In which I get stressed in a swimming pool

I went swimming in an actual swimming-pool yesterday. I’m still recovering from the trauma. I hadn’t been to a public pool (and I don’t have a private one) since 1995 and frankly had no plan to do in 2015, but a dodgy knee won’t let me do anything else and I’m doing my very best not to die of a heart attack through lack of exercise.

Anyway, everything had changed at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Pool since the last time I went with my young daughters and one of them conned me into promising her a My Little Bride Pony if she would pluck up courage to jump in – which she did, just that once, got the damn pony and never jumped in again.

There are compulsory blue plastic bags to wear on your feet now, whereas previously there had just been verrucas. I liked the idea of blue plastic bags to protect me from people’s foot juices. I liked them so much that I took them with me into the pool area and left them carefully by my towel. This was a Wrong Thing To Do, apparently, according to the man who had tidied them away, as he explained when he caught me later walking through the changing rooms without blue plastic bags. Which is another Wrong Thing to Do.

However, much trauma was to be had before this telling off. Oh yes. You see, in the old days there had been a slow lane and a fast lane. But now, there was, joy of joys, a MEDIUM lane. This was appealing because, when I swim, I do not like to swim too slowly, especially behind elderly men swimming completely vertically and not seeming to move AT ALL. I tend to sink if I swim that slowly. However, I cannot swim fast, or at least not further than a few strokes when being chased by something. (I did once dream about a shark in a swimming pool and that image has never left me. You should be impressed that I even went in at all.)

So, a medium lane was absolutely just right. And I slipped as casually as I could manage into the water, which one has to do by dint of scary jumping, as there were no steps with which to get into the medium lane, it being in the middle of the pool. (Hold that thought.) And you have to jump carefully because there’s a hefty drop from the edge of the pool to the water, but I managed this. There being no steps.

And as soon as I set off, at medium pace, obviously, in an anti-clockwise direction as specified by the clear sign, I realised the flaw in this plan: just as the medium lane had no steps by which to get in, it similarly and inevitably it had none by which to get out, because it was in the middle of the pool. As I swam this length, which took me quite some time even at medium pace, this pool being 50 miles long (that’s what 50m is, no?) I spent the time not only trying to survive, oxygenwise, but also to work out how the heck I was going to get out. I swam a bit more slowly than I probably should have in the medium lane, because I was looking to see what other medium people would do when they wanted to get out. Unfortunately, no one did.

At the far end, I pretended to admire the scenery for a while, clocking the location of the lifeguard, while in fact desperately waiting for someone to get out so that I could see how they did it. Maybe there was a secret door or invisible set of steps? Why did only the slow and fast people have steps? When would a medium person feel tired and get out?

But no one did. They were clearly very happy with their medium lane. The people in the slow lane were getting in and out with gusto, even the vertically swimming ones, using the many steps at the side of the pool. And the people in the fast lane ditto at their superior side, though with more panache. But the people in the medium lane just carried on swimming.

I thought maybe the secret door or invisible steps might be at the other end, the one I’d started from, so I set off again. Mediumly. Or somewhat slower than. Still watching, hawk-eyed, for someone to get out.

But no one did.

I reached the end, having now swum 100 miles. I took stock and did some thinking, using the problem-solving parts of my brain. There were definitely no steps. And it was completely impossible for anyone without biceps of steel (which I actually almost have but I was scared to test them in case the lifeguard was looking, even though he wasn’t) to pull themselves up the vast distance from the water and onto the edge of the pool. And it was impossible to lift the treetrunk-heavy boom that formed the lane barrier. And I knew you weren’t allowed to climb over it, because I’d seen a Sign. That was another Wrong Thing.

By now, it was obvious that there was only one way out. Under water.

Now, reader, I don’t do under water. If I’d been intending to go even slightly under water, I would not have been wearing my glasses; I’d have brought a hairdryer, hair mousse, shampoo, hairspray and a brush. I would not have showered and blow-dried my hair and put on make-up only an hour previously. And I probably wouldn’t have come at all, because I really hate going under water. I’m not exaggerating that.

But I had to do it. No choice. So, bravely, I reached up and put my glasses on the side, held my breath (and I was already quite out of breath because of the 100m swim and the fact that there was no shallow end AT ALL – damn this modern competition-style pool – and nothing to hold onto) and dived. Well, no, not dived, but put my head under water a few inches. And no one even offering me a My Little Bride Pony.

Survived. Didn’t splutter as much as I’d expected. Retrieved my glasses, of course. I’m not stupid. And blinkily made my ignominious way across the slow lane, slowly.

At this point, I was shocked out of my delight at having survived the dive. Shocked. Shocked by the fact that the people in the slow lane were swimming CLOCKWISE. OMG. I frowned at them but it made no difference. I looked around for the lifeguard but he was more concerned with ignoring all the swimmers stranded in the medium lane. I was appalled that these people, these SLOW SLOW people, could ignore the clear instruction to swim ANTI-CLOCKWISE. How could they not see the sign? Were they swimming too fast?

I had by now caught my breath and thrust it back inside my heaving lungs and was just about to exclaim. I was about to say to the next vertical elderly man to come floating sloooooooowly by, “Excuse me, but you are swimming the Wrong Way,” when I noticed ANOTHER sign. I hadn’t noticed this before, so focused was I on the instructions for medium people. The slow lane people were supposed to be swimming clockwise. I know. Weird.

This revelation shifted the tectonic plates of my already hyper-stressed brain and I had only one choice: swim. Swim as if my life depended on it, as for all I knew by this time it well might, in the slow lane, clockwise, SLOOOOOOOOWLY.

I set off. Behind two women TALKING. Oh my god, they were slow. So, when they were nearly at the end, I turned round before them and was thus ahead. Yay! A race! Oh hang on, no: the slow lane. Within seconds, I was stuck behind beatifically peaceful elderly man swimming vertically and not moving AT ALL.

I overtook him vehemently, which I’m pretty certain was another Wrong Thing. Got out. Nearly collapsed, because by now I’d swum nearly 200 miles. Couldn’t find my plastic bags. Tottered back to my cubicle. Got the row from the man. And went home.

I’ll be back. You should probably warn those people in the slow lane. Also, I have my very own swimming pool shoes. Mind you, I’ll probably still have to wear those blue plastic things. But I will not put them in the Wrong Place. Oh no.

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14 Responses

  1. This made me laugh! I do hope you claimed the My Little Pony in the end – or at least a suitable substitute. I hate swimming in lanes myself – I’d rather plough up and down avoiding random chatting non-swimmers or clumps of shrieking children than having to constantly adjust my pace in the lanes.

  2. This is the first swimming article I have ever ever read which has left me feeling smug rather than guilty at my inability to swim. At least I don’t have to go through *that*, methinks.

  3. I’m just back from a weekend away to a spa resort where the pool is about 15 metres, but because I don’t swim much I did one length and then immediately out to sit in the jacuzzi and catch my breath, so the fact you did all that swimming is mightily impressive… and no steps in the medium lane? I’d be having a panic attack!

    1. I pretty much was, Vee! Anyway, I ventured forth again today and swam EIGHT lengths. The lanes disappeared while I was swimming so I had no idea what speed to go and which way round or where to do it, so I stayed close to the edge and never left sight of steps. I’m learning!

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