Where the wankers are.

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It has been 3 weeks, 1 week I was ill, the next busy and the last lazy. The bag hasn’t been touched for 3 weeks. I know it contains everything that is needed, towel, shorts, hat, goggles and a special surprise. Pre-swim breakfast typically consists of a banana purchased from the fruit shop. The  domain of the scowling mean-spirited woman who appears to share a nervous system with the brilliant yellow bunches of bananas, wincing and shooting me guilt encrusted barbs as I break apart a rather succulent looking bunch of seven into a two and a five. I used to take only one because I only ever eat one, but I noticed a perceptible softening of the aforementioned eye-ninjastars the more I took, so now, to placate the icy fruit duchess I take two yet only eat one.

I enter the gym heading straight for the men’s changing room, eyes down, locker selection is an art-form I haven’t yet perfected. Two things must be taken into consideration, 1- number of naked cocks in the immediate radius, try and keep it as low as possible but also not too low so as to give off the vibe that it bothers you. 2 – check lockers either side of the one you select for signs of use; padlocks, or lack of a key depending on the security system as these give an idea as to the location of potential, post swimming naked cocks, again apply the same criteria as in item 1.

As I place my purple gym bag (it looked blue in the shop) down onto the bench I notice a dark wet patch on the bottom. I stop and think to myself, maybe my water bottle has leaked, then I remember that I don’t have a water bottle. I gingerly open the bag, curious as to what I might find, yet mindful of my surroundings and the necessity to exude a certain latent manliness. I am greeted by a waft of branston pickle, for a moment I am taken back to the shores of the motherland, to cling-film-wrapped, soft white sandwiches of pickle and cheddar so mature it makes the roof of your mouth ache. Yet what awaits is a whole different kettle of fish, or more precisely a whole different plastic bag of 3-week-old rotting banana (take two, eat one). The mixture of such an appealing smell (I love branston pickle) and the keen sense of disgust and embarrassment is a difficult predicament. I cast my eyes downwards to contemplate my next move. I could stride back out purposefully and go home, pretend I’ve just finished my workout. Or I could don my vinegar-smoked swimming shorts and pretend that everything’s fine. They don’t even have branston pickle in this country, they have no frame of reference so the smell would be foreign to my fellow gym-goers.

As I stare down at the floor toying with each possible action plan something catches my eye. Under the plastic grid-floor designed to raise the gym’s clientele above the water that has fallen from their bodys there is a brown stain. Trapped between the mesh and the tiled floor there appears to be, wait a minute no there definitely is, a pool of runny shit, probably grade 3-4. This immediately makes up my mind, if someone else has shat themselves in the changing room why am I so worried about shorts that smell of condiments? I put on my shorts, grab my towel and lock my locker, luckily the toxic banana waste has only contaminated a small part of my bag and my towel has only caught an aroma of banana vinegar rather than absorbed any black sticky sludge. I rinse my body in the shower that is always set to skin-searingly hot, stretch my girlfriend’s swimming hat onto my head and enter the pool room.

Lane selection is difficult, my abilities hang in limbo between the two categories. My speedometer is stuck, hovering somewhere between the slow lanes, populated by the old and infirm, and the fast lanes which teem with greased, waxed, stretching, underwater-somersalting A-grade nobends. If only there were a separate lane, the “over-enthusiastic start followed my slow slide into manful struggle lane” I would feel more at home there, but it wouldn’t fit on the little yellow plastic signs. I take off my flip-flops and squint at the lanes, without my glasses it’s difficult to tell how many people are in each one, at times you think there’s just one but you don’t see the guy having a little rest at the far end. I stand at the water’s edge and fake a stretching regime. I don’t know which muscles I need so I do my football stretching regime. The lifeguard is probably chortling under his breath at my physiological ignorance but I don’t care, I can’t see him, or her, it’s just a blurry orange blob, in fact I think that’s a fire extinguisher. I enter the pool and quickly reel off 5 lengths but halfway through length 6 my forearms start to seize up and pain shoots through my left knee, pretend stretching does not work.

My heart lifts as I see him enter the swimming pool. The perfect tonic for all the preening, stretching be-speedoed wankers gliding up and down the pool effortlessly. He shuffles across the tiled floor, long shorts worn high on the chest, stretching down to mid thigh. Thin white legs tremble imperceptibly as he makes his way to the bench, depositing towel  edging close to pool’s lip. He is like a barrel, a barrel held up by spindly white, liver-spotted stilts. He comes most mornings and he is my hero. He eases himself with no preamble, no fuss, into the water. Not for him the carefully rehearsed warm-up session with eyes fixed to middle distance. He snaps his goggles over his eyes and he’s off, the first length an uneven flailing breast stroke with face set grimly, pupils boring a hole in the far wall. But he’s just warming up, for his second length he breaks out his specialty; the back stroke, he slides haltingly along the surface of the water with the twisted hypnotic grace of a broken umbrella being blown across a lake.

Swimming_dog_bgiuYet who am I to criticise? My swimming style is not good. My head never goes under the water, I swim like a dog, a dog that has learnt breast stroke. I tried doing the whole rhythmic breathing thing but just ended up drinking lots of water, and seeing as the pool is also used by herds of school children probably a fair quantity of piss too. My feeling is if I’m swimming in a less aqua-dynamic way then I’m working harder and therefore getting a better workout, so there.

