The swimming pool


Sunday 19th January 2014

I awoke with a feeling of dread. I needed a wee. I drearily mused to no-one that I may as well just lie there and wee all over myself seeing as that’s what everybody else would be doing in a couple of hours. But I refrained, and arose, merely to conform with social nicety and make coffee.

The kitchen table was littered with inflated orange arm bands, all dutifully blown up the night before to check for air leaks, lest our children should drown in the foot of filth we would be soon be bathing in. Shallow grave end more like.

Everyone was excited. I attempted to get into the spirit with a fixed grin whilst contemplating setting fire to my swimming trunks.

Why the swimming pool?

I don’t know what it is that I don’t like about swimming pools, but I think it’s something to do with the clammy tiles underfoot that give the feel of walking on the plague. And the oddly shaped lockers, bereft of keys and not big enough to house the things I want to put in them; like my clothes (?!)

Add to that the fact that I have to swim in close proximity to sights, sounds and smells that should not exist and the real possibility that I will ingest disease of unquantifiable amounts and I think, perhaps, THAT is what I do not like about swimming pools.

So you can imagine my delight when my wife informed me that for the foreseeable future, I will be spending Sunday mornings from 8am-10am bobbing about in a gigantic pool of filth with two small screaming children.

Now I don’t like to swear on this blog as a rule, but what a shitting, shitty, shitting, shitter.

Apparently, as well as feed, house and cloth them, I also have to teach my children to swim AS WELL because, apparently, there is real and sudden danger that they may fall in the sea in Birmingham and drown. Better SURELY to dress them in buoyant clothing and instil within them a genuine fear and loathing of water? Less chance of us ALL dying from self induced germ absorption. The good of the many and all that.

Driving to the swimming pool

The mood in the car en route to the cesspit was cheery, mainly because I had decided not to kill everyone and go with the chemical flow.

There was a little glimmer of hope as we entered the leisure centre to find NO QUEUE. This is grumpy person’s Nirvana. No rank and file of the great unwashed all lining up to pay their life savings to ingest a watery death. There was a further little ray of sunshine when the lady at Reception informed me that my children would swim for free. I could have kissed her, if she hadn’t been repeatedly yawning in my face. She looked like Chewbacca on mute.

I didn’t even lie about the kids ages either like I usually do. In some establishments in and around Birmingham my children have been under 2 for 4 years. I will tolerate your suspicious stares if it saves me five quid.

Changing at the swimming pool

As we entered the changing rooms, my eyeballs were instantly ambushed by the smell of chlorine.  I think it was chlorine I’m not sure, it could have been leprosy?  Or impetigo.

Blinking through the tears, my family and I walked into a family changing room and locked the door. I looked around……the floor was dry…..there were no discarded tissues…… or plasters……or underpants. Sure the tile grout looked like bovine afterbirth smeared in with the devil’s filthy ball sack. But, on the whole, I was starting to feel a bit optimistic. I was starting to feel like this was maybe not the actual gate way to hell that I had built it up to be in my mind.

There was a moment of slight irritation when I realised that in my absent minded haste to leave the house, I had selected two hand towels from our bathroom and stuffed them into my rucksack with my trunks. I did accuse my wife of folding two tiny, tiny towels together in such a way as to resemble the feel of a manly bath towel, presumably to ruin my life. She didn’t deny it. The folding ninja.

Changing was a relatively painless affair, because we had done, of course, what everyone does when they go swimming; we’d put our swimming costumes on underneath our clothes. We did this, I suppose, to not waste precious seconds taking off our underpants, when we could be wallowing in a municipal septic tank.

Then we did exactly what I have done, every time I have ever been swimming before. EVER. I assume it is a universal truth? We squashed everything we owned into a tiny cuboid and shut the door, only to find that the lock on the tiny cuboid would not lock.

If a lock will not lock does one still call it a lock? Or is it a bastard? Either way, we dutifully dragged everything we owned back out and then stuffed it all back in to another tiny cuboid only AFTER checking that the lock was in fact a lock.

Knee-deep in the swimming pool

I have to say, I was not a particular fan of the festering  foot bath of water one is forced to paddle through to get to the pool (of festering water). However. Brace yourselves.  The pool water was warm. The pool was relatively empty and my children were well-behaved and a delight to be around. It was…quite nice?

The relative emptiness meant that I was not forced to bob in too close a proximity to strange big arses, which is always a positive in life I find. And whilst I am sure that many of the delighted children in the pool clinging to their parents neck were routinely emptying their bowels, I was not overly aware of ingesting the innards of another human being.

The pool even had a wave machine. (I dunno, when I were a lad). But ‘we’ were terrified of this, so we avoided it like the plague, which is ironic I guess. The children quickly worked out that the waves were switched on directly after a whistle sounded and an announcement was made. An announcement in such a Birmingham accent that I assumed the announcer had a disabled badge?

Irrespective of the Brummie, one quickly learns the whys and wherefores. You are free to roam the pool with impunity, dragging your off-spring around your neck until the whistle blows. Then you instantly divert back to the shallow end until the waves have ceased and the second whistle alerts you to your freedom to roam. We soon got the hang of it. Apparently Pavlov invented swimming pools.

It pains me to say it, but we had a really good time swimming. Despite the germs. And me.

