I went swimming yesterday and I remembered why I never stick to it despite several attempts over the years to include a swim with my weight loss efforts. Because let’s be honest, swimming is a pain in the arse.
It all starts off when you arrive in the knowledge that you are going to get wet. Humans don’t like getting wet even though they are provided with waterproof skin and have evolved from sea slugs. But still we are prepared to suffer a little dampness in the knowledge that swimming is the best activitity for you, that it places no pressure on your joints and blah de blah de blah.
The first thing we do is sneak a look into the pool as we wait to pay. Ooh look it’s empty. Quick – throw your £2.70 at the till and get in there while you can. Then just as you’re collecting your paper receipt in comes the group of pre-teens taking advantage of a free council swimming deal that you voted for but suddenly resent. “Jambo you tosser!” “Tyrone, I’m gonna give you such a wicked flick with that wet towel bro!” You already know that this is going to be a deflating hour of your life.
In my local pool there is a very friendly swimming attendant who likes to chat to me about football. He does this while luxuriating starkers in the changing rooms before he pulls on his too-tight speedos. He thinks nothing of standing there with his naked todger casually dropping and aeriating his hairy balls with a quick jiggle just a few inches from my face while discussing the prospects of Manchester City as if we were in a City Centre cafe. He makes absolutely no attempt to cover his tackle, and I often find excuses to go back to the car where I’ve “forgotten” my goggles. When he’s gone into the pool I can return.
Once changed, you have the dilemma of how to enter the water. It is not acceptable to lower yourself gingerly down the steps like the ladies do – a man must make a more impressive entrance. This masculine vanity is the reason that countless men appear in casualty having swallow dived into the 3 foot shallow end of an unfamiliar pool. You will notice that women never suffer from injuries obtained by diving head first onto a tiled ceramic floor. I currently favour the deep end dive bomb while holding my nose technique – it does the job of maintaining my masculinity while also emphasising my Peter Kay funster side. Unfortunately it does mean I have to walk the length of the pool while all the women ogle at me, but that’s a sacrifice I’m prepared to make. I think of it as a little treat for the ladeez.
Once you’re in the water you need to eye up the traffic and select the best route for your session. You will need to avoid that pair of middle aged librarians who put on their swimsuit and sit holding onto the rails in the shallow end for an hour gossiping about work. Tyrone and his mates are all over the shop like four-armed electric eels, but they can be easily intimidated out of the way with a hard glare and a sly elbow. The channel next to the wall would be ideal if it wasn’t for that soppy git swimming backstroke wearing flippers.
And so you begin – slowly feeling your way through the water with an inelegant breast stroke. You know that your legs are all wrong, that you should be kicking out when you stroke, but somehow that just doesn’t seem right, so you sort of waggle them ineffectually and let your arms do all the work. After about an hour the approaching wall signals the completion of your first length and you briefly consider a tumble turn before thinking better of it. Instead you turn around slowly and clumsily like an old creaking battleship.
You push away and glide off only to be startled face-on by the bullfrog face of a retired sailor who has been swimming in your slipstream since you set off. There follows a moment of confusion – which way to swim? You both swim the same way and only avoid a collision by stopping dead, which forces you to start up back again like a rusty old car on a Winter’s morning. This isn’t going well. The stress is too much. You’re only a length in and you want to leave.
You;ve done about 15 lengths when the pool starts getting fuller. There are now babbling babies and ladies who lunch to avoid in the shallow end and Tyrone’s mates are having a funny dive competition in the deep end. But still – they know you are in the zone and instincitively they move away when you approach. It may be the glower and that strange bulbous wildness in your eyes caused by those goggles that are creating deep red scars around your eyes and chiselling a painful ridge across the bridge of your nose.
Then he comes in. Action man. Six foot tall. Tattooes. Muscles. A shaved head. You know what this means.
The calm Guardian-reading, yummy mummy serenity of the pool is rudely disturbed by this master of the front crawl. Splash splash splash kick thump splash splash. He hurtles through the water creating a huge wake which throws the breast-strokers about a yard off course. He tumble turns an inch away from the librarians are watching agog, crouching in a foot of water. In danger of actually getting their hair wet, they leave. Tyrone and his mates make the decision to evacuate to your part of the pool. Bullfrog man gets closer to your channel and your arms knock as you pass, forcing you to doggy paddle whenever he gets close. You decide after all, that 30 lengths will be fine. You don’t want to overdo it, do you?
Your mate the attendant sees you leaving and follows you into the shower for a chat about Aston Villa. He stands there with a copy of the Daily Mirror and wonders why you are showering with your shorts on. As you wipe he sits directly opposite and you try desperately to act nonchalantly as your cold-water shrivelled winkle is revealed. Like all men in every changing room, you give it what you think is a discreet jiggle to wake it up a little bit. Attendant man is unruffled and sits there happily invading your personal space. while you saw-wipe your groin.
For some reason it is impossible to get your body dry after a swim. At home, it just needs a quick rub after your morning shower and you are dry as a crisp. But no matter how much time you spend rubbing and sawing and scrubbing away in a pool changing room, your clothes will still stick to you like a lycra catsuit as you attempt to ge dressed with some dignity. Your socks will land in a muddy puddle on the floor and Tyrone’s towel flicks will throw water across onto your best pants, specially chosen for your changing room publicness. Your straw-like hair refuses to be constricted by accepted laws of physics.
You will be hungry. You will feel raw, desperate pangs that can only be assuaged by a packet of pickled onion Monster Munch. This is why the swimming pool vending machines are full of corn-based snacks. They know that you will be desperate to ruin the work that you’ve just done, and are only to happy to assist with tempting displays of Wagon Wheels and Bacon Fries. Sod this for a lark, you say, I’ll stick to power-walking.