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Negative: Overheard: ‘It’s vay dirty, considering how much you pay for membership’.
Warning: quite a lot of preamble.
When one’s children are small, one does things that one might not otherwise chose to do: to pass the time, knacker them out, attempt to maintain adult relationships, to bitterly cling on to what one deemed a life, as if the life one had before children suddenly on their birth became so retrospectively brilliant its passing must be mourned. In that joyful spirit of acceptance, I used to meet my old friend Robert, whose son was about the same age as mine, in the playground of Highbury Fields, on the understanding that they would play while we chatted, laughed, heads back ha ha ha, discussed creative ideas. Our understanding, note, not theirs. Actually our whole time was spent trying to maintain peace, rubbing elbows and knees saying ‘oh, that didn’t hurt just a little scratch’, yelling NO DON’T HIT STOP GET DOWN, sighing tiredly and doling out bits of organic dried mango where they craved beef jerky. Once, it was too wet for the playground so we took them swimming to Highbury Pools, narrowing our chances of conversation even further, even though my lovely successful Alpha-in-every-other-way Male friend hated swimming, couldn’t, actually, but that didn’t matter as we didn’t get much chance to have both legs off the bottom of the pool anyway.
I’m saying, I came here years ago, and now am here again, full of love for an old bit of town, an old friendship, an old time I look back on almost fondly. In a good mood, I smile patronising at two teens on the bench outside the pool, discussing getting high on catnip. The automatic door opened towards me, such a silly design flaw it’s a bit annoying. To get to the changing rooms you have to go poolside, defying the common sense most pools have to keep outdoor muddy shoes well away from the swimming area. I walk in through a cloud of newly-sprayed Impulse which catches the back of my throat and makes me choke like a cat trying to raise a fur ball. Less good moody now. The changing rooms are huge, and a tad dirty, bits of paper on the floor under a notice that basically says ‘don’t put bits of paper on the floor’. Hair clumps in that forensic dead way around drain holes on the floor. The benches are made of three narrow oval planks, where a flat surface would be much more efficient – more design failure. Down to the pool past huge blow-up photos, the standard council-prescribed mix of age and ethnicity, of People Enjoying Water; one photo is of three older women in coloured swim hats clutching noodles, and I’m convinced the woman on the left is Joan Bakewell.
The pool area is like a vast municipal barn with a learners pool which must have been where Robert and I mooched with our sons in the past, and a normal 25m one, under one huge, corrugated metal inverted-V roof. There are insufficient windows, their corresponding corrugated wiggle tells me they’re plastic, as does their dull glaze; they only reach half-way up the main pool so the deep end is dark; even on a bright day the football stadium size lights are on, but still don’t penetrate enough to make it feel pleasant. The colour scheme is odd, for a pool. Stripes: beige beige yellow yellow green green. That’s not right, is it? It’s not watery. There’s three lanes, slow, medium and ‘casual swimming’ – what the heck is that? Is that casual like racism? Or casual like smart casual? I don’t dare ask but hop into ‘medium’ instead, all by myself, up and down the middle of the pool. Into the dark, back into the light, like losing Jesus then finding Jesus every 50 bleedin metres.
After an uninspiring warm plod up and down this underlit hangar, I head for a pee-stinky shower, which is where I hear a mum making the observation recorded above: ‘It’s vay dirty, considering how much you pay for membership’. (I have no idea how much membership is, I just paid to swim.) I help her open her locker as she has a baby under one arm and a toddler clutching her knees; she is in no way grateful for the assistance, but I recognise the frown. As I get dressed, I put my feet on the silly not-flat bench to dry them and notice that I’ve left muddy footmarks. I could have told you that would happen.
I leave, and of course this time the automatic door opens the right way. It’s years later, no one drowned, Robert can swim, our sons are massive boymen and one realises– I realised a while back - that ‘life’ wasn’t the thing everyone else was enjoying while you were stuck at home making pesto pasta, life was there all along, in the cuts and yelling and ungracious slapping of wet penne on to a plastic plate.