Thursday, June 24, 2010


Our local swimming pool was a shiny new indoor centre, that had been built within the last decade, and had replaced the far smaller outdoor one that had fallen into disrepair. The new complex had a gleaming curved dome roof and boasted twelve kinds of aerobics; spa and sauna rooms and a large cafeteria that overlooked an oyster shaped diving pool.
The old outdoor pool it replaced had been relegated to the gardens out the back The gardens were a favourite in summer with locals who were less interested in swimming, and more appreciative of the opportunity to lie in the sun on lush green lawns that led all the way down to the back fence, where the old rectangular pool lay, hidden amongst the trees.
Dilapidated changing sheds stood at one end, with clammy concrete walls and bowed wooden bleachers on two sides, flecks of peeling paint littered the ground below. Inside, hard wooden benches ran in rows, with battered changing lockers running down one wall.
Walking past late one I noticed that the old pool floodlights were on and on closer inspection, discovered a small swimming squad splashing about. Up on the hill, the new enclosed pool had a hazy halo of light suspended above the glassed roof, and an army of gym junkies and lap swimmers, thrashing about to a distant thudding beat. Outside was quiet and still.
The following night, I packed my towel, bathers and goggles and slipped out the side door of the main complex, and followed a cracked concrete path to the outdoor pool.
There is something special about having such a large public space to yourself. The silence feels more pronounced, and I felt that night an unexpected notion of ownership. It was my pool, and my secret.
The next night, I went again, and despite several visitors that came out to put a toe in the colder water and then retreated hurriedly inside, I had it to myself. I was hooked, and I began swimming four, sometimes six nights a week.
There was a magic about reaching the poolside each night. I had never been particularly enthusiastic about sport, never tried out for a team unless goaded into it. Swimming it seemed however, was my thing. As the weather turned, and the nights became colder, I revelled in the freezing water, feeling my skin contract tightly with the chill.
Steam rose from the water surface on those brisk nights. I’d rush down to the change rooms, and then head outside to the diving blocks at the deeper end. There is a moment of exhilaration when you dive into cold water and feel its bite and a flood of bubbles, the tug on your skin as you push through and down to the bottom of the pool. I’d touch my hand on the tiles, a salutation to the space, and then push up with my toes from the bottom, finally broaching the surface.
Some people claim that they have an affinity with the water, but I think that we all do, some of us have just missed the opportunity to discover it.
There were also surprising visitors to the outdoor pool.  There were swim squad members who appeared two nights a week, when lanes in the indoor pool were full. Young adults with powerful shoulders slipped through the water like silver fish under the rusting florescent pool lights.
There were divers, who once a month, resplendent in wetsuits and oxygen bottles, masks and snorkels, sat at the bottom of the deep end of the pool and practiced hand signals and safety routines.  Looking down at them going about their business at the bottom of the pool as I swam, I often felt as though I might be observing otherworldly visitors.
Some nights as the weather warmed, a clutch of swimmers would brave the night air and slip down to the pool to join me, and I’d be glad of their company. I was always happiest on those nights however, when I had the space to myself, with a sky full of stars and a feeling that the space was mine alone. 

Image sourced from SXC