Jonathan Dodd‘s latest column. Guest opinion articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the publication. Ed
I’ve taken to a bit of swimming at a recently-refurbished pool on the Island. I go on a Thursday evening when there’s lane swimming, and it’s good for me.
I grew up by the sea, and learned to swim in a sea-water pool (see previous blog), so swimming is something I like to do regularly. It was the only sport I was any good at in school. When I reached my mid-forties and had that Shawshank moment – “The way I figure it, you get busy living, or you get busy dying” – I realised that I needed to stop smoking and start swimming again.
A young eel, lithe and indefatigable
I went to the local swimming pool with my head filled with memories of me swimming like a young eel, lithe and indefatigable. After two lengths I had to stop, red-faced and panting. I managed ten lengths in an hour. It was the best sort of wake-up call.
Nowadays I do 64 lengths of a 25-metre pool, which translates to a mile, or just over a kilometre and a half. I accomplish this weekly miracle in around 40 minutes, which would have been peanuts to my fifteen-year-old self but feels pretty good to me as I am now. And I wear Speedos.
Looking suspiciously like shorts
There are people out there who get all scoffy when they think about swimmers wearing Speedos, unless it’s during the Olympics. Most of the men I see swimming adopt baggy shorts that stick to them and droop. These garments are covered in pockets and zips and look suspiciously like shorts, something to be worn outside in hot weather, and not at all suitable for swimming.
You wouldn’t run 100 metres in baggy shorts, or pole-vault, They’d look pretty stupid, in the same way that Speedos would look somewhat out of place in an office.
People not swimming are just tourists
I suppose my view of swimwear is coloured by three factors. For me, a swimming pool is firstly a place to swim. People not swimming are just tourists. Secondly, in order to swim I need to take my glasses off, so unless you were standing right in front of me you could be wearing galoshes and a raincoat for all I knew. Thirdly, when you watch someone swimming, you’re thinking speed and grace and technique, not fashion.
I remember Tom Hanks having to swim in a pool for one of his films, and the interviewer spending the whole time talking about how he looked in Speedos. He graciously spoke about American males going swimming in voluminous shorts that covered them from ankle to armpit and flapped like sails, while talking about having to learn to swim properly for the scene and being told by his trainer that Speedos were not optional if you’re going to act like a real swimmer.
Come to think of it, I wonder when the usual ‘Swimming trunks’ or ‘Swimming costume’ or ‘Swimmers’ were replaced by ‘Speedos’. Somehow this manufacturer has managed to make their name synonymous with the item of apparel. That was a clever move. I’m struggling a bit now I think of it to explain why they were called ‘swimming trunks’.
I love the inherent politeness and consideration that’s universally accepted when you’re lane swimming. Everyone swims clockwise or anti-clockwise, gives way when a faster swimmer comes up behind, and there are lanes for slow, medium and fast swimmers. There are hardly any occasions when someone misbehaves, and that’s usually through unawareness rather than malice.
The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Swimmer
I have yet to find a vandal who wanted to pay money and make an athletic effort, just to make trouble.
I hope I haven’t inspired anyone to take up swimming, because my perfect swim involves nobody else turning up so I have a whole lane all to myself. That’s my definition of bliss.
On the other hand, if all the pools were crowded all the time, they might have to build lots of new pools. How terrible would that be?
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