Monday, November 25, 2019

Lane swimming

At the pool today they are playing pop music as I swim my lengths. As the recognition of each song’s opening chords dawn on me — I’m Still Standing? No, Maneater by Hall & Oates — I feel stupidly happy. A small, sweet deviation from what I’d expected. Like a snow day, or how being picked up from after-school club by my mum instead of granny used to feel. My £2.65 entrance fee has immediately earned its value.

This is my first time at the pool for two weeks and I can feel it. The water is gently pushing back, my tally rising slowly. I push on, promising to get to 10 laps, and after that maybe more, in the same way that I might avoid looking too far ahead when cycling up a hill. But when the music starts, the resistance slips away with the rhythm. My funny breaststroke moves to the beat, and I wonder how my movement looks to the passive lifeguard sitting above me on his ladder chair. Maybe he’s thinking, Wow, look at her fast yet graceful breaststroke, and will approach me afterwards to invite me to a swimming club that has been short of a skilled breaststroker. It is the only stroke I can do.

It’s not clear why the music is playing — everybody around me is swimming quite seriously, the woman in the next lane doing elegant upside-down rolly-pollies at the turn of each lap. I watch her deft work as she takes off again, and with the music it feels like performance. Over the walkway dividing the deep and shallow pools, the swimming appears more casual, but I see no signs of dancing, no organised clusters of older people or schoolchildren.

I must have come at the same time on a previous Monday, because again, my time in the water was elevated by a soundtrack of Bananarama and Duran Duran. You should try swimming to Girls on Film some time. Maybe it’s something for people with dementia? Playing familiar music to prompt deep contentment. But the playlist feels too contemporary for that. Old people like Vera Lynn, but wouldn’t swimming to Vera Lynn bring everybody to tears? Nobody likes to cry in a swimming pool.

The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited plays and I want to shake my head in time and yet I notice that I am restraining myself from any visible displays of recognition, channelled the pleasure into my lengths instead. Maybe I should go to one of those aqua aerobics classes. Do they actually dance, or is it just stretching? I imagine dozens of feet and bums underwater, stepping and shaking in time. I would probably be the youngest by 40 years, like that intensive Italian course I once took, where everybody was retired and had beautiful rolling ‘R’s after decades of holidaying in Tuscany. But dancing in a swimming pool I imagine I could learn something about doing what you like, without worrying how you look.

I drop the thought soon after, relieved by the knowledge that I will not fool myself during an aqua aerobic hamstring exercise by saying, I thought there would be more Duran Duran?

As I rest and stretch at the side, two people, acquaintances, are chatting across the floating red lane dividers. She has swimmer's shoulders, google marks across her nose, a broad smile. He is pale with the short beard and brown hair that all white 34-year old men have, and I suppose look better for. I think he owns a lot of striped long-sleeve tops. She had already updated him on a malady she’d recently suffered, I’d noticed that when she listed all the medicines she’d had to take, it was pleasingly in harmony with the The Pointer Sisters’ staccato bridge. He listened attentively, even though a contained body of water seems like the impolite place to catalogue your recent illness. Now she was telling him about her new cat. It had been found wandering around the building she lives in, and unclaimed, her letting agent had tried, but failed, to rehome it, before letting her take it instead. They said I couldn’t have pets, she marvelled, And hello, now I have a cat! She described it’s long fur, it’s green eyes. It was somewhere between 6 months and a year old. That’s not a cat, I thought, that’s a kitten! A sweet, naughty kitten! She seemed delighted by this development, and surprised by how easily, as a tenant used to living with impenetrable conditions, it had come about.

Walking towards home through the park, I pass a border terrier, the weight of it’s old-looking body leaning into its owner’s legs as it gets a comprehensive rub down. Under the ears, a swift removal of sleep from the eyes, around the nose and down to the flank. Dog and owner are offering themselves to the other, and receiving the same amount of gratification in this exchange, here on the path under the orange leafed trees. That daily walk every dog and owner always seems so romantic. The silence and routineness of it, each engaged in their own thoughts, payday, dinner; stick, lamppost, they look like an old couple taking a turn before dinner.