As my daughter Martha powers through the water, I’m not even sure if she can hear me.
But like any experienced parent, I’ve learned that if you can’t lead by example then the next best option is to bluff it. And to do so at volume.
‘Head still,’ I shout. ‘Kick from the hips. That’s it. Keep going.’
Stroke of fortune: Martha (front) goes through her training with dad Tom (back) holding the strong elastic she’s attached to
With pools still closed, and our home miles from any handy lakes or seaside resorts where we could cool off during the sweltering temperatures, the last thing I thought I’d be doing would be taking my ten-year-old swimming.
But having exhausted all the other physical activities over the past 14 weeks, it feels long overdue.
Before coronavirus struck, Martha swam with a local club four times a week, with weekend galas and time trials on top. She loves it and, after three months of lockdown living, it’s clear it’s something she’s really missing.
While her club has been great at providing her with a land-based training schedule to help maintain her fitness, it’s the water she really longs for.
So what to do? Well, if she can’t go to the swimming pool, then the swimming pool must come to her.
My wife Charlotte suggests it might be a ‘fun family project’ to dig and build a pool of our own. I look at her in disbelief.
For Martha (pictured with dad Tom) if she can’t go to the swimming pool, then the swimming pool must come to her
The five of us – we have three daughters — can’t agree what to watch on television, let alone pull off a major construction project. Getting the eldest to paint the garage doors — an hour a day over eight days — prompted a complaint that she’d be ‘better off on a zero-hours contract’.
Plus, it doesn’t seem like the smartest time to blow £20,000-odd on a DIY project. Leave it with me, I tell her.
A week later, on what has proved to be the hottest day of the year, I’m in the garden supervising Martha’s first training session in months.
Admittedly, the pool isn’t exactly Olympic-sized. Purchased for £600 online, it took two hours to put up and 15 hours to fill using a garden hose. At just over four metres in length, if Martha were to attempt to swim lengths in it she’d spend more time tumble-turning at each end than actually swimming.
But that’s not the plan. Taking inspiration from the online antics of swimming coach Jennie Jones, from Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, I have created what she calls an ‘endless pool’.
The secret ingredient? A four-metre length of stretchy elastic. One end is strapped around the waist or ankle of the swimmer and the other tethered to something outside the pool.
They then get in and swim as normal. The resistance offered by the elastic — which varies according to the thickness — means that however hard they swim they will remain stationary. Pretty basic but it works.
Having bought a purpose-made Velcro-fastened belt and length of elastic from eBay for £25, I strap the belt around Martha’s waist and send her into the pool. I’m standing on the grass at one end holding on to the elastic and, as she starts to swim away from me, it stretches until it will stretch no more.
(Of course, if you were swimming on your own, the elastic could be fixed to the frame of the pool or another immovable object like your fence.)
The resistance from the elastic band is subtle — at no point do you feel in danger of being catapulted out of the pool if you were to miss a stroke
Uninhibited by the leash, Martha goes through her repertoire of strokes — crawl, breast, back and butterfly.
‘It’s just the same as normal swimming,’ she says, pausing for a breather after five minutes’ hard slog.
Determined to give it a go myself, we swap places. And she’s right. The resistance from the band is subtle — at no point do I feel in danger of being catapulted out of the pool if I were to miss a stroke.
And it doesn’t impede my arms or legs. In the end, the only thing that makes me stop is my lack of fitness.
So we swap again and, as Martha adjusts her goggles, I set her a challenge — manage to reach the end and I’ll build her that real pool. As long as the elastic doesn’t snap before swimming pools are predicted to re-open next month, I’m pretty sure I’m safe.
Which of these instant garden pools will you splash out on?
Sturdy pool that slots together
Bestway Rectangular Steel Pro Frame pool, £499.99 (bestwaystore.co.uk)
What? A fraction of the price of similar-sized pools, this has a thick liner held in place by steel poles. There’s a filter pump and ladder.
How big? 4.11 m (13.5 ft) long, 1.82 m (6 ft) wide and 1.2 m (4 ft) deep. Holds 8,124 litres.
Who will fill? Four to six adults.
How easy to put up? Slots together easily by hand but filling can take several hours.
Splashing good looks
Deluxe Splasher pool, £599.99 (splashandrelax.co.uk)
What? A wood-effect pool that can be free-standing or sunk into the ground.
How big? 3.6 m (12 ft) in diameter, 1.07 m (42 in) deep, holding 11,000 litres.
Who will fit? Four to six adults.
