This weekend, I visited my local outdoor leisure pool.
Yes, I know. I should have known better. But the problem is, I sometimes have to agree to the things that Bert wants to do. I’ve spent the year avoiding the things he loves: Legoland (nope), actual Lego (too crunchy; nope), birthday parties (ugh; nope), soft play centres (only with ear plugs), rave music (how did that even happen? Nope). God knows, I’ve tried to find a disciplinary offence worthy of throwing out his Hot Wheels set, which makes the most dreadful noise. I really thought I’d spawn a quiet, bookish child, but that is very much not the case.
Even I couldn’t reasonably refuse to take him to an outdoor pool on a hot day. I gamely put on my costume, got into the pool, and then made my excuses, got out again, and changed back into my clothes. The whole experience lasted five minutes, tops. So many people, all pushing and shoving and shouting and swimming at right angles to the lanes. So many glancing touches and unexpected splashes of water. I find it unfathomable that people do this for fun. Personally, it activated my fight-or-flight instinct.
I love being in water, though. There are times when a bath is the only thing that will reset me. When I used to have a roll-top bath in my old house, I would sometimes devote whole days to sitting in it, neck-deep in warm water, a book pressed short-sightedly against my nose.
Most of all, I like swimming in the sea, especially in really cold water. It’s never busy, and once you’re in, it feels like there’s nothing in the world but the sea and the sky. I often think I like everything quiet, but when I’m swimming, I realise that’s not right at all: my ears are filled with noise, but it’s gentle noise, undemanding and rhythmic. Sometimes, if I put my head underwater, I can hear the faint tilling of the shingle on the sea-bed. But even after I get out, I feel like I’ve absorbed the rhythm of the waves for hours to come.
I’ve been thinking about sea-swimming a lot this year, while I’ve been writing The Whitstable High Tide Swimming Club. I’ve been thinking about the magic of the sea, the way that it draws people together, and the way that it quiets their restless souls. I’ve been watching its different moods more closely than ever, and deliberately dipping into the waves on days when I’d normally stay warm and dry. You’ll be glad to know that I take my research very seriously.
I know that swimming pools are safer, warmer, more predictable. I know that they come with changing rooms and hot showers. But for me, the sea offers something entirely other. a wide, open space in which to float, literally and metaphorically. Luckily for me, Bert love sea-swimming too. Perhaps one day, he’ll even come to prefer it to the hustle of the leisure pool.
See you next week,