PORTISHEAD OPEN AIR POOL

20th August 2016

Anything is possible in a storm. Winds that almost knock you off your feet change things. The fundamentals stay the same, but everything around the edges twists and frays; the unravelling reminds me that familiar things can be seen in a different way.

Portishead open air pool is my home pool. The last time I had a lido road trip to this pool was in 2012, and we enjoyed it so much that we moved to Portishead. This pool, and the volunteers who run it, have welcomed and helped us into this community. It is so familiar to me now that I can tell you precisely where the random purple tiles are in the sea of blue mosaic that lines the pool tank. I can tell you where the shadows will fall from the diving boards at any given time of day. I can tell you which part of the terraces will be the bigger sun traps in any given wind direction. I can even tell you what it feels like to have your head stuffed into the bottom of the wood pellet store while you brush the dust out of the augur that feeds the biomass boiler. Because volunteering isn’t all glamour, people. Oh no.

But for this month’s full moon swim I took a lido road trip from our holiday in Pembrokeshire back to the pool. I came because these swims matter to me, because I had made a commitment to being there as a volunteer to help run them and because the rest of my family were kind enough to let me.

I drove through the teeth of a gale, the early part of the journey featuring roads strewn with leaf litter wrenched from the trees; autumn come too early. Things felt out of order.

I arrived with time to spare, which meant that after I’d done the preparation for the swim I had a little time to mix with the other volunteers at the monthly social for pool supporters held in the community café — also run by volunteers with the proceeds being used to sustain the pool. The weather outside was vile, lashing rain being driven in on the storm front and the sea crashing onto the esplanade. ‘Will people really still swim?’ I was asked, as the storm battered the windows. I was never in doubt. I knew they would come. The gales and rain would only add to the adventure.

And sure enough, they came. Including Matthew, a swimmer I have only met once before and whom I know through twitter. The digital world being made real always feels a little like the edges of reality are fraying; we all occupy different spaces online and offline, and when those spaces begin to overlap the ripples are fascinating. I was able to spend a bit of time swimming and nattering with Matthew, thanks to the kindness of my fellow volunteers who freed me up to actually swim at a Portishead full moon swim for the first time, to see the familiar in a different way. We shouted our conversation at one another across wind that tore the words from our mouths, and drove spray from our fellow swimmers into our mouths as if to silence us. Perhaps the weather was unsettled by the shifting balance between the digital and human realities. I wasn’t unsettled by it, although Matthew having arrived bearing a massive pork pie might well have set me at ease. I am easily charmed and it isn’t always necessary to know very much about a person to feel at home with them, it seems.

Gradually the other swimmers left the pool. The clouds parted, briefly, to show us stars above the diving boards but the moon itself remained aloof. We stayed shoulders under, out of the vicious wind, until the last possible moment. We knew that the minute we lifted our wet skin from the warm embrace of the water the wind would show us no mercy. When we could put it off no further we helter-skeltered for the shelter of the changing rooms and later emerged, dry and clothed, to the warmth of general chatter with the volunteers and other swimmers.

The weather was a taste of another pending reality shift — the winter swimming that marches inexorably towards me. I’m ready.

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