Saturday swim

Up at 6:30. Straight into swimming togs. Cycle shirt and shorts on top. Pannier packed the night before with towel, goggles etc. Kiss my sleepy, non-swimming beloved goodbye, and then I’m out, on my bike, into the fine, bright morning, cycling south along not quite empty streets, across Clapham Common where a slight haze shimmers over the grass, through Balham and finally to Tooting Bec Lido. Lock my bike and a few minutes later I join the dozen or so other swimmers in the vast, unheated pool. The last few days have been warm, so the water temperature is pleasant; this isn’t going to be one of those teeth-chattering, bone-numbing swims. I plunge under and kick off from the wall and yes I’m in the water, I’m swimming, it’s more than good. Swimming and thinking, swimming and rolling things around in my mind, unwinding from the past week, thinking about the day ahead and the story I’ve started, which has very slowly begun – at last – to gel, to feel as if it might evolve into a piece of writing, that strange trick (is it a trick? don’t think too hard about the process) of making a new thing from words, from sentences I’ve stitched together. Swimming and thinking about the novel I’ve just finished reading, Swimming Home by Deborah Levy, what a taut, spare book it is and yet how much there is in it, rich and troubling, with little flashes of humour, and every nice detail necessary, nothing superfluous. Swimming and thinking about being in the water and whether it helps creative activity, how swimming frees – loosens, at least – my mind; and failing a swim (more often than not), I need a shower, water running over my head, before I sit at my desk and try to wrestle words onto paper. I swim 16 lengths, veering every now and then to avoid another swimmer, glad there are no lane ropes so I can imagine myself swimming far out into the warm, welcoming Mediterranean. Then I clamber out, dry off quickly in the balmy sun, and back on the bike to ride home, all the trees I pass more vividly green somehow, and there’s more traffic, more people about, London is coming to life, and I have a whole day ahead of me still, some precious hours to sit and my desk and write. And so I do.

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