Thoughts from the bottom of the pool

Contemplation of life and death, set in a small health and fitness club

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Walrus and The Otter



The blue water beckons. Usually a solitary activity, in the sense that I leave the house and my normal life behind, today is different. Today I have taken my son with me.

He has the casual elegance that teenagers do not know they possess, a beauty and health that is simply there, without the least bit of effort.

He flops into the pool and takes up his strange, slightly jerky breast stroke. I get in after him and take up my habitual and repetitive crawl. Occasionally he does a length underwater, gliding through the water with his hair flowing out behind him. On length 16 he gets out and heads for the Jacuzzi.

On length 21 I spot a large plaster lurking on the bottom of the pool. It makes me purse my lips underwater as I swim. I don’t want any of those molecules in my system. On the next length I see it again. Maybe I should remove it, but looking more closely I can see that the thing has a bloody residue on the central gauze patch, This means that the molecules from this person have been dispersed throughout the pool. I am swimming in blood! I understand the extreme dilution and the action of the chlorine, but. . . My God! This another’s body I am slowly imbibing. Should I recognise this as some kind of communion with the humanity around me? I splutter to the surface, take my goggles off, and take a break.

On length 27 I nod at The Walrus who has started his own habitual crawl up and down the pool. A rotund man in his late sixties with hair that covers his back; black and thick against the grey flesh, and the strangest thing – and I swear this is true, is his slightly webbed toes. His eyebrows jut out over the top of his goggles, and his sparsely streaked cranium ploughs at considerable speed through the water. For a man of his age he swims really quite fast, and completes lots of lengths. On land he is less graceful, and walks in a stiff way that may hint at the rebellion of a joint or joints, but in the water he moves quite well.

Length 82; and we are joined in the pool Jack Snow. Jack has pale grey skin and white hair, and sports the scars of triple by-pass surgery. Despite the fact that he should clearly be dead, he is not. He is very alive and very determined. He swims a slow but steady breast stroke, and completes a good forty or so lengths. His jaw set, his brow wrinkled.

The pool is a place where the stress of the day can be worked out, it can cleanse your mind, and calm you. The next day I arrive at the poolside carrying with me an anger and stress from the world of work. There is a woman I have never seen before slicing through the water with great elegance and speed. Her darkened goggles give her a slightly alien appearance. I get into the water, she is turning at the other end of the pool, and streaks back in a very athletic and powerful crawl.

God! She’s fast. I get my own goggles in place and I push off. Ahead of me the water is thrashed and churned as she powers on. I can hardly keep up with her. She gets to the end ahead of me and turns. Shooting off towards me again with a powerful kick, arms outstretched bubbles streaming from her like an underwater jet trail. I am cannot resist the chase or the race – whichever it is. I am after her, in a relentless but unacknowledged struggle. Over the course of the next 10 lengths I manage to draw along side her, and then edge ahead. At each turn I am gasping for breath as I plunge back into the pool.

No such inelegance for the – what shall I call her - “The Otter”. . .

No such inelegance for The Otter she turns with controlled elegance each time. It’s the fastest 130 I have ever done. When I get there, despite having overtaken her a couple of times I am exhausted, I get out of the pool and head for the sauna, behind me she still boils the water behind her; and she was already swimming when I got in. I still have a long way to go, in technique and stamina to get to that standard. I am very impressed.


I sit in the sauna and drip. This human-soup that I swim in; this wet and steamy world teems with amazing creatures.

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