‘Let’s buy a paddling pool for the grandchildren this summer,’ we decide. And this is how it begins.
Here, on this thinly populated edge of the west Wales coast, we are fortunate to have a large garden which wraps itself around the house so that even a large paddling pool doesn’t make much of an impact on the lawn. We set it up and rather than wait for the grandchildren, who do arrive, and a summer that lasts one week, we try the pool out just to see how it feels.
The water’s unheated so my first few attempts are torture as I ease in millimetre by millimetre whilst Tom - who takes the short sharp plunge approach - shouts, ‘In! In! In!’. I quickly realise that the shock of the cold is almost instantly followed by pure bliss; there’s the silkiness of the water, the novelty of the frog’s eye view of the garden and the sheer silliness of lying in a giant paddling pool which makes us both laugh. I’m not known for my love of the cold - I have Raynaud’s, for a start - so Tom is a bit surprised when I’m first up for a daily cold plunge, but the fact is, it makes me feel better. Better equipped to face the day. Happier, stronger, reinvigorated.
As our addiction ramps up, Tom eyes a largely redundant stretch of lawn which sits awkwardly and unevenly behind our utility room. ‘We could put a big pool there next year,’ he suggests, and starts the hard work of levelling the ground in preparation. Then, he spots an eBay bargain - a half price upright pool from a garden centre - and we decide to go for it. If nothing else, my recent health scare has been a powerful reminder that life is for living. But why, you might reasonably ask, when we live on the coast, would we bother with a pool? In fact, we used to swim in the sea quite regularly, but I’m still haunted by a bad experience many years ago, so chicken out if the sea is anything but flat calm. A pool means the luxury of no effort at all, just roll out of bed or return from a run, swim, then jump under a warm shower.
September 11th is a date that resonates with everyone, but this year we create positive memories; a return to our local parkrun at Llanerchaeron for the first time in some eighteen months followed by our first swim in our new pool. We’re both from working class backgrounds so keep having to pinch ourselves to believe we’re not dreaming. As luxuries go, our pool is modest and it’s certainly not beautiful to look at, but, my goodness, the joy it brings is beyond price.
These chilly early morning swims have, rather strangely, triggered another memory of a distant summer between - in those days - the completion of O Levels and the beginning of A Level studies. My parents house-sat that year for some wealthy … friends is maybe not the right word… Dad did some carpentry work for them and Ma cleaned for them (Ma and I recently discussed all the grim temporary jobs we’d done to fit in around a young family but that’s another story!). Anyhow, for me it meant having their large, sunken family swimming pool - albeit unheated - all to myself. The meditative quality of those long, solitary swims seem to unlock something within me. I went back to school that September having lost my puppy fat and feeling freer and with a sense of optimism.
It’s a sense that fills me once again, even now, even with all that’s wrong with the world. Every swim is a new experience, offering different views of the changing garden, the sight of the meadow beyond our garden wreathed in morning mist, the sensation of rain on my face as I glide through the water, a kite soaring overhead. And soon, I hope, night swims under the full moon or beneath a canopy of stars. Whatever the future holds, this pool has brought such pleasure. I’m so very glad we took the plunge!