How easy to put up? Assembly takes three hours. Eight hours to fill it.
Rent-a-pool for scorching days
Swimming pool to hire, from £1,200 per weekend (splashandtickle.com)
What? Why faff about when you can have a good-looking, octagonal pool assembled for you? This one comes with a filtration and heating system.
How big? 4.5 m (14.7 ft) in diameter and about 1 m (3.2 ft) deep, holding 11,000 litres.
Who will fit? Four or five adults.
How easy to put up? Three hours to assemble, several hours to fill.
No fuss pool is great value
Intex Easy Set pool, £82.05 (amazon.co.uk)
What? This basic round pool is held up by the volume of water inside, so you can’t lean on the edges or you’ll flood your flower beds. But at under £100, it’s a great value way to cool off
How big? Just under 4 m (13 ft) wide, and 84 cm (33 in) deep. The pool needs to be fairly full to work, and holds around 7,290 litres.
Who will fit? Two to four adults.
How easy to put up? Ideal for those who hate DIY, this works like a giant carrier bag. Place it on level ground, inflate the top ring, then simply fill with water. Assembly takes five hours, including filling.
Splash the cash
Laghetto Dolcevita 520 pool, from £12,000 (agbudget.co.uk)
What? The Rolls-Royce of garden pools, this is one of the biggest, most expensive on the market. The UV-resistant durable fabric and steel supports can be hidden by an optional wooden trellis or rattan-style frame. It includes a filtration system, skimmer to get rid of leaves and spotlights.
How big? A huge 10 m (33 ft) long, 5 m (16 ft) wide and 1.2 m (4 ft) deep. Holds around 60,000 litres.
Who will fit? Around ten to 15 people.
How easy to put up? If you are spending this much on a pool, you will probably want to pay someone else to put it up for you! But expect to wait over a day for it to fill up.
Intex Small Family Frame pool, £177 (amazon.co.uk)
What? A decent blue PVC liner suspended in a basic frame; this is a no-frills pool.
How big? The baby of the bunch, it’s 2.6 m (8.5 ft) long, 1.6 m (5 ft) wide and a child-friendly 65 cm (2 ft) deep, holding just 2,282 litres.
Who will fit? Two adults, two children.
How easy to put up? The fuss-free, slot-together construction means it’s ready for water in 30 minutes and takes around 90 minutes to fill.
Portable pool is the height of luxury
Laghetto POP! Portable Luxury Pool No 49 in seven colours, from £5,000 (agbudget.co.uk)
What? Designed to be compact when packed away, this super-stylish Italian-made pool can be used short- or long-term. It can be customised, with optional filters, covers and colours. It’s made of UV-resistant, PVC-coated polyester fabric and supported by blocks, A fold-up safety ladder and spotlights are included.
How big? Available in several sizes, this large model is 9 m (29 ft) long, 4 m (13 ft) wide and 1.2 m (4 ft) deep, holding a jaw-dropping 41,500 litres.
Who will fit? Often used by private swimming schools, eight to ten adults could swim comfortably inside.
How easy to put up? It only takes two hours to assemble — but filling it can take more than a day.
Monster lets you bathe…. and sunbathe
Zodiac Hippo Original Rectangular pool, £6,995 (splashandrelax.co.uk)
What? Uses the sun’s rays to warm the water. The tough, double-walled polyester outer ring is so sturdy you can sunbathe on it.
How big? 6.85 m (22 ft) long and 4.85 m (16 ft) wide. Shallower than many pools, it’s only 60 cm (2 ft) deep but holds 19,000 litres.
Who will fit? If social-distancing rules were relaxed, up to 20 people could easily have a pool party in here.
How easy to put up? Comes with an electric inflator to make your life simple but it needs plenty of space and will take more than half a day to fill up.
Current for serious swimmers
Wooden exercise pool, £5,489, plus Aqua Jet 50 Counter Current System, £1,495 (splash andrelax.co.uk)
What? This attractive wooden-edged rectangular pool offers a lot for your money, including internal and external ladders, a pump, filtration kit, water treatment kit and covers. If you want to swim laps, you will need to splash out on a counter-current aqua jet to swim against, costing another £1,495.
How big? At 3.6 m (12 ft) long, 2.1 m (7 ft) wide and 1.3 m (4 ft) deep, good for swimming, not paddling. It holds 10,240 litres.
Who will fit? One, if you’re swimming laps; otherwise three or four adults.
How easy to put up? Easier than many. Takes seven hours to fill.