So, I was swimming, an activity not too hindered by my lack of natural grace and lack of lack of unnatural bulk. The swimming pool can be an arena brutally regulated by social conventions; swim in the correct looping direction anti-clockwise/counter anti-clockwise (or clockwise if you’re feeling sufficiently worded); no overtaking; don’t swim slowly in the fast lanes; don’t swim faster in the medium lanes; don’t swim backwards in the south-west lanes; never swim straight down; always give way to Merman or Aqua Man; make the attendants aware in the event of impending watery invasion by Atlantian warlords Namor or Krang, etc etc, and any disruptions to these endless and unknowable (the ‘pool rules’ notices are comically underwhelming when faced with the social mores of the pool) rules will not be tolerated, and infractions result in severe tutting and eyeballing. Severe infractions may result in a ‘come on, mate”, the highest possible punishment in this country that doesn’t involve a devastating tea embargo (I’ve seen this happen – people come back, but they don’t come back the same; they’re changed – broken, malleable. They say life (or ‘hot beverage ban’) and that’s the part they take, at least the part that counts anyway).
So (again) I’m swimming in the correct (ish, the rules change constantly and surprisingly) lanes, and mostly the correct speed and almost certainly in the right direction, when I am suddenly confronted by a mass of dreadlocks. Two youths were splashing around in the wrong direction, and at the wrong speed! They had physically just tipped from youth to manhood, and were enjoying the powers of their young maturity and had lots of jealous rage inducing hair. I was obviously completely insulted by their physical prime and the flippancy with which they nonchalantly carried their endlessly strong follicles on heads that barely had room for all their damned curly beautiful hair (if had (any) hair like that, I would be parading it around constantly – throwing street parties, insisting on parades and flipping it the face of every poor sap with a shiny skin palate). I gave the guy a good eyeballing and suggested that he swim in the same direction as everyone else (honestly, coming to a swimming pool to have fun and enjoy yourselves; a pool is for the rigid following of rules, not blatant displays of youthful vigour and casual smiling). He apologised and went back to his buddy, and I went back to my routine of moist circling.
My interaction with these kids was duly noted by another portly bald guy, who was a few years older than me. He started to tell me about further indiscretions of these kids and how he had used the ultimate weapon against them – a quiet chat with the pool attendant. He seemed a bit quick with that terrifying phrase ‘It ain’t that they’re black, but …’, and I shivered. I watched them splash around, and I realised that they could barely swim. Their lane discipline was undeniably dreadful, but they seemed to be actually teaching each other to swim. Having no memory of a time when I couldn’t swim to one degree or other, I thought that two young fellows like this trying to learn how to do something that everyone else in the pool took for granted – even the comically gargantuan old ladies that required thoughtful navigating whilst passing in the opposite direction- took some stones. I watched as they splashed in the water with all their might, windmilling their arms around and creating aquatic havoc, and I smiled, and I really, really admired those guys. I thought ‘good luck to you’, and then thought I might be a patronising ass, but being a patronising ass has got to be better than being a negative judgemental prick right? I mean ’prick’ is higher up on the undesirable scale than ‘ass’, surely? Have I really just written that without making a parenthetical aside? Has this story finally got lost in rhetorical questions?
Portly tubby pricky guy next to me was about to push off on another correctly speeded lap when they managed to flip-floppingly meander into the wrong lane again, and caused a elderly woman with a strangely ornate water hat (there were flowers on there, maybe some cherubim) to tut savagely at them, and my fat, bald companion (he’s about to turn full heel, so I’m allowed to increase the severity of my adjectives) smiled and winked at me as he took off. Smiled and winked. A smiling, winking ‘welcome to the club, mate’ greeting. A smiling, winking ‘welcome to my club; a club that checks around before it tells jokes; a club that has to modify its statements with ‘I’m no racist, but…’; a UKIP, EDF, nasal haired old fat white men club that reeked of the blurred line between patriotism and outright hate; a club that smelled of pubs, and Wormwood Scubs, and too many right wing meetings’. I deflated liked a writer forced to use a balloon metaphor. I wasn’t that guy. I wasn’t going to be that guy. I hated the thought that someone might have seen him talking at me, and I was part of his insidious world (the song the Little Mermaid didn’t sing).
The two young guys had gigglingly arrived at my end of the pool, and I saw Cecil Rhodes’ ancestor at the other end other end of the pool smiling at me, so I destroyed him. I spoke to his enemy. I befriended (or was as friendly as I can be to absolute strangers) his enemy. The friend of his enemy is his enemy, so I became his enemy. A bloodlettingly violent backlash (without the violence and bloodletting) at the shallow end. Hahahahah!
