There are three main sorts of annoying swimmer to be encountered in the council pool that I’ve been using for the past 10 or more years. There are maybe a couple of others as well, but these are really sub-sets of these wider and deeper irritations. Come to think of it, there’s probably several more FFS (for fuck’s sake) categories out there, but less obviously so in the bit of the pool I use. During public swimming hours, the big pool is sectioned off into faster lanes in the middle bit, a free-for-all recreation area over on the far side, and a triple width strip where I swim, on the near side as you enter the main hall. Here, in my bit, you’re supposed to circulate in a clockwise direction, with a maximum allowed of two tracks of swimmers striking out side by side on each leg of the circuit (as indicated by pairs of directional arrows in a rectangle on a display board); an essential discipline which loads of people ignore, of course and which is a recurring theme in this rant. So the three main classes of annoyance I want to talk about initially are composed of talkers, walkers and stalkers.
Talkers, as the name implies, are the ones who, well, talk as they swim. The talking and swimming dyad – always and only ever in pairs - appears to require a sort of drifting motion rather than any actual swimming, and at a speed fractionally slower than anything that the slowest solo swimmer is managing at the time. This means that everyone else in that bit of the pool, including swimmers like me, is forced to catch up with and then try to pass the talkers every few laps. But because the talkers are so engaged in their endless chatter and haven’t noticed anyone else, you will most likely bump into them bobbing about right in the middle of your section, taking up far more than their fair share of water, and forcing you either to tread water or turn around early, or to try and overtake in the lanes that are supposed to be for people heading back in the opposite direction. All this talk sends people into a sightless reverie, oblivious to the needs, frustrations and stage whispered outbursts of their fellow swimmers (well me, mainly). The other thing is the noise they make. I don’t mean the volume of their wetly spoken words so much as their sheer fluid quantity. It has to be said, there are a couple of talkers down that pool who could drone on for England. The constant stream of utterances, differing in intrusiveness only by degrees of distance from the source, can rarely be separated out into distinguishable words. They merge into one continuous oral assault, quite often from just one of the pair, leaving their hapless other half pinned to the water next to them in a rictus grip of boredom.
Walkers are often paired up with talkers, and are sometimes the main droners, it has to be said. They need to feel their feet on the bottom at the shallow end for as long as possible as they head back up the pool. This slows them down quite a lot as they prepare for lift-off, which, once achieved, rarely speeds (or shuts) them up. If anything, the walking talking launchers are the most annoying kind. Added to their shallow end dallying, there’s a high probability that, if you’re caught behind them, they’ll also drift across your path at the other end as they prepare for the return leg of their routine talkathon.
Stalkers are actually very rare (and to be honest I’ve only included people in this group because they rhyme with the other main categories of irritant). Nevertheless, stalkers do exist and have occasionally been the subject of talk in the steam room. The stalkers are usually (well, always) men with goggles who swim at a regulated pace and distance behind other (usually female) swimmers. Quite what their interest is can’t be determined for certain, but poolside speculation has it that they’re ogling women’s bottoms under water; goggles being an essential bit of kit. One older chap who was suspected of submarine stalking of this kind was eventually barred, but only after a few weeks of mounting discomfort. People who thought maybe this was what was going on had been stiffly British and upper-lipped about it, but had at last begun to mention their concerns indelicately to each other in the steam room and, eventually, to pool staff. Less worrying forms of this class of floating folly include people who simply follow you up and down the pool, invisibly drawn along as if by some kind of gravity. I wonder if phases of the moon have anything to do with this?
I’ve said there are other types of swimmers to be avoided or at least warned about. They frequently appear as adjuncts to the main groups outlined earlier, but are worth a mention here nonetheless. They include drifters and strays – the people who simply don’t get the discipline required in open water, drifting across your path just ahead of you as you approach the end of the pool, obviously attempting to cut the corner, or weaving in and out of the nice straight lines we proper swimmers have in our heads and stick to assiduously. There are also lane raiders, especially an issue in the free-for-all recreation section of the pool, who deliberately (it seems to me) enter your lane and try to take it over well after you’ve established your right of way. The only way to deal with these interlopers is to stick to your guns and brush into them ‘accidentally’ as they approach you in your lane on their return leg. And what can I say about the Olympians and show-offs? Self-evidently, these are all really fast, slick and stylish athletes, doubtless club schooled, with big shoulders and no tummy; people who have yet to understand that showing off is only permitted in the fast lanes, not in our bit. So eff off back to your showcase galas matey.
I will conclude these observations with a brief mention of swimming styles that can delight the onlooker. Apart from secretly admiring the strength and elegance of the few really good, obviously trained swimmers we see before 9.00 o’clock on a weekday morning, the demographic I speak off at this time of day offers some wonderful slippery sights. Most notable, for me, is the seahorse swimmer – poised at 45 degrees, floating on a non-existent tide, wafted by imperceptible movements of shaky old limbs along the length of the pool. These are people with time on their hands, enough at least for them to take a very long time to get to the other end. God bless their perseverance and patience. I wish I had half as much.