Every Friday morning I go swimming at Barking Abbey Sports centre. The pool opens at half seven but I usually make it there at about eight. The water is always freezing cold, there’s bits and pieces of flotsam and debris floating on top and you can’t ever get a swim lane to yourself, but the place is only ten minutes’ walk from my house and I’m really not going to get up any earlier. So it’s pretty much an inevitable choice.
I go there today and it’s pretty typical. The place is full of old fogeys. Me and them are the only ones insane and unemployed enough to be here. I notice, as usual, that the place is pretty much taboo to women.
I finish off my fifty lengths of breast-stroke just in time to catch the swimming instructors for the primary school kids to come in at about five minutes to nine. I see them every week but they never say hello. I can hear the kids tittering distantly in the ladies changing rooms as I step out. In fact, because of the flu epidemic, there’s only fifteen out of a complete class of forty-five, I later hear one of the teachers saying.
Three out of four of the shower heads are busted. It’s been the same story for about two months. I don’t think they’re ever going to repair them. I go to my locker and pull off the armband to unlock it. A plastic clip on it has been digging into me the whole time I’ve been swimming and I’ve got a little punched hole in the place where it was going in.
I go back to the one functional locker. Someone’s using it now. I sigh. I lean against the wall and wait for the guy to finish, looking elsewhere. The kids file past me and point at me, like I’m some kind of freak. In their world, I probably am. The kids go into the swimming pool after one of their supervisors yells at them to shut up. One of them is asking someone about me, what I’m doing there. I’m waiting for the shower, kid, I think.
Another guy pops up out of nowhere. He looks at me and stares, for some reason, at my stomach (hopefully my stomach, I mean, and not my crotch). Waiting for the shower are you, he says. He’s obviously waiting for it too. Yes. There’s one across the road, too, he says. Oh, right. Does this guy want me to go ‘across the road’ – whatever that means – in the freezing cold and dripping wet (and with, I suddenly realise, a semi-transparent pair of swimming trunks). The guy in the shower finishes. I’m about to go in but then an old lady (again out of nowhere?) appears and we have to let her in first, age before beauty and all that (!)
The guy winks at me (what an inappropriate place to wink at someone). We wait for the old dear in silence. He keeps on staring at what is hopefully my stomach. I suddenly realise that I know the guy from before. Yes, he’s the one I saw chatting up the only middle aged female I’ve ever seen in the pool at this time before. He’s a burly sort of fellow, with big shoulders and a barrel chest, hair everywhere, short black hair on top and about a foot taller than me. He’s wearing black swimming trunks to my lime green ones.
The old dear finishes off and the guy pops in before me (the cheek!) He soaps himself very quickly then steps out. Like an army shower he says, winking at me again. He stands there rubbing himself. I pop in and quickly scrape away at myself with my shower gel. I stand aside to let him in. He douses himself off. I stand there rubbing myself, outside. One of the supervisors is watching our swimming pool shenanigans. The guy finishes off. He winks at me again, as I massage my calf. Like an army shower he says and laughs at his own joke. Then he disappears. It’s about a quarter past nine and there doesn’t seem to be any hot water left…