I seem to have been able to swim for ever, although I can dimly remember having two little air bags called water wings attached somewhere under my arms and catching in the elasticated bobbles of my swimsuit, which means, I suppose, that I would have drowned – or at least swallowed a lot of salt water – without them. I don’t think I had them very long though and my memories of summer, which in those days lasted from Easter until mid-September, are of hours spent playing in the water when the tide was out, swimming to the raft that was moored about a hundred yards off the beach when the tide was in and leaping wildly in the waves when it was both in and rough.
Even, of course, in the rain. We had a beach hut, which smelt of mould, damp towels, the tea my mother brewed there and the mice who came in at night to forage for crumbs and there was no fun in sitting inside it when we might as well be in the sea, where we would be wet anyway.
Nor do I remember being cold. There was that first gasp of chill as sun-heated skin hit the water but on the whole that was good and when the sun wasn’t shining the clamber back up the shingle beach was the only time I actually started to shiver.
But in those days the Gulf Stream still warmed the South Cornish sea, which was just as well as wet suits were for deep sea divers only, and it was possible to go skinny dipping at midnight without being in danger of hypothermia. Now it’s moved on to warm some other waters and I can’t put a foot in the sea before September (assuming a hot summer) without losing all sense of feeling in my toes.
So now it’s the swimming pool for me and not least because I now live about as far from the sea as it’s possible to get in England. It’s all right. It’s good exercise and the water is, of course, an acceptable temperature but… it’s so noisy.
There are plenty of noises in the sea. The movement of the water around your body and the air around your head. The wails of soaring gulls, the squeaks of water birds, the cries of children playing on the beach. Sometimes there’s a coastal helicopter overhead, sometimes a speed boat races past with a surge of water and a lot of unnerving thuds but these, less pleasant, noises are rarer – and pass.
In the pool – in our local pool at least – there is music! Loud music. Interspersed with incomprehensible shouting and laughter from radio presenters. Sometimes the beat is so strong I can still hear it underwater and what should be a relaxing swim becomes a trigger for a thumping headache.
Everyone else likes it, the lifeguard tells me when I complain. And it sounds so loud because the noise is echoing off the hard surfaces of the tiled walls but no, he can’t turn it down because then no-one would be able to hear it!
Do they come to the pool to listen to music or to swim? I want to ask but I can tell there’s no point and I’m fighting a losing battle. Everyone else, apparently, like the fine lady on her white horse, wants music wherever they go and unless I can persuade Marks and Spencer to install a swimming pool in their pleasantly music-free store I’m just going to have to put up with it.
Or move back to the seaside and buy a wet suit.