My encounter with the pool fools

I slowed down to watch the pair throwing punches and was overtaken by a woman swimmer

Hunter Davies
Sunday 02 May 1999 23:02

IT'LL HAPPEN soon. You haven't read about it yet, but you will. Once people hear about it, there will be copycat incidents everywhere. It probably does occur already, but has not been reported, because, well, it has not been reported. Once it starts, freelance journalists in big towns all over the country will say, "Heh, there's a few quid in this", and find examples on their own patch.

It might even start today. A bank holiday, with the weather getting better. Then for weeks the stories will flood in, till we all get bored and settle down - to the silly season proper.

What is it? POOL RAGE! You read the story here first. Yesterday morning, I was in Kentish Town baths. I take my custom there, and my lean, tanned body, every Sunday morning for six months of the year. Sometimes I see Alastair Campbell with his children, I won't comment on his trunks, but he was missing yesterday. Probably off somewhere, saving the Nato's spin machine.

It used to be a health hazard, swimming at Kentish Town. At one stage I got really nasty verrucas. I even saw a hand-written note in a cubicle saying "Don't leave your needles here." It's been cleaned up recently, and is much better. As in most municipal pools round the country, we now have lanes marked out with plastic ropes. Three lanes - Fast, Not So Fast, Bloody Slow.

Despite my aforementioned lean, tanned body, I favour Bloody Slow. Even in Cockermouth Baths, where I swim for the other half of the year, I stick to the slowest lane. Why show off.

The problems in Cockermouth, and in all small town, rural-type baths, are the old biddies who attempt to swim two a breast, up and down, trying to keep their hair out of the water and continue a non-stop conversation. They drive me mad. So far I haven't hit one, just cursed them under my breath.

In the average urban pool, the problems are the Flash Gits in their twenties and thirties who tear up and down, arms flaying, splashing like hell, showing off their muscles and their sheer power. And that's the women. Though the Flash Gits do come in either sex.

In London, and other big towns, the lanes tend to be narrower than in country pools. Even swimming in the Bloody Slow lane at Kentish Town, if there happens to be a Flash Git in the next lane, it's like being hit by a tidal wave.

Anyway, yesterday morning I witnessed what I've been expecting for months - two blokes crashed into each other. They were in the next lane, swimming away like mad things, heads down, both with goggles on. I do have goggles, bought purely for the image, of course, hoping to be mistaken for a Flash Git, but I couldn't see a thing and gave them up.

These two started throwing punches, really nasty, blaming each other. I slowed down to watch them and was overtaken by a woman driver, sorry woman swimmer. She gave me a V-sign as she passed, for dawdling. So rude, young women these days. She then went straight into another woman coming the other way. They immediately started shouting at each other. I got out at the end of my length, in case any, or all of them, turned on me.

Afterwards, I asked an attendant if this sort of thing was becoming more commonplace. All the time, she replied. The other day she'd had to warn two men, one absolutely huge, whom she feared might take his anger out on her, but they both calmed down.

It is the age in which we live, friends. People just can't wait, give way, take care, be courteous, certainly not in the inner cities. You see it on the roads, in the streets, in bars, in supermarkets. People flare up, lash out, ever eager to take their frustrations out on someone else. And in cities, women are just as quick to give a mouthful as men.

My younger daughter Flora, who uses Swiss Cottage pool, says she has seen arguments continue in the women's changing room. She had a verbal herself only the other day, with someone who cut her up badly, allegedly.

The introduction of lanes has made life for us swimmers much worse. Lane discipline is not understood. There is no highway code for the pool. Often people don't quite understand the system, swimming left when they should be on the right, or finding themselves in the fast lane when they can only do doggy paddle. Then they get screamed at, carved up or, in extreme cases, kicked and pushed.

It now means that when you go for a quiet, relaxing healthy swim in your local pool - you can find its a battle zone out there.

I haven't see blood in the pool, not yet. Or a black eye. It will come. And the first one will make a great picture...

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