Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Women only swimming

This week I wanted to swim four miles in two, two mile sessions, having completed an early morning two mile on Monday, I decided to try something new and opt for a women only evening session. I did this out of curiosity, a vaguely anthropological type research into different behaviour in pools at different times of the day. (Also based on my being unable to get out of bed early this morning due to a gloriously warm duvet someone has recently given me and that I spent the entire day tidying all the things I didn't tidy last year.)

For a start the price in the evening goes up by 55p and I can already hear that there is a swimming lesson going on in one of the lanes. Pay more, less space grumbles my inner voice as I begin fantasising about complaining to the bored lifeguards. The changing room is too much leopard print and talk of new year diets. This might not be the right time for me.

Choosing a lane.
This, to me, is a strategic careful placing, you have to weigh up the pros and cons of fast and medium. In a mixed session my mind is usually made up by the amount of men swimming very loudly in the fast lane. I can only describe it as loudly. Look at me, I'm swimming, really fast, with both my legs and my arms.

A women only session with a lane used up for a lesson gives me only one option. Medium. I probably am a swim snob. A mediocre swimmer that thinks their something special because I like to put my face in the water. But I have come to swim two miles, not have a chat without getting my hair wet. The lanes are full, but wide so I follow the beautiful stroke of a women who is weaving in out of the chatting breast strokers. She is one of those swimmers that flips in a tumble turn when she comes the end of a length. Oh I have jealousy. Swim envy. Aqua aspiration. But I wouldn't need to turn quickly in the channel, there are only two sides; one that I leave and one that I aim for. Still I'm sure I used to be able to turn like that when I was younger.

There is a rhythm that is set by the first 10 lengths, as my brain starts to wonder and my ears fill with water. I try not to count the lengths ahead of me. You've done 20, another 110 to go. I tell my mind to hush, before the tiredness of this task reaches my arms, my legs. Enjoy the filled in muffle under water. The strange high pitch wirr that most pools possess and the driven feel of my arms pulling me along.


The fast lane has stopped its lesson and I can now move in comfort to the ranking I deserve. The tumble turn lady has already swept into my territory, and I watch her in fascination through the fog on my goggles. She seems to be swimming in strokes I haven't seen before, curving along in Dolphin arches. I wonder if she is practising immersion swimming, a swimming theory that teaches you to move with the water, not against it. (I've been given a book on this but have only skimmed through it so my wonder may be wrong).  Because the lanes are so wide, she refuses the arrows pointing clockwise, so I take one side, and she takes the other. After a little fit of anger and the putting down of panic that we are not swimming according to the rules (I am a stickler to pool rules-Sculling in the fast lane? someone should blow a whistle), I begin to enjoy the dance we do as we cross each others paths. She seems at home in the water and I contemplate asking her about her technique. And I relax into the motion, let my head begin to wonder underwater. Check the clock and think that this might be the premium time, when all the slow swimmers wonder home. A sharp thought interrupts me from the waters edge, when I think there will be a second wave.

I see a troop of legs in matching swimming costumes and swim caps atop the side, eyeing up our lane.  They look like a professional relay team, as if they are about to get serious.  Put a fear in me that I haven't felt since net ball teams and hockey teams and girls in matching pleated skirts. They gather at one end and begin to talk and listen to one who appears to have rank over the others (she has a slightly flashier swim cap).  They take up the end of the lane, leaving little room to push off. Lane rage is rising to my surface. They set off like a trail of ducks, breast stroke after breast stroke in. the. fast. lane. They stop and they chat again at the shallow end so I am swimming towards their matching v's of black material and white toned legs. They gather in a closed circle, like in play grounds and in whispers. They aren't a relay team. But an informal exercise group. Lead by that one in the hat. My mermaid partner has left the pool.

The pool isn't for chatting. I am a serious swimmer, I think. I'm actually training to swim the channel, I think. Again and again I get stuck behind their trails. Or they begin to snap at my heels as there doesn't seem to be enough water for this teacher and her pupils. Inconsiderate flashes in syllables to the stroke of my arm. I swim faster in my anger, playing a game with them they are not aware of.  I'm sure I hear whispers, as I stop to let them past. Its like commuting. Your voice of , indignace where morals, politeness and humanity turn into inner rants and fantasies of violence. Or at least a heated exchange.

Its probably my imagination, I get these silent spats when in swimming pools, sometimes it spurs me on. But with men in tiny trunks, you can let them past, you can let them splash, you can try to save their pride by being slower than them.

The group leave at some point and I get a lane to myself. I am smug at my 140 lengths, knowing they could only manage 40. Thank god they weren't a relay training team. That would have put me to shame.

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