Last week I wrote something called Cool in the Pool – click here to read it if you wish. A few things have happened aquatically since which I thought I might share with you. Perhaps part of my motive is to explain two recent indiscretions which could be misconstrued and perhaps were. Indignant letters or emails may even now be being written to the police, Legacy Leisure, West Berkshire Council or the Daily Mail. However, I anticipate.
The first of these indiscretions began was when I went to the Hungerford Leisure Centre for a swim on Monday morning. (It might help if I reminded you that last week in the above-mentioned article I had said that the Leisure Centre’s water has for years been a fairly constant 28º.)
Rose and the two Michaels greeted me with slightly odd looks.
“Thanks for the nice things you said about us in your article,” Rose began.
Not at all, I told her. There were all most sincere. The dark thoughts I had mentioned in this piece (I hope in a way that made me seem slightly eccentric rather than dangerously mad) were my own, of course: not their problem. I started babbling about these.
They didn’t seem keen to discuss my dark thoughts. “The thing is…” one Michael said, “the boiler’s on the blink.”
Up until about six years ago, this used to happen quite a lot. My theory was that the boiler always produced the same amount of heat but redistributed it randomly between the pool, the showers and the central heating. On some days the water would be 34º and the showers stone cold. On others the air would be tropical and the pool freezing.
Then they had the boilers fixed or replaced since when it’s been amazingly consistent. Until, that is, I wrote Cool in the Pool and mentioned this fact, and the staff read it, whereupon the boiler immediately went weird.
I was relieved that the result was to make the water 26º rather than, as I’d feared, 34º. It was, in fact exhilarating. As a general rule, if the water in a pool feels OK when you get in then it’s too warm. I was amazed that I was swimming about 10% more quickly than usual. In cold water, you also use up more energy. The lower temperature of the water meant it was using less. What’s not to like?
As I got out, I briefly sensed something odd about my trunks, which felt more baggy than usual. I put this down to the different perception of the colder water on my skin, got changed and thought no more about it.
Twenty-four hours rolled past, as they do. Tuesday morning, I was back again. Jo and Elaine, normally regular swimmers whom I hadn’t seen for some time, were there. A certain amount of chat broke out, as it does with them. They’re both bright and funny and informed about local affairs. I sometimes feel that these conversations are in their own way as bracing as the morning swims themselves.
Elaine confided in me the fact that she had noticed that, after about three months without swimming and also eating perhaps a little too much, she’d put on some weight but that a reversion to swimming and being a bit more careful about food had taken it off again. We agreed that this astounding announcement shouldn’t be kept secret. The Daily Express, the Daily Mail or The Lancet, to name but three purveyors of medical breakthroughs, would kill for an exclusive like that: Shock Report Claims Weight Gain Linked to Diet and Exercise. Not having had time to sell this story to any of these papers, I’m forced to announce it in Penny Post. Remember, you heard it here first.
It was as I was putting my trunks on that another astounding fact struck me, which also explained my unease of the previous day. They were completely split down the back from the waistband to the bottom seam. If I’d been lashed by a single-clawed big cat or impaled on the horn of a white rhino the damage could not have been greater. I couldn’t remember either of these things happening to me in the pool. On closer examination the fabric had started to perish. Another 20 lengths and they’d have disintegrated altogether.
The shrewd swimmer keeps a spare pair of trunks in his bag and these I put on. At the start of the fourth length (in water now returned to 28º, the brief boiler revolt having been ruthlessly put down) I remembered why they’d been relegated to ‘spare’. The front was held in place by velcro which the chlorine had made more and more ineffective and supported by a cord which the chlorine had made less and less easy to knot tightly. I’d added a safety pin, a fact I now remembered because it was pricking into my flesh. Both cord and velco parted as I was doing a turn at the deep end. For anyone who hasn’t tried doing this, I can confirm that isn’t easy to tread water while fastening a safety pin to the fly of your trunks and re-tying the cord, and certainly impossible to do this without seeming to be performing something rather less innocent. All the other swimmers were women. One had, I think, been swimming alongside me the day before. On Monday, the rear; on Tuesday, the front. How unlucky can a girl be? People have been barred, indeed arrested, for less. If Rose or either of the Michaels read this, I may be yet.
The rest of the swim – or what little of it there was between of all this chat, re-dressing and inadvertent semi-nudity – passed without incident.
Later that day I switched on Radio 5 Live in the car. Just before the end of my journey they went to a story about the Mildenhall Naturist Swimming Club which has recently been permitted to hold a monthly mixed nude swimming session at its local pool. The spokesman was effusive in his praise of the benefits of this activity. The interviewer, a keen swimmer himself but as sceptical about the appeal of this as I was, asked if this kind of thing also took place elsewhere. “British Naturism is working to make this available as many pools as possible,” the spokesman said proudly.
Ha, I thought – yesterday and today it was available in one more pool than you thought.
Then I parked and got out of the car. By an obvious association of thought I checked that the fly buttons on my trousers were done up. A woman walking past me gave me an odd glance.
Tomorrow I think I’m going to stay at home all day.