In my heart I’ve always loved swimming, but in public I’ve shied away from it. Extreme shortsightedness—and I do get discounts on my prescriptions—is a barrier in ways that I think most people don’t really think about: which end is the deep end? which way was the right changing-room? how do I find the people I came with, without staring at strangers in states of undress? Add to that a terrible body image and you can see why, in adulthood, I’ve usually avoided swimming pools.
Recently, though, K. convinced me to at least try the local municipal pool. It took some doing, but I can’t really remember in the end what her killer argument was. And like most Tory municipal things, it’s effectively privatized, of course, but I still had the worry that they’ll combine the extortion of the private sector with the dismalness of 1980s public-sector infrastructure (we are after all still using Victorian sewerage.)
It turns out—and this seemed to be the only way I could learn it—that one of the benefits of age is that your own body image simply becomes less of a concern, or that you become more aware of the irrelevance of strangers’ opinions at least. I’m not as thin as I was when I was 20 (although still slimmer than when I was 18) but somehow I’ve ceased to care either way; I’m also not as bothered about undressing in front of strangers, again maybe because I don’t care what they think.
In addition, experience has at least brought with it the mental wherewithal to come up with coping strategies for my disability, in advance. First I went into the pool room (if not the water) with my glasses on, and had a good look round, checking out signage and furniture; then I returned my glasses to my locker and blinked my way owlishly down the ladder and in I went.
Thirty-four lengths later, I had to concede I was probably back in love with swimming.
This week I was back again with K, for an early-morning swim. It turns out that, much as I’m slower at jogging at that time of day, I’m also slower at swimming. But I still thrilled to the feeling of moving through the water, and there was the added bonus of it being an adult swim, with no yabber of children and everyone reasonably focussed (or as focussed as my eyes would let me be) on actually swimming.
So I think I’ve found a new hobby, although it’s early days yet. The local pool is actually quite airy and clean, and chlorination has changed since I was younger; but let’s see how I feel about getting in the water when our local services no longer cater for the nesh and the southern.