I’VE had a deep affection for swimming and swimming pools for as long as I can remember. An outdoor swimming pool is a beautiful thing. A clear, clean blue oasis set amid concrete is a sight for sore eyes. The pleasing sounds of mirth and movement in the water are a tonic for a weary soul and there’s the immediate relief and bliss of cooling down on a scorching hot summer day. On weekday mornings, it is often empty but for a few regulars; on winter days, sometimes with just a brave lone swimmer, a lifeguard and the steam rising from the heated water as it meets the chilly air temperatures.
Being born and reared in cold, damp, dark Ireland meant that most swimming was done in indoor heated pools — mostly noisy and choked with condensation. The best opportunities for swimming were elsewhere and so I was always on the lookout for swimming pools as a young girl. Our swimming coach had an outdoor pool — quite a rarity in Dublin — which we were allowed to use whenever we wanted.
When we moved house, my sister and I became friends with neighbours after we discovered they had an outdoor pool in their garden. At the start of every summer, we’d trot down and help clean out the pool and get it ready for the swimming season. It was unheated and must have been freezing, yet my memories are not of shivering but of long, happy days spent in that pool.
I migrated with my own family to Australia five years ago and now find myself happily immersed in swimming pools here. This truly is the lucky country when it comes to bathing options. I am in awe of the great choice of indoor and outdoor pools within a 30-minute radius of my Melbourne home.
In those five years, I’ve skipped from one pool to another: the Beaurepaire Swimming Pool at the University of Melbourne is the latest and greatest indoor pool for me. The water is good, the acoustics are wonderful; it’s full of natural light and dedicated to lap swimmers. Our local outdoor pool has been closed for the past 18 months for renovations. It’s due to reopen soon and we are, needless to say, eager with anticipation.
Nothing, however, beats Sydney for outdoor pools. The stunning North Sydney pool shines like a beacon from the Harbour Bridge. Walk around the Royal Botanic Gardens and past Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and the Andrew ‘‘Boy’’ Charlton Pool comes into view, just beckoning to swimmers to dive in.
I was blown away the first time I went to Sydney and discovered the spectacular saltwater ocean pools along the shores of the eastern suburbs beaches. I’m so envious of Sydneysiders, who are lucky enough to be able to swim at any one of these gems whenever they fancy. To my mind these ocean pools are one of the best reasons to visit the harbour city.
But wherever I happen to be, I find there’s nothing like a good swim to sort things out. Moving through the water is liberating and invigorating and I feel more energised with each stroke. During the course of my treasured hour in the pool I get into a rhythm. Worries start to recede and things get put into perspective as I slowly but surely clock up the laps. Now and then I completely zone out and forget where I am. Some of my best ideas come to me while I’m swimming. Very often I start out with something weighing on my mind. But I never end a swim that way.