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Dreaming of dips with Deborah in the Hampstead Heath ponds

PUBLISHED: 12:20 16 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:31 07 September 2010

Novelist Debbie Moggach

Novelist Debbie Moggach

Pic By Nigel Sutton 17 Redington Rd,London NW3 7QX Tel 020 7794 3008 e.mail n.sutton@btinternet.com

SO GREAT is the affection in which the Hampstead Heath ponds are held that Ham&High contracts really ought to require employees to dive into the murky depths at least once a week. If that were the case, I d be among the first to be fired. To be absolutel

SO GREAT is the affection in which the Hampstead Heath ponds are held that Ham&High contracts really ought to require employees to dive into the murky depths at least once a week. If that were the case, I'd be among the first to be fired.

To be absolutely honest and truthful - as an editor should be - I haven't dipped as much as a fingernail in any of the ponds in the six years I've been here.

But if I ever do take the plunge, it will be because of Deborah Moggach. I suspect I won't be the only one.

Deborah was guest speaker at the annual dinner for the open spaces committees of the City of London Corporation last Thursday. It was an extravagantly auspicious occasion, with the gents in their finest penguin livery and the ladies suitably decorated in their most attractive evening attire.

In time-honoured fashion, the top table was hand-clapped into the Tallow Chandlers' Hall where 100 of us, heartened by the champagne welcome, proceeded to toast The Queen, the Royal Family, the Lord Mayor, the Corporation, et al.

Glancing around the room, it did briefly occur to me that a quick auction of the gold and silver trappings would have solved the City's economic crisis overnight, so opulent were the surroundings.

As the assembled dignitaries tucked into escalope of salmon teriyaki and roast sirloin, none shone brighter than Ms Moggach.

Immediately following Heath chairman and regular Ham&High columnist Robert Hall's warm and witty welcoming speech, she rose to her feet with a twinkle in her eye.

Deborah's bitter-sweet, true-life story of her grandfather's birth in Keats House and the cruel part played by war in her family's history, is the very stuff of which novels are made. Like the writer that she is, she has used that family history for literary inspiration to very good effect.

But it was in her vivacious description of the pleasures of the modern-day Heath, and particularly its ponds, that her eloquence was most engaging.

By the time Deborah had finished I wanted to grab a taxi, rush towards the Heath and become, like her, ''a renegade swimmer under the stars''.

When I visited the Heath on Sunday, with the unseasonal Riviera-like sunshine warming the green grassy slopes to more than 70 of those old-fashioned Fahrenheit degrees, the temptation to visit its chastening waters remained - but I bought an ice cream instead. It cost £2.50 from the van on Millfield Lane - does the price go up in relation to the temperature?.

So what next? I do know people - and I admire them endlessly - who delight in cold-weather swimming, scattering ice in their wake as they scythe a path through the arctic waters.

To me, that doesn't sound like the best starting point for a pond virgin. But come the warmer weather, will some kind reader remind me about Deborah's inspiring speech, and my pledge, made here and now, to surrender to the temptation of the Hampstead Heath ponds before another summer has passed?

Geoff Martin

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