I walk to the swimming pool with the moody blues, that is, the stormy colours of the sky over Chester at the moment and, if I’m honest, reflective of my outlook. It’s cold. It’s dark. And I’m out and about, not due to an obligation or incentive, but to get in a few laps before work.
If you’ve read my piece on pilates you’ll know I don’t consider myself a particularly active person. Probably why the two activities I do manage to force myself to attempt involve mostly lying down (pilates) and being suspended in a warm body of water (swimming). No circuits for me (okay, one time, but it wasn’t pretty).
Alongside my addiction to all things sweet and carbs, and well, just food really, thirty year old me is crying out for exercise. I accept that if I insist on leaving the house every now and again, it’s essential that I fit through the door. Long gone are the indulgent and ill-conceived nights packed full of triples for the price of singles and footlongs from Subway, appearing to have little to no effect on my weight. So two or three times a week I drag myself up, I hold my eyelids open in front of one of those fake sunlight lamps and try to ignore the voice of reason that tells me everything is better back under the duvet.
I throw on a random assortment of clothes in my uncoordinated daze (sometimes they give me weird looks at reception and I don’t blame them). The prep to leave which should take three minutes, always somehow takes fifteen. I’m not sure what happens. I feel hardly conscious, only able to register my truly grumpy disposition and operate on basic autopilot.
But eventually I’m out onto the eerily quiet street and begin my slow shuffle (in part due to still being asleep and in part due to the sheer volume of layers I’ve piled on) to the pool. The seagulls seem to follow me as I unsafely navigate the crossing of roads. I try to console myself with harrowing memories of my former London life; getting up at 6am, a 1.5 hour commute on the packed, sweating and often delayed tubes. But that was somehow easier, perhaps because my salary was dependent on my early rise.
This however, feels like madness. The majority of Chester (it seems) is still asleep, warm, sane. En route I convince myself that I’ll make peace with the extra stone in weight I’m always fighting off, if it means no more of this.
Then I arrive and am shocked, almost to the point of commenting – there are people leaving, that’s right, LEAVING. People who’ve already worked their cores, pedalled their legs off and lifted their weights (or some such nonsense), and they’re FINISHED before the sun’s even up. What the frick? It makes me feel part (albeit a later part) of some sick joke.
Last week I walked in and the receptionist was yawning. She apologised and I said, ‘Oh, no need. I get it completely.’ And she laughed and said, ‘Who’d do this eh?’ and I said, ‘Only lunatics,’ and then asked for a pass to the pool.
On most visits, I’m waiting for applause, for someone to pat me on the back and tell me how impressive I am (like my dental hygienist does over my teeth). Somewhere inside of me is a little child desperate for recognition and a free lolly pop. But I suppose they save the applause and fanfare for the 6am crowd. Personally I wouldn’t know whether to clap them or help them.
But this is how so many of us live now isn’t it? Squeezing everything into already fit-to-burst days, saying, ‘I guess I could just…’ and ‘If I got up 30mins earlier I could…’ all part of a 24/7 life.
The lights are bright and the place is busy. People have been up and buzzing about for hours. Only now do I start to wake up, feeling like it’s the thing to do. I also realise the half-slumbering robot state I’m in will probably cause me to drown. Plus lane swimming here requires strategising. As I shower in front of the pool, I quickly assess the situation; 3 sections – slow, medium, fast, all have about 3 lanes (some fat, some skinny) in each, and a smattering of swimmers.
Once there are more people than lanes, you’re all supposed to politely conform to a clockwise or anti-clockwise route around the section. But oh no Chester, you don’t like to do that, do you? And, so the battle commences. And let me tell you, some mornings it’s downright vicious. The vindictive splashing! The dirty looks! The intentional head to head swimming at someone like an antagonised bull (okay, in water, but you get the point).
Mostly it’s a sedate, pretty relaxing experience, but it helps to know what you’re up against, should a situation arise. To assist you, I’ve categorised the main types of lane swimmer you’ll be up against (after a year of observing). The water is rife with sea-life:
As you might expect, fast and stealthy. You usually don’t notice them until they’re nipping at your heels or upon you, in a fierce challenge for lane space. Sharks don’t play well with others and think they deserve their own lanes, so busy periods stress them out and bring out their selfish side. Best left alone and unprovoked. Typically stay in the fast section. Usually female sharks wear swim caps, prepping themselves for intensive front crawl.
They love a good splash! And oh the range! Whales will churn up the water like no ones business. They kick, they smack, they give the pool a right ol’ seeing to and as a result, the waves spread out for miles and you get a healthy dose of chlorine to the face. My top tip is to keep your eye on whales (you’ll hear them so it’s not hard) and perfect turning your head away when they pass, or try to pick a lane as far away as possible – though I’ve seen them manage to create a great splash across three. Sadly, you can find them in any section.
Crafty little critters. They pop up and cause disruption all over the place. They mostly stick to the slow section (thankfully). Jelly Fish have strange habits, such as suddenly stopping, standing up and looking around, or cutting across lanes, or just having a little bob about in the middle of a lane. At their most stinging when you’ve all had to adopt the clockwise/anti-clockwise system and you’re constantly overtaking and avoiding.
I’m a turtle (I think). They swim at a moderate speed, usually just the one stroke (typically breaststroke), with their heads out of the water. Perfunctory swimmers, who came here to get the job done, and do not react well to stress or change. Most irritated by splashy whales, as they never intended to get their hair wet and resent having to keep tabs. Tend to stick to the medium section. Very consistent and placid if left alone. Not as fast as sharks, and lacking the erratic nature of jelly fish. But kick off at a show of poor manners.
P.S. Watch out for cross-breeds, such as Whale-sharks – goddammit they’re messy and a force to be reckoned with, and Jelly Fish Whales – they’ll catch you in an unforeseen whirlpool of water and chaos that you might not escape. Let me know if you spot a Jelly Fish Shark – I probably won’t bother going swimming on that day. To seek out your nearest pool (I know I’ve inspired you) check out Poolfinder.