August 2nd, 2016

I didn’t know I was going to Topsham until I wandered left at the bottom of the M5 rather than stay right to strike north. I had swimming kit in the car, having had half a mind to visit Chagford on the way home from Plymouth, but the weather was dreary and to be honest half a mind is what I’ve always got at the moment so plans don’t seem to execute themselves with the military precision I’m used to.

I don’t know what made me slide inexorably left. I didn’t really know why I was going, and I didn’t really know what I wanted to achieve when I got there. I wasn’t even sure I’d get wet. But I did know enough to know that I was going to the pool. Swimming has been hard work lately, much harder than it should be for someone who is supposed to be training to swim 5k fly in 6 weeks and 3 days. Not that I’m counting. I used to value the headspace that swimming gave me; the time to think. These days there’s altogether too much to think about. The tangled skein of thoughts needs unravelling, but as I don’t even know where to find the end to start pulling the prospect of getting my head down with nothing to do but think, and turn my arms over, just adds weight to the pressure that bears down on my chest and squeezes my throat.

I had the luck of my father with me as I secured the last parking space in the small car park outside the pool, and the pressure on my chest lifted a little. It lifted further when I discovered that I was outside the pay and display hours so didn’t have to worry about my pocket bereft of change. Topsham is a volunteer run pool, like so many others. The pool area has a utilitarian feel, and if one only looked at the walls that surround it one could easily imagine that they once bore a roof. But it is gloriously open to the sky and has something of a micro-climate thanks to the sheltering brick dressed in bunting.

I was 24 hours too late to take photographs, the lifeguard informed me, as just the previous evening the decision had been made to prohibit it because there had been some complaints. He very helpfully gave me a committee member’s number to see whether I might be able to get special dispensation; ‘I suppose the light is quite good at the moment’ he remarked. A significant understatement given that it had been pouring with rain virtually all day and the heavens had just cleared. But I got no answer so I could procrastinate no further. The changing rooms were compact, clean and gloriously empty so I am afraid I shamelessly breached the shiny new photography policy because I was so taken with the bunting that I couldn’t help myself. I have a soft spot for bunting at outdoor pools. There’s a cheery nostalgia that appeals to something in me that I can neither recognise nor articulate.

I changed, and dropped into the shallow end of the lane. Elsewhere in the pool there were people of all ages gently enjoying themselves in the soft, warm, water and the swimmers in the lane were gentle too. They were a variety of paces, but there wasn’t a hint of annoyance or frustration. I was glad for the absence of bristling tempers and posturing that can define a moderately busy lane. I haven’t the resilience at the moment. I pushed off, and as I surfaced the sun broke through to warm my shoulders. I started with fly, the lane was wide enough, but the pressure in my chest and the tense pain in my neck was still too great. So I switched to front crawl and loped along for 600m, more than I have managed for quite some time. The pressure didn’t lift, but neither did it get worse. I felt a sort of equilibrium. And equilibrium sometimes feels like progress.

After my swim I wandered a little round an after hours Topsham, and I was really charmed by it. Not least because there was barely a shop window, notice board or lamp post without a poster for the pool and I was thoroughly impressed with the work that the volunteers obviously put into getting the message about the pool out there. This pool is right at the centre of the community geographically, and I felt sure it must be more than just geography. How could any community not take this smashing little pool right to its heart and soul?

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