Ducking and diving with the devotchkas


Like swans they glide, effortlessly through the water. I see little movement above the water. This is in contrast to the middle and fast lanes where swimmers’ heads bob up and down and waves are formed.

I am swimming – or in the spirit of calling a spade a spade, let’s just be honest: I am flailing – with the devotchkas in the slow lane. There is an older, middle aged woman; as soon as I see her I think ‘devotchka’; there is also a plump, younger woman (another devotchka). There is also a middle aged man. And then there is me. Together we make up the ‘slow lane’ at the local swimming baths.

This is only my second visit to the local swimming pool. I went with a friend last time who is rather good. Unfortunately: I am not. I tend to sink rather than swim. And I have no technique. At all. Swimming is yet another childhood thing at which I failed. It ranks alongside other failures such as learning to play an instrument, becoming fluent in a language, representing school in any kind of sports team. Etcetera.

The devotchkas are friendly. They will frequently stop at one end of the pool and sometimes talk. They are not there together, but they are local, and why shouldn’t people make small talk. For some inexplicable reason – the women remind me of the middle aged (I think?) women in the bar in Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange (hence my use of the term; I don’t use the term disparagingly, but it just popped up very strongly in my head when I saw them. It was like a deja vu moment).

For my part – I can’t do more than about two lengths without stopping. Even with my new goggles – I can’t seem to get the hang of holding my breath momentarily under water when doing the breaststroke (well, when attempting to do it properly). By the second length it becomes a battle to reach the other end. Thankfully, the deep end is 1.7m and I am taller than that. There are also plenty of lifeguards on duty.

I am ever so slightly better than last time. The last time I had made the mistake of attempting to go in the medium-slow lane, rather than the (absolute) slow lane. Consequently, I couldn’t keep up – and I kept getting stressed by people coming up behind me who I was obviously slowing down. In the (absolute) slow lane you can be as slow as you like. And it was very pleasant as the pool was really very quiet. The joy of being unemployed freelancing is that you keep your own time and can thus visit things like the swimming pool at the quietest time of day. There were a reasonable number of people in the medium and fast lane. Men with very short tight swimming shorts were over represented (the sort who bring bottles of water with them into the pool area; I think of them as the Muscle Mary set, ubiquitous in London of course, especially in the centre). Fair play to them, though – they have toned, fat-free bodies (I am bronzed at least, surely that’s something!). And I have lost quite a bit of weight since re-invoking the Messiah Complex.

Whilst swimming I reflect that – generally speaking, and this is, let me repeat, a generality – women are better suited to swimming then men. Casual swimming at least. They have a greater % of body fat and they don’t appear to ‘sink’ or struggle the way I do. In a similar vein – men are perhaps marginally better suited to running (I’m actually quite good at running) – because they aren’t ‘front loaded’ – if you’ll pardon the expression.

Upshot: I’ve decided I’m going to take up swimming lessons. My brother did, to the great surprise of the rest of us. He had private ones and can’t recommend them enough. I don’t yet know the cost and it might be something I don’t start doing until I’m in full time employment again. But I am going to do it.

The image is of course by Beryl Cook – whose art I blogged about many, many moons ago.

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