Saturday morning saw me completing a ritual which I hadn't undertaken for many many years.
Getting ready to go to the swimming baths.
Putting my swimming costume on with my clothes over it is just a habit - I hated wasting time getting undressed when I got to the swimming baths when I was younger - carefully packing the bag with everything I'll need - towel, underwear (I lost count of how many times this essential was forgotten over the years), shampoo & conditioner, purse with change for the locker. As I packed my bag a feeling slowly began to creep over me - excitement. Going swimming was always exciting.
I love that no matter where you are in England, there's a familarity to the Council-run baths - the hairdryers that don't work, the lockers that look on their last legs, the floors which look a little bit grubby no matter how many times they're washed. You can keep your fancy David Lloyd or DW or Fitness First gyms. I don't need fancy lighting, I don't need a hot tub, I don't even need a sauna - this is where I feel at home.
I haven't been swimming in literally years and I've no idea if I'll even be able to swim for the whole hour I have planned but slowly lowering myself in at the shallow end I know I'm going to enjoy myself.
I opt to stay out of the Lane - I don't know that my speed is up to that yet and instead stay in the half of the pool with the other casual early morning swimmers. The two old biddies who chat as they swim up and down, taking up pretty much half of the pool but totally unconcerned as you swim around them. The really old guy who is in there, complete with nose clip and swimming cap, but looks as if he's going to drown with every stroke he takes. And the others like me - the ones wearing the cossie/trunks they bought for a holiday, without goggles, happy to just pootle up and down at their own speed.
I relax into the regular rhythm of breaststroke. I know I'm breaking all the rules by keeping my head above water and I can feel the screw kick that I never really got under control when I was having swimming lessons but I am content to keep going up and down, up and down, up and down. I love the feeling of being in the water and being buoyed up by it - I always wonder why people would ever go all the way to space to feel weightlessness when you could just pop down the local baths and experience it for a few quid.
It's the noisiest silence there is. Always sounds, always noise echoing off the tiles, and yet you are completely able to be relaxed and focused on what you're doing.
I'm still there when the pool opens up to the public properly. I watch the bored looking teenage lifeguard start the mechanism rolling to pull the cover off the baby pool. As it slowly folds away I look at the water. It is so still. Not a ripple. It feels as if the water is basking in its stillness in preparation for what lies ahead - there will be no stillness once the Mums and Dads with the little babies are in there and the little ones are having their swimming lessons.
And so I continue to swim, up and down, up and down, going at my own pace, which probably isn't fast enough to be doing anything really at all, but I don't care.
I am at home in the water.