SOMETIMES, when the world is too
much with me, when getting and spending I lay waste my powers, I go off at
the deep end, and, at the bottom of my favourite municipal swimming baths,
I sit for a few minutes in the pose of Rodin’s statue, The Thinker, where,
I believe, deep thoughts, perhaps about the government’s public sector
borrowing requirement, the riddle of the universe, the authorship of the
Epistle to the Hebrews and the place of the Scotch egg in Victorian
Britain, rise in frothy swirls to the surface and pop in wet futility.
that watery world, bodies move, sometimes with the sleek grace of dolphins
or the frantic and chaotic flurries of inexpert swimmers in their agony.
Children jump in like miniature depth-charges and in the quivering
distance, huge, white shapes, like Moby Dick before the harpoon, glide in
feminine majesty, uttering weird cries of delight or distress.
In coming up
for air, one has to be circumspect, like a U-boat commander surfacing
beside a destroyer-escorted convoy. Even at periscope depths, the deep
thinker can sometimes miss seeing an oncoming swimmer, moving like a
torpedo, the resultant collision perhaps replacing the thinker’s musings
on the Platonic tripartite division of the soul with pragmatic ones about
the preservation of the body’s flotation against crass jockeyings by other
Swimming pools can be social microcosms. There are
conformists who stick to the set lanes and swim, generally in disciplined
lengths, like trained tadpoles. There are others, like myself, who prefer
the erratic, wandering ways, sometimes seen in low dives, now swimming
lengthways, anon from side to side or congregating with schools of
cerebral swimmers at the deep end, where floating voters might discuss the
tax-raising depths to which the government might plunge to soak the public
or the liquidity of some sinking commercial giant. Here can be found dry
wits bobbing with moderate, side-strokers, known derisively as "the wets".
generally goes swimmingly in our pond life but placidity can be shattered
at a stroke by certain pool users who drop politeness down the plughole.
Chief of these is the backstroke swimmer - the killer whale of the
chlorinated waters - who ploughs unheedingly across the pool, often
leaving a wake like a Mississippi paddle-steamer, scattering the minnows
of other swimmers and risking skull-cracking collisions with other
An in-depth study of the possible injuries caused by
such allegedly inconsiderate swimmers has resulted in Blackburn and Darwen
council banning the stroke at busy times at Blackburn’s Daisyfield pool, a
move that pool-users describe as nanny state shallow-thinking and making a
splash over nothing.
I am not so sure. I have performed the backbreast-trudgeon-crawl,
an action that has been likened to an upturned crab trying to right
itself, and I once collided with an elderly female floater who went down
like so much pig-iron before surfacing in a waterspout of imprecations and
giving me a sinker of a look.
But there are other
hazard-creating pool users, and those who think that swimming can relieve
stress, might find their beliefs becoming waterlogged.
offenders is the swimmer who traverses the pool like Tarzan pursued by a
clashing-jawed crocodile. Heavily-goggled, as if for Channel swimming, he
is a mobile centre of self-created turbulence, sweeping lesser swimmers
aside in his purposeful bow wave.
Then there are women who favour
a spasmodic breast stroke with agonised facial expressions indicating fear
of getting their hairdos ruined, three or four females, swimming
alongside, discussing the week’s gossip, and boisterous, young men whose
vigorous passage, nearly drowning others within five metres, would only be
acceptable in a pool the size of Loch Lomond. Most pool-users, however,
are well-behaved and seldom create a ripple of lane rage.
is, I believe, proficient in the Bush crawl and, I suspect, is an
accomplished backstroker, heading who knows where and with who knows whom
and getting out of his international statesmanship depths. Nevertheless,
he is still in the swim and creating significant global waves.
want to plunge into the deep end; I feel a lot safer there.