There's a particular sound about the place. The splash of limbs on water, the slap of waves against tiles, the creaking of the diving board.
There's a certain atmosphere. Steamy, damp air, the hiss of showers, like snakes in the background; a chill breeze from an open door; hard, gleaming walkways, great glass windows.
There's probably a unique, remembered fragrance. I can't be sure. My sense of smell vanished years ago, but I still recall the chemical, eye-stinging aroma of my childhood, so I guess it lingers here.
It's 7.30 in the morning. In homes across the country people are waking, showering, eating breakfast; slowly dragging their unwilling bodies into the day. Here, under the high vaulted ceiling of the Riverside Leisure Centre, I've discovered a different world; a place of energy and effort. People counting, rhythmically beating time, striving against the clock, as they thrash their way backwards and forwards, length after length.
To the uninitiated, it seems a solitary space, a cathedral to the personalised pursuit of individual outcomes.
But in each marked lane, with its self-selected group of 'slow' 'medium' or 'fast' swimmers, the singular people watch and respond. They measure the pace of other swimmers, before deciding whether to follow or overtake. They check their own space, the angle and length of strokes, to avoid any ignominious collision. They glance almost shyly at the faces of swimmers coming towards them. If eye-contact isn't forthcoming, they drop their gaze, knowing better than to force any unwanted interaction.
Without sound, or physical contact, there is a whole system of communication here. It's an arrangement where nobody dominates the discussion, where no-one forces an opinion on you, or from you. There's no petty disagreement, or sycophantic flattery and no-one is excluded or misunderstood.
It's a simple structure, and it's effective.
But oh, what sort of a world would it be if we were always without the variety, nuance, tension and excitement of words? Wonderful, thought-provoking, empathy-inducing, laughter-raising words.