Am I the only woman to be deterred from all the benefits conferred by swimming by the sheer horrors awaiting me in the changing rooms?
When my six year old daughter managed to dry and dress herself more quickly than I did, I realised I was a slow-starter in certain organisational skills. And she even managed to dry between her toes! I’ve never found the time to do that. More than twenty years later -and she’s still watching me with a pitying eye as I struggle to get myself in a state fit to be seen in public after a visit to our local pool.
The problems begin even before the swim. I’ve now got the hang of my new swimming costume after two false starts when I first managed to put it on back to front, and then sideways. (I still don’t quite know how I managed that, but it was certainly an interesting look and worth consideration for next year’s London Fashion Week) So, there I am, costume on, towel tossed over shoulder, hat, goggles and earplugs clutched in one hand, leaving the other to carry everything else to the locker. Coat, scarf, boots, socks, jeans ….well, you can work out the rest, plus a large bag for carrying my swimming kit, and my handbag with money, keys, etc are all to be carried in one hand and fitted into this small space at ground level. Taking tiny steps on the slippery tiled floor, I progress at a snail’s pace but sadly without the snail’s self-contained house, leaving a trail of garments on the floor and watched with bemusement by a couple of sylphlike teenagers.
At last at the lockers, I try to think it all through logically. I open the door, stand sideways on so as to prop it open with my leg, but then realise I can’t bend in that position in order to put things into the locker as I’m facing in the wrong direction. By this stage most of what I’m still carrying is falling from my grasp, so I twist round and with a great heave hurl the rest into the locker, remembering too late that my glasses are among them. Now to retrieve the items I’ve dropped – but I daren’t leave my handbag behind while I do that, and my handbag is underneath all the stuff I’ve just crammed into the locker. I bend down to fish it out, and discover that the twisting and hurling has set off my back problem. Clutching my bag, I retrace my steps even more slowly now that my back is hurting, collect my belongings, return to the locker and stow everything away more neatly, slamming the door closed before everything falls out. Then I remember that I need a pound coin to lock the door, and the pound is in my handbag and my handbag has just been packed away at the bottom of the locker. Starting now to feel just a bit impatient, I tear everything out onto the floor, and extract the pound coin before piling everything back in, noting as I do so that most of my clothes are now wet due to the puddles of water on the floor which unfortunately I hadn’t noticed before.
Locker locked, all I now have to do is put on my swimming hat and that’s when I realise that I’ve thrown my hat and goggles into the locker along with everything else. Gritting my teeth I open the locker, yank out the missing items, and shut it again, before pausing for a moment to fasten onto my wrist the plastic wrist-strap holding the locker key. I say “for a moment” when what I actually mean is “for at least five minutes” as these things were never intended to be fastened with just one hand as they’re entirely rigid and therefore can’t be wrapped closely around the wrist without some pressure being applied. I brace my wrist against my knee, against the wall, and finally against the slatted seats – which involves kneeling sideways on the floor beside them, watched this time with concern by several small children.
My actual swim takes about ten minutes, since by now I am feeling exhausted. Sure that I’m being observed with scorn by all the regulars as they speed up and down the lanes, I creep away from the water and head for the showers. I hang my towel on the hook helpfully positioned on the back of the door, turn on the water and discover that I’ve brought with me the tube of body lotion rather than the matching shower gel. Never mind, I can at least rinse off the chlorine with plentiful hot water, which is fine until I realise that the hook can’t have been intended for towels as mine is now thoroughly soaked. Avoiding pitying glances as I shuffle back to my locker wrapped in a dripping towel, I open the door but am not quick enough to prevent the contents hurling themselves onto the floor again. Bit by bit I pick them up and clutch them to my soaking bosom before beginning the return journey to the cubicle.
Here, in a space which seems somehow to have shrunk in the past fifteen minutes, I fumble among my possessions for the body lotion and talc as there’s no point in trying to dry myself with a wet towel. Retrieving the lotion with triumph, I start to apply it to my limbs before stopping to puzzle over the apparent bubbles forming. Then I remember that this must be the shower gel that I’m carefully spreading over myself. I have a go with the towel to get rid of it, then shake on some talc in an attempt to soak up the water. Big mistake as now I have a sort of thick paste on my legs. At this point I might perhaps be moaning a little as I retrieve my pants and struggle to get them over my encrusted thighs. Worse is to come with jeans, a close fit at the best of times.
Eventually the horror comes to an end, and I sidle through the changing rooms to the exit. On all sides are women wrapped in clean dry towels, their hair swaddled in yet more clean towels, or fully dressed in dry clothes, carefully renewing their makeup and blow-drying their hair at the mirrors. I catch sight of myself as I scuttle past, hair wet and plastered to my skull, skin red and blotchy from the chlorine, eyes even redder as I never did find my goggles again, clothes looking as if they’d just been dragged from the dirty washing basket before being left out in a storm.
How does everyone else do it all so easily? And why can’t I?
Contributing author: Janet Hamer