Why would anyone want their own swimming pool? They are definitely not good for swimming | Adrian Chiles

Sswimming pools: what is it for? I am not talking about large public swimming pools, the advantages of which are obvious. I mean the small private gardens, which you see in abundance as you descend through various home counties to land at Gatwick, or in hotels or rental properties. Swimming pools known as infinity pools, where one side is not a good side, so to speak, are particularly popular. No, thrilling, the water just flows over the edge. So what? I mean, really, so what?

If you search the internet for the number of houses with swimming pools in the UK, the first figure that comes up is a staggering 210,000. The best part of a quarter of a million? Surely not.

Further investigation suggests that the average size of a home swimming pool is around 9 meters by 4.5 meters. As I dive deeper into these shallow waters, I learn that a pool of this size tends to hold around 50,000 liters of water. This, multiplied by 210,000, gives a total number of liters that is too large for my calculator, which displays 1.05e10. No, me neither. I find a bigger calculator, which expresses this as 10,500,000,000. That’s 10.5 billion liters of water in swimming pools that have one thing in common: they’re decidedly unsuitable for swimming.

If you’re any type of swimmer, 30 feet can take you three strokes. With meaningful swimming impossible, what do you have left? I just don’t know what to do in these oversized tubs. Unlike our baths at home, you cannot lie down and read.

I walked into a hotel pool in Croatia last week and then wondered how to keep myself busy. I dunked my head in it and it was quite enjoyable I guess. I floated on my back for a while, then wallowed for a minute or two. Hmm, now what? I swam three pointless strokes to the other end, then ran out of ideas. Since it was – shut up, heart pounding – an infinity pool, I went to the “infinity” side and tried in vain to figure out what so many people find alluring about them. Then I walked out and kept trying to sort out my bad mood.

Is it my age? Is it like a snowfall whose pleasure is inversely proportional to your age? As a child, we had family friends who had a swimming pool. The excitement I felt before visiting them was unmatched. I guess it was because we only went there once or twice a year; if i had a swimming pool in my back garden, i would have been bored in a few days.

I can only think of one person I’ve met who owned a home pool and couldn’t live without it. It had what is called an endless pool – similar to the name of the miserably pointless infinity pool, but very different. In endless pools you swim against the current, so a good swim is possible. Her name is Julie Bradshaw. She holds the Channel butterfly swimming record and was the first person to butterfly swim around Manhattan Island. When I interviewed her almost 20 years ago she was a part-time physical education teacher at Leicester Prison. She got up at 4am every morning, bathed in the small pool at the back of her modest Loughborough home and swam the butterfly for four hours. Then she would go to work. Respect.

I called her yesterday and was delighted to find that she is now an MBE, for her services to swimming and charity. She works as a psychotherapist and life and mindset coach – and still swims fiercely. Her endless pool is about to flash, but no matter: she has a swimming tether, with which she attaches herself to a handrail, using it to swim in place. Who knew? For my part, I will never go on vacation without it again.

Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and columnist for The Guardian

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