The Weasel : In a bid to ward off this summer's unexpected warmth, the Weasel has taken to the water. Swimming, however, is not what it was

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Once again, the British nation stands accused of slobbery. Obesity has doubled in ten years, not because we are eating more, but because we are doing less. Few Britons ever walk anywhere, it seems, and none plays sport, probably because they are all couch potatoes: average time in front of the box is now 26 hours a week. Not only that, the near universality of central heating means we don't even have to move around, or shiver, to keep warm.

In a bid to avoid succumbing to this creeping lethargy, and to ward off this summer's unexpected warmth, the Weasel has taken to the water. Swimming, however, is not what it was.

In my youth, a swimming pool was a tiled rectangle of chilly chlorine- scented water, patrolled by a crew-cutted ex-policeman with a whistle and a baggy tracksuit. The only thing in the water, other than bodies, was the odd sodden corn-plaster. And on all the walls were posters listing various crimes for which the penalty was immediate expulsion.

These days, the lifeguards are all bored youths admiring one another's swimwear. The water is full of floating objects: balls, floats, rubber rings and armbands. And all those forbidden activities ("Bombing", "Petting", "Shouting", "Running" "Throwing objects") have become compulsory.

Recently, the Weasel family attended our local "leisure pool". While Mrs Weasel wasn't complaining of being deafened by a series of rave culture favourites played over a sound system on loan from the Grateful Dead, or showered by water spouts or pounded by artificial waves, the weaslets were being terrorised by beach balls thrown by teenagers, apparently convinced by the ambience that they were on the beach at Torremolinos.

Of course, for those who want to swim, facilities are provided - across the other side of the borough. There's a traditional rectangular pool with roped-off lanes, where masochists grind joylessly away for hours on end, scowling at any paddlers and plodders foolish enough to drift into their path.

The idea that you might somehow combine the two, splashing around for a bit with the family, then trying a couple of lengths, then splashing around some more, has gone for good. Indeed, for those who see swimming as an essentially peaceful activity, worse news is on hand.

A Yorkshire firm has developed what it calls the "interactive swimming pool", which brings technology to bear on the whole experience in a way that will make purists shudder. The pool will be rigged with all manner of air and light switches to turn water fountains on and off, make music play (although presumably not make it stop), launch floods of bubbles and produce clouds of rock-concert smoke. Projectors and mirror balls will bathe the pool area with light. One can almost imagine Freddie Mercury and Queen in a display of synchronised swimming.

The makers promise, however, that the equipment can be adapted to different audiences: old people may not get the smoke machines, but they can enjoy soft lighting and piped Mantovani.

According to Bruce Todhunter, a director of SpaceKraft of Shipley, these techniques were invented to help children with special needs overcome their reluctance to get in the water. But now the firm is bringing them into the general leisure market to general enthusiasm. "The response has been incredible," he says, ominously.

Mr Todhunter tells me he can supply a spotlight that travels up and down the pool at the same speed as an Olympic swimmer: keep up with it and you're a record breaker. The fitness freaks will have a field day.

The Millennium is rapidly turning into a classic British farce. The latest disaster to fall into Mrs Bottomley's lap is the refusal of a great swathe of experienced exhibition operators to run the show that is supposed mark the event. Even Disney, having had a near-disaster in Paris, has decided to give this one a miss. As observers have pointed out, the exhibition is supposed to open in the year 2000, but so far it has neither a site, let alone anything resembling an idea, though there is a very nice redundant gasworks near Greenwich if they're desperate.

Given our national propensity for starting slowly and finishing late - think of the Channel Tunnel - there are those who would have found this outcome entirely predictable.

Oddly, however, the lack of an acceptable celebratory event is not among the predictions featured in Millennium Prophecies, an admirable guide to forthcoming attractions which has mysteriously materialised on my desk. Instead of animatronics and millennial roller-coaster rides, we'll have to make do with, in no particular order, a large part of Japan falling into the sea; land appearing off the east coast of America; Confucius being reincarnated; new scientific theories which will allow motion to result from the power of the human eye; individual selfishness being superseded by group selfishness; and some parts of the British Isles subsiding, leaving London as a coastal town.

Clearly we are in for an exciting time. Let us hope this makes up for the disappointment of missing out on celebrating the Millennium as a guest of Mickey Mouse.

I suppose no one should be surprised at what tourists will take an interest in, but I had to raise an eyebrow at English Heritage's new display at Dover Castle, where they have reconstructed an underground hospital built during the War.

As a nation, we are increasingly concerned with gory medical matters, at least if the television schedules are any evidence, but do we, I wonder, really want to go and ogle a collection of bedpans, dressings and Forties' hospital food?

Indeed we do. The exhibition, proudly opened by Jocelyn Stevens, chairman of English Heritage, includes a recreation of the hospital's kitchen, casualty area and operating theatre. Original equipment has been put back in position. Lighting and sound simulate the wartime experience of being operated upon while bombs fall on the ground above. Best of all, English Heritage's experts have striven to simulate the authentic hospital smell. It's enough to make you ill.

The mysteries of sexual attraction have long been a special interest of mine, but I confess that my explorations have all been on the informal, instinctual level. Now, however, scientists have got to grip with the issue. According to one Donald Symons, writing in a new book called Sexual Nature/Sexual Culture, sexual attraction is a way by which humans establish "mate value" when they are unable to determine direct data on reproductive fitness. And what men, in particular, are seeking, is "health and design quality".

These, it seems, coincide with "low waist-to-hip ratio" and skin condition. Amazingly, the male of the species is attracted by female skin "that is free of lesions, eruptions, warts, moles, cysts, tumours, acne and hirsutism". Breast symmetry is another important factor, although "absolute size is probably of secondary importance," says Symons. "I predict that the most important determinants of breast sexual attractiveness are (a) presence rather than absence (indicating a pubescent or post-pubescent female); (b) firm rather than pendulous (indicating a young nullipara [whatever that might be]); and (c) low fluctuating asymmetry in size and shape (indicating health and design quality)."

And they say that romance is dead