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.