Turns out they could barely swim, and the older one (in the way that only matters to people with less than two decades on the clock, I now recognise three distinct ages – prior to being able to grow a decent beard, before retirement and before dead) was teaching the younger one to swim. Apparently it’s all about the rhythm. My heart sang for these two men, 1, because they were trying to learn something that the rest of the world often takes for granted (like the right to hair) and 2, because these two absolute specimens of early manhood were actually physically (and apparently rhythmically) miles less competent than me in at least one area of grace and movement (for at least the 12 and a half minutes that it would take them to bridge that gap and leave me wheezing in their watery rear view mirrors).
My time in the swimming pool arena was done. The two young men were now trying out the butterfly stroke (and making the same kind of splashy hash of it that I would if I ever tried the demented stroke – I mean its just a graceful series of standing dives without the standing, or ‘a symmetrical arm stroke with an above water recovery’. It also uses a wave-like body undulation and a dolphin kick’ * – its just sodding impossible unless you’re part flying fish), and I happily left them, and the poor other swimmers trying to avoid their aquatic flailing, to it. My new enemy waddled out of the showers just as I was limping in, and I’m saw traces of real sweet hatred on his big red face. I was worse than the enemy; I should have been one of him, and I was siding with them – with their indiscreet shows of joy and lack of strict lane obedience; I was to be first against the wall when his big red faced wheezy revolution came. I could never be the guy swimming the wrong way in a swimming lane, (rules are there to help control the fun), but at least I might occasionally understand why they’ve strayed and…
Oh for Christ’s sake, this soap box pontification needs to stop, can’t you just do a poo-poo story, or tell us about the time you managed to spit green goo at you friend sitting next to you on the fairground (it was on the pirate ship, and we were having a spitting contest with some youths, and the ship changed direction just as I was launching a gob-full, and oh, well, you get the picture…)? You weren’t racist to two young black men that couldn’t swim and you chose not to join in with the possibly racist (or not, maybe he just liked not to have his swim routine disturbed, but that doesn’t fit your saviour narrative, does it?) man at the pool. Well maybe Mother Theresa will let you have her sainthood. Maybe I can get Martin Luther King to return from his murdered slumber and grant you your desired title as ‘King and Saviour of the Potentially Suppressed and Unable to Get their 25 metre badge’?
I just figured it was a rooted-in-reality tale that would take in swimming pool conventions, the ever-repressed English social attitudes towards behaviour, a little bit of self-mocking, an uplifting end, you know, a nice little ditty…
You wanted to show everyone how great you were, and threw in some Jam lyrics just in case, how fucking shallow…
There’s no need for that, it’s just…
You’re writing this, its not like there’s two of us on the chair…
Well, I think that this one has come to a rather unnatural and downbeat ending. I have strayed somewhat off path, and I’m not sure where to go from here. A Batman V Superman review perhaps? What was Lex Luthor thinking with the Doomsday thing? And what’s with the Rocky Batman workout scene? Gosh, that was…
Let’s just leave it here, shall we?
I reckon so. Goodnight.
* Swimming Reference – http://www.enjoy-swimming.com/swimming-strokes.html
Any reference to Down in the Tube Station At Midnight automatically saves a piece of writing from being considered trite or shallow. It’s the rules.
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Yay for my ignorance of the rules.
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“Has this story finally got lost in rhetorical questions?”: Nice. Again,love your writing.
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Thank you. I had tried to write this one quite a few times, and was never really happy with it, but the constant use of author asides let me get a handle on it. It led to the internal argument at the end of the piece, that allowed me to express my worries about any potential self-aggrandizing (is that even a word?) within the story. I couldn’t quite get the ending, and I realized that allowing those worries into the piece was not only a neat (if a little uninspired) and honest way of finishing off the bit. It also allowed me to not write the Batman V Superman review that I have been failing to write after watching, which is good as it seems to have become the most reviewed movie in history, and it doesn’t deserve much more ink (pixels) being used on it.
Also I have just realized that the constant use of asides and interruptions to the story (as, if not more important to the entertainment value of the piece) was probably inspired partly by Ronnie Corbett’s ‘in a chair, straight to the audience’ skits, which were more about the constant interruptions than the central joke anyway. So maybe I can claim that as an after-the-fact tribute to the wee fellow.
I think I may be waffling – late night, early morning – I should go and do some actual paid-for work.
Thank you for keeping on reading these; I get a real kick out of people enjoying them.
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goodenfunny & somewhut weaving in the adjay-sent dye-mentions into your everyday ordinary swim! 4.5 stars !
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Thank you. I now have stars to look at from my gutter now.
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