What I learnt at the swimming pool


After hearing that running while pregnant can result in your vagina falling out, I decided to opt for a less permanently damaging (physically and mentally) exercise routine. So this morning I rose at 7am and walked through the dark streets of Walthamstow to Leyton Lesiure Lagoon.

(It’s had a makeover and is now actually called Leyton Leisure Centre – but losing that triple alliteration and nod to the tropics makes it sound somewhat sterile, so I’ll stick to the old name.)

If you’re ever looking for great character studies, forget trendy coffee shops and instead head to a local community centre. Whether it’s a library or a swimming pool – it’s guaranteed to be chocka with hilarious women and men. Mostly older – all brimming with character.

This morning I slid into the slow lane of the swimming pool, accepting that the foreign frontal bump preventing me from seeing my thighs would probably also prevent me from speedy front crawl. Also, I hadn’t been swimming for ages. However, I quickly realised that the slow lane is so slow, I was having to float in one place to avoid mounting the person in front, so I ducked under the rope.

In the medium lane, one lady was determined to swim every length on her back, unable to stay on one side and so zigzagging her way up the pool – blocking the lane for everyone else. Another lady huffed loudly every time she passed the zigzagger, growing evermore frustrated but being too British and polite to suggest the other lady transferred to the slow lane.

When a fourth lady joined our lane, all hell broke loose! She had professional looking goggles on and wasn’t slowing down for anyone. Suddenly there was over-taking, sharp breaststroke elbows digging into ribs and feet bringing up fountains of chlorinated water to splash the faces of us original three medium-lane-swimmers.

Now that I’m one of those strictly-breastroke, head-above-water pregnant ladies – the splashing started to piss me off. So I began stopping at the end of the lane then strategically timing my launch so as to avoid the professional splasher.

After half an hour spent avoiding mouthfuls of warm chlorine and the evils from the lady who still hadn’t got over the slow swimmer being in the wrong lane, I heaved myself out of the pool and went to find the showers.

It seems there are only unisex, open showers at Leyton Leisure Lagoon. This means showering IN your swimming costume, next to hairy men who speak far too loudly. But whatever. I had a shower and listened in to one conversation about participation in the war (I think they were trying to impress me: the only woman – not realising that 1. I’m anti war 2. I’m of a slightly later generation – impressed by different displays of masculinity).

But the second conversation I eavesdropped in on was interesting. A man said that his grandson was still out of work, having been dropped from an apprenticeship. Apparently, his employer (and all employers taking on apprentices) are given a government grant to cover costs for a year. But as soon as the funding ends, the guy waves goodbye to those apprentices and welcomes in a new lot – with fresh grants.

And so after a year’s grafting and learning the trade, this man’s grandson was left jobless and depressed. “He wants to work,” the man explained, “he likes hard work – but unlike our generation, he’s got his heart set on one path and so won’t take any old work to keep him afloat.”

The conversation then swiftly turned to immigrants who come over and take up the jobs that our youth think they’re above.

Both men agreed that it’s much harder now than it was when they were younger, recalling that it wasn’t about desperately searching for work, more about just deciding what you wanted to do and getting on with it – as there’d always be an opening.

So there’s a major flaw in the government’s ‘encourage the youth to take up apprenticeships’ scheme – but as long as they get their positive stats (the number of people being accepted onto apprenticeships, lifted out of unemployment) who cares about what happens a year later, right? That’s a question for Iain Duncan Smith.

Well, I’m looking forward to my next swim – dodging a new set of passive aggressive swimmers and picking up snippets of political debate. It definitely beats solo jogging with the risk of my internal organs dropping out between my legs.

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