Notes on Ritual - I

From fieldnotes, Sunday 11th January 2015 — Short sweet swim in very warm water, almost bathlike. Overcast outside, everything cast in fuzzy grey. Quite a few of the weekday locals about in the changing room – I guess many of them come on Sundays too, and I can see why, because whenever I manage to pull myself away from bed and down to the pool it always feels like the best thing you could do with the dregs of a Sunday morning.

I came home and sat on the couch drinking coffee and reading Al Alvarez’s Pondlife. True it’s been edited and curated but you can tell he thinks in poetry, with clarity. He’s a local at his place, he knows people. It’s maybe easier as you get older – the body softens and so does the spirit, the resolve. He writes at one point about being in Italy and going for a swim in a pool near their house, and he is not particularly enamored of lap swimming, he writes about it differently than he does about the ponds, but so what, I thought, people have different rituals to do the same essential thing. I thought a lot about ritual, actually, or routine. The importance of it is almost more obvious when you’re talking about something like going down to a pond or a lake in deepest winter and plunging into the cold and swimming out 50 yards and then floating back. If it’s all warm water in a safe covered space - sets, distances, hours, exercise, fitness - then perhaps some of the importance of ritual for ritual’s sake is lost a little. You find meaning in improving times and distances, in the muscle you build, the hunger for breakfast. You complicate what should be simple. Just going doesn't seem to be enough, even though of course it is: at the end of the day that's all there is, really. Just going at all is a ritual, the only real ritual.

From fieldnotes, Friday 23rd May 2014 — There was a frail mist as I cycled home, and a heavy stream of traffic on the main road. As I waited to cross I wondered, and not for the first time, where the pool as a place ends; where the experience of “going to the pool” or “going for a swim” ends (not to mention begins) – was this, sitting here, leaning against my left foot, waiting for a break in traffic, part of the place, the pool? Sometimes it feels it is. Sometimes even when I’m home I’m still somehow in/of the pool: there’s the ritual of getting in, taking off my shoes, hanging up my coat, removing my wallet and phone and water bottle from my swim bag and placing them on my desk, going upstairs, hanging my wet towel, suit, cap, and goggles on the bannister, hanging my bag on the bedpost where it lives, taking off my watch and placing it on top of the dresser, going to the bathroom, going back downstairs – and only then are we back into domestic mode: doing dishes while the kettle boils, making coffee, eating breakfast. And even these domestic, land-based things are part of the larger routine, can feel either comfortingly or exhaustingly as if, even though they occur somewhere else, they are part of the pool somehow.