Don’t stare at the swimming pool

There was however a moment in between the swimming of abject terror when somebody complimented me on my tattoo’s, which yes I guess is a nice thing. Everyone likes a compliment. But when I’d envisaged such instances, whilst being tattooed, the compliments were from attractive women, on sun kissed beaches. The reality was, I was was standing on my tip-toes, in a toilet area that stank of cheap bleach, being ogled by a fat man with a hairy back. ( I can not stand flat footed in toilet areas in my bare feet, as I am certain my soul would explode).

I am not sure what the polite response is when being complimented mid-urination? There are no informative posters at the baths informing me of the correct etiquette. Sure no bombing or heavy petting, but what about compliments whilst peeing? What’s a guy to do?

In the absence of any clear advice, I opted for stopping mid-stream and backing out on my tippy-toes like a terrified pony doing dressage. I am sure he was a very nice man, and the problem is definitely mine not his. However. I hope his cock falls off.

Post-swim, changing back into real life, was a bit more of a pain to be honest. I had to dry myself on a square centimetre of towelling and clammy wet children are a bitch to dress. But in next to no time we were heading back to the car, with stinging red eyes and smelly, smelly hair.

I did allow myself a bit of an early morning swagger as we walked past the now life-endingly long queue waiting to get in. Chewbacca was no longer there. Presumably, she’d gone back to the Millennium Falcon for a fag?

Revisiting the swimming pool

The next thing I knew, we were back home, emptying our bags into the washing machine and chatting about our escapades and planning to go next week (?!). I think I am okay with this, but this is maybe the euphoria of getting out alive? Or perhaps there is something in the water that compels you to return for another fix? I wonder if Birmingham Council sanctions the use of barbiturates in it’s pool water to hypnotise the population to return another day?

I will reserve judgement however until my blood tests have come back from the doctor. If my life force contains more urine than a bar snack, I will be politely bowing out.  I shall also start to dehydrate myself now, just to make sure I NEVER have to go to the toilet at the swimming pool again.

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  1. Diane Aram

    The best observational humour I’ve read for a very long time. The only thing you didn’t squeeze in was that gut churning moment when someone swims past you and touches you with their actual toenail.
    Can’t wait for the book of the blog.

  2. Too funny!

    I’m an advocate of the ‘just don’t go near water’ school of swimming lessons.

    Saying that they’ve fought their brother in the bath and not drowned so I kinda’ feel my work is done.

  3. Alan Kearns

    Great stuff! Tobias Smollett’s Humphrey Clinker calls to you through the ages, all the way from 1777, with a turn of phrase you might like. From Bath’s bathing culture – Jane Austen it ain’t..

    “Two days ago, I went into the King’s Bath, by the advice of our friend Ch—, in order to clear the strainer of the skin, for the benefit of a free perspiration; and the first object that saluted my eye, was a child full of scrophulous ulcers, carried in the arms of one of the guides, under the very noses of the bathers. I was so shocked at the sight, that I retired immediately with indignation and disgust—Suppose the matter of those ulcers, floating on the water, comes in contact with my skin, when the pores are all open, I would ask you what must be the consequence?—Good Heaven, the very thought makes my blood run cold! we know not what sores may be running into the water while we are bathing, and what sort of matter we may thus imbibe; the king’s-evil, the scurvy, the cancer, and the pox; and, no doubt, the heat will render the virus the more volatile and penetrating.”

    “But I am now as much afraid of drinking, as of bathing; for, after a long conversation with the Doctor, about the construction of the pump and the cistern, it is very far from being clear with me, that the patients in the Pump-room don’t swallow the scourings of the bathers. I can’t help suspecting, that there is, or may be, some regurgitation from the bath into the cistern of the pump. In that case, what a delicate beveridge is every day quaffed by the drinkers; medicated with the sweat and dirt, and dandriff; and the abominable discharges of various kinds, from twenty different diseased bodies, parboiling in the kettle below. In order to avoid this filthy composition, I had recourse to the spring that supplies the private baths on the Abbey-green; but I at once perceived something extraordinary in the taste and smell; and, upon inquiry, I find that the Roman baths in this quarter, were found covered by an old burying ground, belonging to the Abbey; through which, in all probability, the water drains in its passage; so that as we drink the decoction of living bodies at the Pump-room, we swallow the strainings of rotten bones and carcasses at the private bath.”

    “….It was, indeed, a compound of villainous smells, in which the most violent stinks, and the most powerful perfumes, contended for the mastery. Imagine to yourself a high exalted essence of mingled odours, arising from putrid gums, imposthumated lungs, sour flatulencies, rank armpits, sweating feet, running sores and issues, plasters, ointments, and embrocations, hungary-water, spirit of lavender, assafoetida drops, musk, hartshorn, and sal volatile; besides a thousand frowzy steams, which I could not analyse. Such, O Dick! is the fragrant aether we breathe in the polite assemblies of Bath”

  4. Loved this. We have been going (to a small private school pool) for lessons since N was 3 months. I dread to think how much grubbiness I’ve absorbed by accident in that time!

    My son also worked out the pavlov reactions to the wave machine at a leisure centre we visited. He was the only child crying in the shallow end, while all the other younger babies loved it.

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