrived, it was filthy. So that when he started to strip off, then dived in, even the boatmen paused mid oar and yelled a warning.

On he went, his head bobbing up in the river amid a flotilla of used condoms. He was very sick afterwards, but he swam the Tiber.

This was the kind of documentary that draws you in and sends you off on your own adventure – to find out more about this man who loves passionately... his family, the classics and the lure of water.

It was bewitching, despite the crushing pain of what age visits on so many... that slow, cruel drowning that is dementia.

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