One of the most unnatural things that humans can do.


When I was a kid, I was a surprisingly good swimmer. I never really did anything with it, because I lack anything resembling competitiveness in my body. Or maybe it’s because when I was doing swimming squad in primary school, the scary instructor guy spent the entire time on the side of the pool calling me Wilhelm. When I didn’t answer (because it’s not my name) he would get increasingly apoplectic. I remember at one point wondering why he ignored me, and why he hated that Wilhelm guy so much.
Then when I was in high-school, I entered the breast stroke race at the swimming carnival because I was hot, and then I won and had to go to regionals. At regionals, all these swim-mums hassled me and asked who my coach was and tried to psych me out. It worked.


Today I decided it was time to do something about my incipient heart disease and given the excessive sun that we’re dealing with (see last post) I thought swimming would be the way to go. There’s an aquatic centre around the corner of my house, so I felt like it was meant to be. Admittedly, the hangover was probably a bad idea. I didn’t realise that I would drink so much at a chess themed party on a thursday night. Obviously I haven’t been playing chess right. My second mistake was hubris. You see, I remembered my time as Wilhelm, and still had all his cocksure swimming arrogance.

What I was scared about, was the whole administrative side of things. I’m really bad in new situations, where I don’t know precisely what to do, and was worried i’d create some sort of large international scandal when I hang my backpack on a child and discover that my swim wear is now illegal. But I was so excited about getting rippling abs and a new pastime that doesn’t involve alcohol, that I pushed forward anyway.

So after finding my century-old bathing suit, I strut on down to the pool, and walk confidently up to the attractive, tanned young man at the desk, where I proudly announce ‘that I’m making my long awaited comeback to the sport of swimming’. The poor  gentleman blinks and nods slowly. I then proceed to thrust money into his hand saying “I’ll have one of your finest pools, please. I understand the general notion is I swim from one end to the other.” He nods again. I shake my head enthusiastically, quite aware of the fact that my nerves have given me a vastly psychotic demeanour. To cover the awkward silence, I mutter ‘rinse and repeat’ a few times, before confiding to him that it was all in aid of ‘my health’.
With exaggerated care he picks out the six dollars needed and sets me on my way.

Despite the ludicrous nature of my initial foray into this bold aquatic world, I’m not ready to give up, and even believe the worst to be behind me. So, padding awkwardly around the pool, I discover the sensible planning of three different lanes, from fast to medium and slow. I scoff at slow, and vaguely consider the fast lane. I did use to be Wilhelm, you know. But, considering the fact that it’s been over a decade since I last swam a lap in a pool, I decide to play it safe and start off in the medium. Maybe when I’ve hit my pace at around 30 laps, I can leap over the barrier like a Mako shark and speed out the home stretch.

I dive into the water, and start a few awkward strokes. I am secretly jubilant, as the breathing rhythm and everything just comes naturally. It’s like riding a giant wet bike. The next thing I notice is that the water is ridiculously warm. Disappointing, yes. The water is also… rather burny. Then it’s really burny. It’s a weekend at burnies. My eyes are spasming in pain, and my skin is crawling, but I’m pushing on. I do an entire lap, and things are great. I start out on the second lap, and everything feels wrong. My arms and legs are really sore, and it’s getting harder to breathe right. Maybe i’m supposed to exhale more under water, I think, doing so and choking down a big lungful. My clean, economical strokes become claws pulling desperately at the water, and my breathing, even above the roar of the water, sounds distinctly gaspish. This is all wrong. Maybe the water isn’t as buoyant as it used to be.

I’d like my abs now, please.

I clutch the wall, breathing heavily, trying vainly to rub the chlorine from my eyes. Two pregnant ladies are next to me in the slow lane, bobbing around. One is worried that she’ll be picked up by the transit officers on the train, because she hasn’t got a new concession sticker at university yet. Still clawing my eyes, I shriek at them the valuable news that last years sticker is valid until March. They are taken aback. Then one gently suggests I buy some goggles.

Can I help with any more administrative matters, ladies?

I decide to do a lap of breast stroke. If I take it ridiculously slow, I’ll be fine. But then I discover it’s hard to stay afloat without momentum. And some large walrus man has lapped me, and is bearing steadily behind me, at what I can only describe as a terrifyingly slow speed.  I barely make it to the other end. By this point, all illusions are gone. But I need to do one more. At one point, I start bodily hauling myself along with the barrier rope. People are looking at me. The lifeguard is sizing me up. I actually think I’m going to die, startled at the lack of air making it into my lungs.


But I make it, and on rubbery legs I stumble into the change rooms, to face the mirror and look into the boiled red pits that used to be my eyes. They are like two meteors jutting out of my face. It’s like somebody tried to pack my eye sockets full of weed and smoke a bong through my nostrils. Suddenly the incredible fear of the pregnant ladies makes sense.

So tired and despondent and skin irritated, I prepare to make the final humiliation and hand in my locker key to the tanned young man at the desk, about 15 minutes after receiving it from him. He stares, I stare back. Not so witty and psychotic now, I think.  Nevertheless, a rapport had been forged, not a great one, but it was there, so I dredged the depths of my exhausted mind (can I just reiterate how tired and trembly my muscles were? I’m pathetic) for something to say. I end it simply on…
‘Next time I’m using the slow lane.’

And then, because humiliation this complete needs yet another layer, as I exited the Aquatic Centre, a small girl was sitting on the stairs, playing a clarinet, and the two notes she played were

‘Bom boooooooom.’


2.5/5 stars. Cause let’s face it, most of that was my fault.


3 thoughts on “Swimming

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