I watch our friend the mythical flailing barrel man while I rest my knee and wait for the feeling to return to my forearms. My concentration is broken by a face full of water helpfully administered to me by the posing, skintight prick I’m sharing a swimming lane with. Gym’s are chock full of wankers, this is a given, if I stay here too long I will become one, maybe I already have. I joined the gym 3 months ago, I started out in the weight and fitness room. Weight room wankers are genuine top class wankers, my friend Al has developed a system for classifying cunts which I have never managed to grasp but I think he’d call them a number 1. Yet in truth swimming pool wankers aren’t really wankers, they’re just people who know how to swim properly, unlike me. No wait a minute this guy is swimming in oven gloves, he’s definitely a wanker, and there’s another one with flippers on, dick. I aim a kick at his head as he passes but cowardice snaps it back.

Super Market

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As far as I can tell there is one friendly check-out girl (or boy) in Barcelona. I can’t help but feel a certain pang of guilt that her name escapes me, emblazoned as it is on a chunky plastic badge on the ill-fitting white with orange pin striped shirt. Let’s suppose her name is Montse, I’ve met a lot of Montses since moving to Barcelona and were I a betting man my chips would be in the Montse corner, or lane or little section of the roulette (it depends which game you’re playing). Anyway, picture Montse scanning goods, cheerily requesting my Consum club card, inquiring if carrier bags are necessary. Montse’s beaming smile as the transaction is completed. Montse’s glittering eyes as she sighs happily and shifts her attention to the next customer.

But Montse isn’t working today, in her place a harridan, cold glazed eyes peer out of a face of greyed skin, listlessly flicking over the conveyor belt of brightly coloured packaged produce. She takes her greyness out on the vibrant artifacts that pass before her, treating them with a roughness and contempt that actually seems to take an effort. Egg boxes dropped corner-first onto bagged salad, litre beer bottles allowed to slide into vulnerable plastic wrapped tomatoes. Loaves of bread manhandled and swiftly prodded and poked by corners of unwitting fruit juice cartons. The poor produce shoved, scanned and herded into the bagging area like bewildered prisoners of war.  The man whose shopping is being pulped winces slightly, pays apologetically and leaves, only stopping to check for egg leakage when he’s hidden from view.
I glance over my shoulder at the queue of fellow shoppers waiting behind me, to gauge their reaction. I catch the eye of the woman immediately behind me and she immediately breaks my gaze, flinching as if I’d seen too much, as if I’d run my finger nails down her chalkboard spine. I sense shame emanating from this woman, I can’t think what it could be, I surreptitiously scan her for shame inducing features but find none. She’s a middle aged, Catalan woman, maybe early 50’s or a weathered 48. She wears nondescript clothes, a purple jacket done up tight against the early November cold, 2-3 month old hair dye job struggling to hide more realistic silver grey shoots. But nothing to be ashamed of, nothing worth pitying, she looks like someones Mum. Then I look down at her shopping, and everything becomes clear. She’s buying a 50 cent carton of red wine and jumbo bag of supermarket own brand crisps.

This explains everything, my judgement is swift and damning. Images of her chugging back Don Simon Tinto straight from the carton while grasping for more salted potatoes flash through my mind. Suddenly the purple coat makes more sense, I wonder what colour it used to be. Or maybe I’ve got it wrong, maybe her husband, or boyfriend, or son, or brother, or father is the boxed-wine-fiend. Maybe she’s charged with the daily trudge to the supermarket to stand in line and face the snide looks and muttered ridicule of fellow shoppers like me, her thirsty relative brooding at home pacing back and forth in expectation of the 50 cent purple liquid breakfast.

Or maybe it’s cooking wine, maybe she’s having a party, she needs nibbles. Maybe she always looks like that. We’ll never know.

Forced Public Wasp Murder

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I never wanted any part of it, I hate wasps. Yet, if pushed I would definitely put myself in the t-rex tactics (Keep absolutely still – – it’s vision’s based on movement!) camp of sting prevention, as opposed to the bloodthirsty berserker red mist approach.I hate wasps in enclosed spaces, it follows that I hate wasps in crowded metro train carriages.  I was blissfully unaware of the black and yellow horror terrorising my fellow commuters as I was absorbed in my book. Blissfully unaware until the man sitting next to me took it upon himself to start batting said insect with his rolled up newspaper, he only succeeded in wafting the aforementioned airborne bastard into the face of a fellow female passenger who squealed in fright and implored him to stop as the beast was clearly getting a little riled.

All this occurred just as I was stowing my book in my bag and preparing to disembark. I rose from my seat just in time to see the wasp buzzing frantically between two apoplectic female passengers. The man, desperately trying to claw back a shred of masculinity took one final swipe, succeeding in hooking the murmuring menace onto the floor. Time seemed to slow, the wasp hit the floor, bounced, flipped through the air and slid to a halt against my right foot. I looked up into the glare of 4 sets of imploring eyes, glanced back down at the wasp, struggling to right itself against the sticky beige floor of the carriage.

“Quick…….” urged a voice, and without a second thought I shifted myself half an inch to the right bringing the edge of my shoe down on the beast’s writhing body. I sensed an unspoken whoop of delight and relief from my fellow passengers, as if we’d stuck one to nature, yet I felt hollow and complicit in a grimy little crime. As I said I never wanted any part of it.