I've started swimming again. The University where I presently work part-time has a splendid 25-metre-long pool which is available for a modest fee deducted directly by Payroll.
I was 27 before I started swimming in earnest (most people prefer water.) That was only when my wife, a former Lifeguard, persuaded me that it would be fun. I have a fear of drowning, you see, stemming from a single childhood incident when a morbidly obese bitch put a deflated rubber ring around me before throwing me into the deep end. She was the resident schools' pool attendant in the 1980s. Her idea of "lifesaving" technique was to prod at those in the pool with the hooked stick used to open and close the windows. Nobody ever saw her enter the water, but I distinctly remember her going ballistic once when somebody splashed her.
All of this background information is merely to establish that, as a nervy type, I prefer to take my swimming seriously. It is for this reason that I only go to the dedicated Lengths sessions at the pool. You turn up, decide whether you are a slow, medium or fast swimmer, get into lane, do a few lengths, get out, and go home. No diving, no messing about: simple as that.
Some people, however, seem to have trouble interpreting the rules. Take the person I encountered in the pool yesterday as an example. I first became aware of her when she kicked me. Fair enough, I hear you say, accidents do occasionally happen in swimming pools. I'd have agreed with you at the point at which she kicked me had she not, in lieu of apology, glowered at me for putting her off her stroke.
I, being quite a slow swimmer, was in the slow lane. My friend, as I will sarcastically call her, was a late-middle-aged lady in the adjacent medium lane. We were both, admittedly, close to the dividing tape, but even so she wouldn't have kicked me at all had she been actually swimming. I prefer to describe her performance in the water as being repetitive choreography. Imagine it, if you can: firstly, she put her face into the water, followed by an odd, flouncy gesture with the forearms as if trying to repel gnats. This was followed by a violent, kicking, outward movement of the legs before retrieving her head from the water for long enough to take another breath. Repeat ad nauseam.
It was the kicking movement that did for me, straight in my not inconsiderable gut, mere inches from my testicles. Then, as I said, she gave me the Ray of Disgust. The problem with her swimming technique - apart from the already established fact that it less resembled swimming as you or I would know it and fell clearly into the category of fannying about - is that it took her even longer to swim a length than me. Completely inappropriate behaviour for a Lengths session, I'm sure you'll agree.
I presume this is why, some minutes later, I encountered her a second time. Now, I don't know about you, but to me swimming a length involves travelling on the water from the wall at one end of the pool to the wall at the opposite end. The length of the pool = "a length." Sound logical to you? Good. Otherwise, what is the point in having men with rulers and tape measures design and build them to specification when a fortune could be saved by simply tiling the nearest crater and filling it up.
Anyway, I'd reached the wall at the deep end, the area of the pool where I feel most vulnerable when I become aware that my feet no longer reach the floor. There was a convoy of two other swimmers behind me. In need of a breather, I decided to let them go on ahead before I moved again. Leaving a respectful six feet or so between the lady in front and myself, I moved off into the empty space... and got hit sharply in the chest. My friend had decided to cross the tape and join the slow lane. However, my friend was one of those people who don't believe "a length" should include the full 25-metre length of the pool. She was a corner-cutter, and as she swam with her face down in the water, she didn't see me coming. I certainly didn't notice her approaching me from underwater until she hit me. Pulling her face out of the water, she gave me the familiar scowl for a second time.
This time, I'd inadvertently alerted the Lifeguard with the yelp I'd given out when struck. The Lifeguard came down from her ladder and asked if I was alright. I said I was and that I hadn't seen the lady coming. "No," said the Lifeguard, "you wouldn't have done. She wouldn't get out of the pool. She's just cut up three lanes of traffic after I asked her to leave the fast lane." The fast lane?
The third, and last, time astounded me most of all, primarily because I should have seen it coming and yet I managed to let it happen. By this time I'd decided to put as much distance between my friend and myself as possible, and made a point of checking on her progress before embarking on my next length. This particular time she was two-thirds of the pool's length in front of me when I decided it would be safe to start. I was amazed when, just over half-a-minute later, I'd nearly caught up with her. So I did what anybody would do - I swam into the overtaking lane intended for this purpose, and gave her wayward arms and legs a wide berth. I was nearly at the wall when she crashed headfirst into me. It was entirely my fault. After all, I'd forgotten her habit of corner-cutting while not looking where she was going.
I got the Ray again, and childishly retaliated by causing a splash with my feet. She got off lightly - I was only restrained from following my gut instinct by the thought that the Lifeguard would consequently be forced to evacuate the pool while she added an extra capful of bleach to the water.