The Swimmer. May 2014.

Dear Rowley,

I’ve often quoted the late, great Diana Vreeland apropos water is nature’s tranquilliser: to drink, to swim in, to watch and to listen to. In the absence of owning a villa by the sea in Menorca or Corfu as was fully expected at this stage in the game, I have to compensate with a daily morning dip in the Holborn Hotel’s camp Greco-Roman subterranean swimming pool. The Romans had it so right about water, steam and dry heat: all are restoratives that they and I believe cure anxiety, depression and apparently a propensity to lift a few too many.

As it happens, doing all the above without having sunk a goodly number of hookers the night before – that’s drinks not members of the oldest profession – makes taking therapeutic waters all the more miraculous. For example, I had a super late night supper at The Delaunay with La Farmer, Mr Bowering and New York’s Queen of public relations Joan Parker. Mrs Parker is a mensch and rather an inspiration for all of us who hope to stay in the saddle until we’re called to the rodeo in the sky. She’s walked the Great Wall of China for amfAR in heels, controlled DeBeers’ PR operation in the US for decades and is still going strong.

Mrs Parker is now in Europe for the summer. Don’t you adore that concept? It sounds so Crawford and Fairbanks Jr. Anyway, I digress; the point being after a couple of licks of Valpoliparrot and a small dish of steak tartare I went off to bed merry as a grig and woke up at 7am for my swim, sauna and steam. Isn’t it interesting what creatures of habit we all are? I’ve been swimming at the Holborn Hotel for years and only ever use lockers 55 (first house number) and 71 (year of birth).

I could spend the morning blindfold and still be able to identify the regulars. The Asian chap always does the backstroke flapping his arms from elbow to wrist like a platypus making a distinctive splash like a metronome. Japanese lady who holds her nose in the steam room – because Gaijins (Westerners) smell due to excess consumption of dairy – can be identified by the clack of her flip-flops on the marble floors that ricochets like castanets. Celtic tattoo boy always balances his trainers against the wall pointy toe down and I can lay odds which shower cubicle  the hottie who works in Victoria House next door will always use….no comments please Rowley.

The morning swim is a lifesaver. I genuinely believe that and, I think, makes a nonsense of the new London buzz word ‘Mindfulness’. As far as I can gather mindfulness is not dissimilar to a meditation technique but it is all the rage in the Palace of Westminster: ironic when you think great minds are in short supply in both Houses these days. Not a day goes by when some new health advice is issued by the newspapers or the wireless that usually demand the subtitle ‘do bears crap in the woods?’

The NHS now recommends taxpayers stump-up to send fatties on Weight Watchers courses to save the burden on our GPs and hospitals when they choke on a triple cheeseburger or take a fall chasing an errant ginger nut as it rolls under the fridge. Being fat is apparently fraught with difficulties. One could asphyxiate oneself in a tragic Onesie accident rummaging for a packet of quavers or a missing ginger Tom. I’m sure there have been more than a few deep fat fryer casualties and woe betides the obese if forced to evade a Steinway plummeting from an upstairs window in a horrific home removal misdemeanour. It could happen. Stay slim, kids.

Yes, Rowley, I know I’m setting myself up for ridicule when I finally reach ‘James Sherwood: the blowsy years’ and the crotch on my kaftan becomes tight. I hope when it happens I can, like Elizabeth Taylor, sit it out by my pool getting stinko on Gin & Slim. Do you have a perfect pool? Mine would be the Roman baths in Bath on a summer day. I’m a great believer that one should take the waters for one’s nerves. Does anybody still do such a thing? Perhaps they do in the mountains above Auuustria. I suspect my pool of a lifetime might be the Romanesque outdoor pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon.

What I wouldn’t give to swim a couple of laps in that beauty. Imagine the fun that was had at Hearst Castle at W.R. and Marion’s house parties. There’d be Dietrich and Mercedes d’Acosta canoodling in the pool house, Marion and Billy Haines nipping gin from a silver hip flask hiding behind a folly and perhaps Louise Brooks, Gary Cooper and Garbo swimming in the pool while Lolly Parsons sheltered under a brolly with Elinor Glyn recording every minute for posterity.

So what’s new on the Rialto?  Cleggy hasn’t resigned yet or been horsewhipped naked down Whitehall by disaffected former Lib Dem MEPs, both Williams sisters have been knocked out of the French Open (result!) and the divine Maya Angelou has died. I am thoroughly enjoying ITVs coverage of the French Open. Though I think the BBC covers major sporting events brilliantly, they’ve only really got Wimbledon left and even that contract is up for renewal. I think the French is going to be my Wimbledon this year because fate dictates I’m travelling for most of the Championship fortnight.

Interesting isn’t it that the new power play in tennis has made the men’s game more thrilling and the women’s more dull. I long for the days of the Evert and Navratilova rivalry. They had such finesse compared to the grunt, thwack and fist pump Williams Sister era. Ah well, nostalgia ‘aint what it used to be.