Thursday, 21 May 2009

From cherubs to piranhas

It's in my genes: I was never meant to be fit and muscle-toned. The twinkle in my father's eye held no hint of competitive spirit, and there were no steroids in my baby food. In Argentina in the 60's our 10 inch black and white portable telly only ever showed football, and I didn't want to learn to spit at 10 yards or call the referee's ancestry into question.
At school I was the captain of my house, and was liked sufficiently to be cheered on by my school-friends as I was breast stroking (the watery version) my way down the pool, underlapping having left me in sole possession of the facility while my competitors were even then towelling themselves dry after their hot showers. In relay track events I fared no better - so eager was I to do as little as possible, that being positioned on the starting blocks in staggered formation lulled me into a false sense of security. I fancied I had a head start, and tried not to feel dismay as those way behind sailed past me... for a few minutes I had felt I was in the lead.
So you could say that early humilliation on the sports field left me less than enthusiastic about wearing myself out, getting hot and bothered and smelling everybody else's sweat as well as my own, not to mention the sprains and broken limbs which were so easily avoided by simply doing something else. In those days girls had nothing to prove by being fit anyway - boys didn't like you any the less for being weedy, as long as you were slim and had big tits.
What an unutterable drag therefore to have to discover that there was a direct correlation between calories ingested in the shape of food, and expended in the form of exercise. Worse, as you got older the correlation stretched out of all proportion - you had to starve and work out like a whippet in a race, just so as to avoid the metamorphosis from minor to major. Those of us unwise enough to take a sod-it attitude gradually ate ourselves to a standstill. We got too tired to move, our joints hurt too much to park further than a few yards from the bakery or the sweet shop, and we actively avoided parties where the buffet was of the stand-up variety. Standing-room only was a fate not worth contemplating.
Then came the reckoning, the moment of truth, the epiphany - to continue as we were condemned us to a very uncomfortable old age, a nuisance to others and a terrible quality of life. To say nothing of the cost of buying new mirrors every time we threw something heavy at the image we saw in it, or the danger of pulling a muscle in an effort to dodge friendly family photographers during festive fun.
Our particular salvation has come to us (if somewhat expensively) in the form of a gastric band, and here we are, we splinter group of weedy bandits, struggling with a new set of imponderables... how to continue our lazy daisy lives while becoming less roly poly. As I'm dragged away with my heels making tramlines along the floor, my arms waving with hysteria, I hear myself screaming in defeat "ALL RIGHT ALL RIGHT, SO SOME FORM OF EXERCISE MAY POSSIBLY SPEED THIS UP." I've said it, so now the gym fanatics can wipe the smirks off their faces.
The answer for me is wimmin' - in the wimmin' pool.
It's my chosen form of heavy breathing torture because I'm weightless in water and thus am more likely to exercise properly, but don't start clucking approvingly - my progress is stately and sedate, and except where it's too shallow, a 45 degree angle suits me best. If the water is calm, then the whole experience is (I won't say it too loud) - quite enjoyable. But until the day I win the lottery and can have my own swimming pool, I'm destined most of the time to have to share it with a crowd of very annoying people and be accused of being a Grumpy Old Woman.
At my local leisure centre the changing rooms are communal, likewise the showers, which are exposed and public for good measure - you can see the athletes foot really clearly under the flood lighting. There's a big choice of lockers, and you can get to try most of them each time as you search for one which isn't broken.
The pool itself is an obstacle course if I haven't managed to be there within the 7.30 - 7.45 time slot when the kids are safely home tucked up with their fish fingers and the adults haven't quite got themselves organised after work or haven't finished watching the 7.30 TV soaps. This week the little darlings were having a whale of a time, and up there on his raised platform the lifeguard was terribly busy with a lot of mobile phonecalls to make. Why do perfectly normal children turn into begoggled screaming banshees when they spot water at 20 paces? Why is it fun to lunge across length swimmers when attempting a width? How can it possibly be a comfortable experience to stand over the deep end and jump in with a bloodcurdling shriek just as my head and arms are reaching gratefully for the rail at the end, thereby crashing limb against limb? The sight of an adult coughing and spluttering is obviously deeply satisfying, and an apology clearly would spoil the fun.
King Herod was a very far-sighted monarch.
If you want to steer clear of the children you could opt for the lane swimming, where purposeful young and fit people steam up and down doing the crawl, these human tsunamis totally oblivious or uncaring of slow-moving wobbly people trying to keep their heads above water. It's like doing 20 miles an hour on the motorway and being overtaken by a truck doing 100, and you use all your energy to avoid being sucked towards them or under, and to dodge those flailing arms. The music of "Jaws" echoes in your ears as you (yes, again) cough and splutter.
I limp back to the changing cubicle, breathless, (from fury, not the excercise), where my anger is now re-focussed against my underwear which refuses to do anything I ask of it, and my trousers, which finally allow my feet to emerge and rest on the muddy, watery, hairy floor. Some torn seams later, I emerge red-faced, clothes smeared in talcum powder and smelling of chlorine to reflect on the drive home that I didn't swim enough lengths to burn off very many calories. I fantasize about having a small pool in my back garden where there would be an electronic tide I could swim against, and not a living soul in sight...
Of course as a (newly) sporty person I have sports injuries - in fact I have one at the moment, a twisted ankle. Yesterday I had to climb on a chair to reach for something that was too high up for me, wobbled and put a foot back down to steady myself, and skidded on some magazines that were on the floor. But this is only for my blog. My colleagues have been told that it happened as I was taking a racing dive into the pool.


Dawn said...

Oh bless!!!

I love swimming, but can sympathise with you. I hate it when others use the pool as a gathering to have a chat before going to sit in the cafe and chat over coffee, congratulating themselves for having swam!!! Makes no sense.... LOL

keep on going, maybe you just need to find your exercise.


DocSly said...

Caroline, I love it when you write like this. You make a simple story so delightful. No one I know could explain the locker room and swimming pool with too many kids like you do. I too would love one of those small wave pools in my basement so I could use it year around. Probably wouldn't if I had it. Love your storytelling. Take care

Nola said...

I love the way you tell a story also:) I would love my own then I could swim naked!!!

Diz said...

I admire you for swimming. I'd like to be a much better swimmer. I can do a basic freestyle, but other that that...NOT! I like to scuba, and will do basic swimming for that, but afterward...Time to get out! Exercise is truly subjective. You definitely have to choose something that suits you and you enjoy it, or just doesn't happen.

Lonicera said...

Thanks for the comments...
I do love being submerged in water (preferably cold and outside on a hot day, but that's usually asking a bit too much here), and my idea of fun is to swim to a distant point either in a long outdoor irregularly shaped swimming pool, or in the sea to a rock, for instance. The exercise then becomes more incidental and a bonus. When indoors I'd love films projected on the walls at either end, to keep me from getting bored... I've toyed with the idea of a waterproof ipod, but then I wouldn't hear kids about to sink me, would I...

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