I love swimming. A warmish sea is best, of course, one with waves to float on and jump over, and some rocks and cliffs to look at. Failing that, a coldish sea; and failing even that, a freezing cold sea – I’ll hate getting in, but I’ve never once regretted it.
And, failing the sea, then lakes, or rivers – but there aren’t many places you can swim in rivers these days, they are held to be Too Dangerous.
But after all that lot, right down at the bottom of the list of swimmable places, is the Municipal Swimming Pool. After a few months of swimming in one, the hideous elements of it – the screaming, the showers that don’t work, the too-small lockers with broken locks, to name but a few - get to me and I stop for a while.
But then the desire to swim gets the better of me, and off I go, this evening, Spring in the air, frogspawn in the pond, off to the pool.
Not too crowded tonight. There is a rope down the middle. Two-thirds of the pool is for people who can’t swim very well, or who don’t want to swim at all, but prefer to stand in the shallow end and chat. Those who swim with their head about a metre out of the water, so as to preserve their perfect hairdo, are to be found here too, as are those who swim alongside each other, very very slowly, talking all the way and blocking anyone else in all directions.
The other third of the pool is for people who want to swim lengths: and that’s where I went today, with my mother. She loves swimming as much as I do, and, at eighty-three next month, can still do a kilometre – the distance I generally swim – with ease. She swims a stylish back crawl, generally, occasionally forgetting to stop when she reaches the end, and her deafness doesn’t help. “Mum - - stop - - STOP!” - - BANG.
Today, though, in amongst the rest of us, a Superwoman had decided to occupy the lengths-swimming part of the pool. Superwoman was at least thirty and was keen to prove that, though getting on in years a bit for a really serious swimmer, she still had what it takes, unlike the rest of us. We were In Her Way and she wanted to demonstrate her superiority.
Up and down she zoomed, with her perfect front crawl and her shoulders the size of the Pennines. If anyone happened to be in front of her she didn’t deviate at all – she just ploughed into them until they got out of the way. An urge to make Loud Comments came over me, of the “Oh, you poor dear, you do seem to have something to prove” kind, but I kept quiet and kept on swimming, being just fast enough to keep out of her white-water way.
It wasn’t the speed I minded: there was a man swimming fast too, but he did a good job of looking where he was going and avoiding everyone else.
Finally Superwoman crashed into my mother at high speed and carried straight on without pause. I was at the opposite end of the pool, and by the time I’d caught up with my mother – who wasn’t hurt, luckily – Superwoman had gone off to get changed.
Just as well, as I was tempted to Say Something. What I would have said was this. And it’s all true.
“You know that lady you just kicked out of the way? Well, she’s my mother and she’s nearly eighty-three. I know she doesn’t look eighty-three when she swims, because she still swims very well, and so you may think she’s fair game for kicking if she happens to impede your progress. But the reason she swims so well is because, in the nineteen-thirties and early nineteen-forties, she was being coached as a possible Olympic swimmer.
Unfortunately, Adolf Hitler put a stop to it all by dropping a very large bomb on the swimming baths in Barrow-in-Furness, where my mother used to swim. In her day, my mother swam better than you. So you can stop looking so damned superior now.”