Only swimmers will understand…

Something which I really wish I could do is play team sports. My incapability to do so is not because of the ‘team’ idea. In fact, I would regard myself as a highly sociable person and love working and talking (popular opinion is that I talk too much…) with others, but team sport usually requires coordination and skill. Football: it helps to be able to kick the ball in vaguely the right direction. I can’t do that. Hockey: it helps to be able to move the ball looking somewhere other than the ground. I can’t of that. And rugby… swiftly moving on…

It’s safe to say that it is the safest option for me to remain a loyal fish, down at Southgate swimming pool. You see, swimming does not require skill. And why? Because upon entering the pool, you are given the irksome role to swim back and forth, up and down the lanes until your poor arms cry for you to stop. Not tricky.

Swimming and I have a love-hate relationship. After nearly 16 years of experience, I still cannot fathom why I do trek religiously down to the pool and this confusion has been intensified in the last few years, since I began lane swimming with the ADULTS!

So firstly I arrive and am greeted by a queue full of too many people with too many questions. All I want to do is hand over my £2 and make my way quietly to the changing rooms. But the preceding customers and their caterwauling kids seem to have other plans. One wants to rearrange her yoga class because it clashes with her pilates class at LA fitness just up the road (traitor). But oh no! The creche doesn’t run during the new yoga so we have another wait while she makes amendments to her diary. The next one wants to apply for a gym membership but wait! He left his proof-of-address to work in the car. He’ll be two minutes whilst he goes and grabs it (though I reckon he went home he took so long). And when there is eventually only one person ahead of me, he starts questioning to the receptionist why his ‘Pump-it hard’ class is not on after being ‘well-assured by Southbury leisure centre’s website’ that it was on! Mate, this is SouthGATE, not SouthBURY! He slopes ashamedly away. Finally! It’s my turn. By this time, I could have returned home unsuccessful, like a fox returning to his family, after a fruitless hunt. But that would be failing, so I dutifully hand over my £2 coin and walk on through…well almost. I walk straight into the turnstile, which fails to budge as the careless customer assistant forgets, once again, to press the activating button.

I proceed to change and am already to jump into the pool. I’ll admit it: I’m a wimp and slowly but surely edge my way into the water ambivalently, preparing myself for the unpredictable temperature of the pool. I have come to the conclusion that the water temperature depends on their budget. If they can spare some cash, they’ll decide to burn us primitive creatures of the pool with scalding heat, making it almost impossible to swim (imagine swimming in a bath!). If not, we will have to submerge our bodies into the bitingly cold water. After climatizing to the unpredictable temperatures, I begin my lengths. Ridiculously, I allow myself to believe that the antics are over and I may now enjoy my swim. But no. Once again, I am proved wrong. I inevitably encounter a painfully slow lady who, to my disbelief, considers herself to be somewhat ‘fast’, hence locating herself in the fast-lane. She is not. In fact, is she even moving? Probably not. Vexed, I take a gamble and overtake her on the outside. But charging towards me is the butterfly man. What do I do? Once again, I am faced with the inexorable decision. Panicked, I plunge myself under and wait. Wait for the butterfly man to hurtle passed me. Another mystery to me is why the most volatile stroke, is named such a beautiful name, ‘butterfly’. I for one have never seen a true butterfly create such unnecessary havoc. Anyway, once he has passed, I race to the surface and, in my desperate attempt to inhale some oxygen, choke on the tsunami the butterfly man has generated in his path. Exasperated, I continue on my swim, until the next obstacle. I reach the end of the pool and, here, I am greeted by a line of swimmers clinging onto the end of the pool, holding on for dear life. How on earth am I meant to kick off against the wall when it is lined with inconsiderate halfwits? Instead I improvise and start my second length, failing to even finish my first. Could this possibly get any worse? Apparently, it can. A funny feeling has erupted on my lip. Naively, I curse what I think is a coldsore, but then I realise. It’s a plaster. A flimsy, bloody plaster has plastered itself to my face.

As a loyal swimmer, I am now quite immune to the antics in the pool, but something I doubt I will ever be unperturbed by is the changing rooms. Don’t get me started on the showers. I mean, why is there always a mane of hair tangled around the plug hole? And the pitifully weak water supply, which sporadically sprays some water on me. Once I have given up with the shower, I re-enter the changing rooms and am welcomed by ten middle-aged donkeys flaunting their unenviable, naked carcasses around the changing rooms. I take this as my cue to leave (obviously, I dress first).

Despite the relentless array of annoyances and misdemeanours, I will, without a doubt, return tomorrow for more punishment. It is engrained within me. Instinctive. Innate. Impulsive. Maybe I will age and shrivel in the water, becoming increasingly irritable and petulant, all because of the pool. But without it, I might sink.

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