In the summers after my father's death, while the rest of my family was eating sticky buns and quietly imploding inside a rented beach hut in Frinton, I was collecting crabs in a bucket and swimming. Mainly swimming. Aged six, I would float for hours, not a thought in my head except the occasional notion that a great white shark might be submerged in the gloom behind me, which would make me splash wildly to shore - only to head straight back out. Paddling around, my skin turning brown in the afternoon sun, I was as calm as I have ever been.
I had learned to swim at the local pool, aged three, taught by a woman I recall as a tyrant (my memory may have been skewed thanks to water inhalation). I continued through five years of Saturday-afternoon lessons, essaying length after length while the chlorine made my eyes puff up like the victim of a particularly brutal facelift.
Eventually, my love of swimming faded. As my teens unfolded, and my body went through its Incredible Hulk transformation - buttons popping off, trousers failing to fit, lumps suddenly appearing - there came a time when almost nothing could have cajoled me into a swimsuit. At school, the pool sat below a glass viewing gallery, where the boys would gather while the girls competed.
Was it helpful that that boy with the asymmetric hair, the Smiths T-shirt and a rhombus-shaped smattering of acne told me that I had fat thighs? It was not. I had eyes. I knew adolescent cellulite when it was staring at me in the mirror. But from then on, when it came to our swimming lessons, I was officially on my period. And no Miss - I definitely wasn't willing to use a tampon.
This fear of being seen in a swimming costume has persisted on and off over the years, and in the last five years it has been very much on, which is stupid really, since swimming is one of the few sports at which I'm reasonably proficient. So this year, on holiday in California, I set all that self-consciousness aside. Swimming in the sea off Venice Beach, I remembered what it was like to duck into the waves and escape all the trouble onshore. In Palm Springs, I recalled just how soothing a quiet pool could be. This was the future, I decided. When I came home, I would combine swimming with my daily hour and a half of walking, and, very quickly, I would see results.
Then came the fall. Literally. One evening I walked up a ramp that had been constructed to provide disabled access to a hotel room, and didn't notice the three-inch drop at the end. As my ankle turned, a ripping noise echoed. After a trip to ER to pick up some crutches, my resolve to swim grew stronger. I could no longer walk. Breaststroke was the only answer.
And I kept it up in Palm Springs. The day after the accident, with an ankle like a blue bowling ball, I swam 42 lengths. The next day, I swam 100 lengths. When it came to losing weight, the fact that I could no longer walk - and wouldn't be able to for at least three weeks, possibly six - was freaking me out. My whole attitude to losing weight had changed when I started walking to work. What would I do? I would swim, I repeated to myself.
Since being back in Britain, however, my resolve has weakened. I have been swimming twice, but on those occasions I have remembered everything I dislike about swimming indoors. There's the fact that you have to get organised - the swimming pool is a 15-minute drive away, and I do not drive. There are the high levels of chlorine. There is the fear that there may be a plaster in the pool, and, if there is, whoever was wearing it has probably been spreading verruca germs in your vicinity. I am not usually afraid of germs. In indoor swimming pools, I am.
But I have to get over this. My ankle, while not as swollen as it first was, is showing no signs of a fast heal. I am just getting more anxious. Will I put every pound that I have lost back on in the next month? Or will I at least stave off any gain through swimming?
Oh God. Pass the goggles ...