Swimming. The Big Girls made me do it.


First of all: do you like my fancy banner? I'd love to pretend it's all my own handiwork, but...yeah anyway, you can click on it to learn more about my new book Wintering, which is coming out in February.

I devote a whole chapter of Wintering to sea-swimming in the coldest months, but recently I've been spending a lot of time in the local swimming pool. Now, I hate swimming pools. I hate the noise and the chlorine, the bright lights and the sheer boredom of ploughing up and down, over and over again, counting laps as you go.

However, I've signed up to take part in the Outdoor Swimming Society's Sunrise Swoosh, which happens in July, and involves a 6km swim up a river in Devon with the help of the tide. I have absolutely no idea why I did this - I think I was mainly trying to impress the Big Girls in my swimming group, but I also fear I lost my mind at the mention of Devon and didn't consider the consequences. I can't swim 6km. I can't even swim 1km. I can just about manage a wheezing 750m, and believe me, there's a lot of coughing and spluttering in the middle.

The front crawl has become my absolute nemesis. I'm happy enough with breast stroke (and I even dip my head underwater like a real swimmer), but front crawl seems like the most vile, exhausting thing I could do with this short life. I wouldn't attempt it at all but I need to speed up if I'm to complete the Swoosh in under 4 hours, and the crawl is, apparently, the way to go. It's a shame I can only crawl a single length before having to stop and gasp for air. I don't understand how you're supposed to turn your head to breathe without taking in water at the same time, and so I swim along in a kind of panic, imagining that each breath will be my last. In my hands, it's less of a swimming stroke, and more of an extended act of theatrical drowning.

But even worse than the crawl are all the other bloody people using the pool. I've spent the last month trying to work out the time when the lanes are quietest, but still these other swimmers will persist in being there at the same time as me. I'm haunted in particular by a man who refuses to kick his legs as he does his lengths, instead dragging himself along by the arms at a glacial pace. The lane system is supposed to prevent this, but it underestimates the general public's capacity for self-delusion. The slow lane is clearly seen as too shameful a place to be, and the fast lane is too fast, so everyone crowds into the middle lane, regardless of speed.

I'm beginning to feel that this would be easily resolved if the pool attendant would get off his highchair and reallocate swimmers to their correct lanes. Perhaps while he's at it, he could stop people from chatting in the shallow end, making it impossible to turn. Yes, what I want most ardently is a kind of waterborne police state, with nice, clear rules and a sense of urgency about the whole process. Maybe they could play some rousing music over the tannoy to keep my spirits up?

Just a thought.

See you next time.

Katherine x

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