Sally Hall: Frosty reception at the baths goes further than the showers

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Flat on my back with my arms windmilling wildly, for once I find myself truly relaxing.

Even in the depths of January, I always make time for a weekly swim. As well as being good for the body, it’s brilliant for the mind.

Whenever I’m ploughing through the water, my brain goes all creative and I lose myself in random thoughts and reflection.

Maybe that’s why many of my most embarrassing moments have also occurred in the swimming pool.

Free your mind, and the rest will follow, I’ve found – including most of your clothing.

(Leaving you to run half-naked after the parking inspector who is about to write out a ticket for your wonkily parked car, for example.)

My favourite pool in Leeds is The Edge – with its poolside steam room/sauna and lovely clean water.

As this facility is largely frequented by students, it’s also known for its ‘banging’ tunes.

There is one dance-mix which is redolent with Nineties nostalgia for me, stuffed as it is with Handbag House tunes by one-hit wonders like Dee Lite and Billie Ray Martin.

Once, after a particularly invigorating swim, I couldn’t resist a little shower-boogie to this mega-mix.

Dancing without clothes on was a new experience for me, and I immersed myself in the moment. Arms in the air like a podium junkie, I must have jigged about in that cubicle for 15 minutes – little imagining that a queue might have been forming as the water flowed.

By the time I emerged, at least five people were waiting for the shower – and all of whom must have seen my arms waving above the cubicle door while my feet jumped up and down underneath.

Yes, my cheeks burned with shame. But on the other hand, it was a unifying experience for those in the queue. Laughing at other people’s eccentricities always brings people together.

And that’s the thing about swimming. We’re all exposing rather more of our wobbly bits than we’d probably like to. We’re all enjoying the peculiar freedom that comes from letting our bodies just ‘be’ as we float in the water. In this experience we’re apart, but somehow together.

Which is why I was sad to notice last week that recent renovation work on the roof at Kirkstall Leisure Centre now means the skylights have gone.

The Kirkstall skylights were the source of my favourite experience of aquatic togetherness in recent years.

On a frosty winter morning last winter, I noticed (while doing a leisurely backstroke) that ice was etched onto one of the skylights in the EXACT shape of a tiger’s face.

Completely random, but totally beautiful, the icy picture even included fine details like whiskers and teeth.

So amazed was I by this sight that I had to stop a fellow backstroke swimmer to point it out to her.

At first she looked at me warily, as if I was slightly deranged.

But as she swam underneath the ‘tiger’, I heard her laugh out loud.

Soon, she was stopping another swimmer to tell them about the frosty etching. Before long, four or five people were paddling on their backs so they could look up and see it too.

It was a golden moment; never to be repeated now those skylights have disappeared.

But as I glide through the water, I know the memory of that tiger will always make me smile - along with all the other stories I’ve acquired in the pool.

And no matter what happens to my body, or my mind, I know my swimming routine will continue to offer pleasure and good health, long into middle age and beyond.

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