Flotation: 'Back to a baby in the womb'

It's recommended you float naked, so once the photographer exited, the snazzy shorts had to go too

It's recommended you float naked, so once the photographer exited, the snazzy shorts had to go too

Steph Curry and Danny Cipriani are enthusiastic members of the floating fraternity. We sent Ben Dirs down to Float Level in Manchester to find out what the fuss is all about.

ABOUT five minutes into my hour-long flotation session and all I can think of is Derek Smalls, the Spinal Tap bassist who once got stuck inside a capsule during a gig. This would normally be fine, but I’m not really meant to be thinking about anything as I float, naked as the day I was born, in salt water.

Mercifully, and unlike Smalls, I have a pod with a manual lid, which I close after climbing in. Finally convinced that a welder won’t be required to release me, I allow myself to drift… for a minute. The music and the sound of birdsong stop. Silence. And blackness. I’m thinking about Spinal Tap again: how much more black could this be? The answer is none. None more black.

Now it’s something else. I have been provided with ear plugs, but I’m not used to my ears being submerged, so am unable to relax my neck muscles. I feel sleepy, but never sleep on my back, so now I’m thinking I’d rather be on my front. But because they don’t provide lilos, that’s not really an option, because salt water and eyes don’t mix well.

Now I'm thinking, 'I wish I had a watch', not because I'm itching to get out, but because the concept of not knowing the time, or how much of it has passed, is so utterly alien to modern humans, used to every kind of gadget and appliance sporting a clock.

I don’t know what to do with my arms. Dangle them by my side? Or dangle them behind my head, like a baby in a paddling pool? I settle on holding them across my chest. All I can hear is my breathing – I sound like Darth Vader, if he’d had a 50-a-day smoking habit – and the pulse in my ear.

In the modern world, how often is that the case? In my flat in Manchester city centre, the nightly soundtrack is one of arguments, dust carts and shattering glass. Now here I am, just around the corner, back to being a baby in my mother’s womb.

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but Spinal Tap have gone. So has everything else. Neck muscles loosened, I find myself gravitating towards the walls, like a cork in a wine glass, before gently pushing away with my toes.

I know what you’re thinking – why didn’t you just go for a swim? Or have a bath? Because I don’t really like swimming, and I hate baths – I haven’t had a bath for years. They’re too hot when you get in and get cold too quickly.

And this is completely different, anyway. I’m at one with the water – not really on it, but as if I’ve been dissolved, like an Oxo cube. I’d never really thought of gravity being a burden before, but it turns out the ground is overrated.

Just when I’ve got really cosy, the music comes back on and the birds start cheeping again. I thought I’d only been in for 20 minutes, but it must have been almost an hour. When the light comes on a few minutes later, it’s a bit of a shock. This is what it must be like for a baby, before being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the world. I’m not crying when I lift the lid and climb out, but I definitely want to get back in.

While I was floating around in the pod, I kept thinking to myself: if I hadn’t left the BBC (instead of floating around in a pod) I’d probably be sitting in an office in Salford right now. I certainly feel relaxed. And refreshed. And rebooted. I’ve got loads of transcribing to do, just the thought of which would normally irritate me. But now I’m thinking: it’s only transcribing, I could be sitting in an office in Salford. Or much worse.

That night it’s back to the arguments, dust carts and shattering glass. I think I’ll go back to the pod pretty soon, because I’m told second time is better. I’ll know what to expect and how to really make the most of it. And Derek Smalls won’t be in there with me, or Darth Vader, or the rest of Spinal Tap.

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Ben Dirs

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