It happened without warning. A shadow passed over me and my head met steel. I turned in a panic and looked up to see a massive, lumpy arse clad in flowered lycra hovering over me. “Not again!”I thought.
When I lived abroad I used to steam four or five times a week after my gym work outs. Sadly Ireland is lacking in such facilities but every now and again I treat myself to a visit in a pool in Waterford with its giant jacuzzi, steam room and sauna. And every now and again I remember why I don’t “treat” myself so often for no matter what human ignorance you will meet out on the street it will be multiplied tenfold poolside.
I like to swim and I am a strong swimmer but I suffer panic if I get into deep water. This means I have to swim at the edge of the pool which means in turn I often have to wait for a lane or a space to open up. This I do with dogged patience.
This visit I was lucky enough to find the free-swimming space empty but as I sat at the edge putting on my goggles a woman slipped out of the changing room and into the pool in front of me and began to swim up and down by the wall. I sighed and headed for a steam.
After 30 minutes, though the lane on the left remained occupied, the free-swimming area was empty again so I slipped in and began my lengths. I had done two when a mother and her child, 3 or 4 years of age, got in at the deep end of my path and stayed there. I swam up and stopped short of the edge and smiled the sarcasm dripping off me like water..
“I hope I am not in your way swimming here?”
She smiled back oblivious as her fish-like progeny swam around my legs.
“Not at all,” she smiled graciously,” you’re alright.”
Sometimes I feel I should have given birth to just to know what it is like to feel that the world owes me homage.
And so I turned and swam to the other end of the pool but before I could reach it a shadow passed over me and I swam into a metal bar that had not being there before. Rolling in a panic I looked up and saw the arse.
In every pool I have been in there has been a large, lumpy, elderly woman in a flowered swimming costume whose sole purpose is to get in my way. If the pool is life then there is a God and he has sent this creature to test me.
This woman often gets in the pool, takes note of my trajectory and begins swimming directly at me as I swim head down and oblivious. In this case, the doddery old dear was not alone in her machinations of sabotage, no. I stood up in the water to see that the old lady was smiling at me from the pool lift which was being operated by a member of the pool staff who had obviously decided to put her in the pool just as I was swimming by. He also smiling at me in a way that reminded me of a spaniel. Spaniels put me in a bad mood.
“Terribly sorry ,” I said, “but I can’t see you when I am swimming. With my head down. Wearing goggles. In the water”
But chlorine must dissolve sarcasm because they both kindly nodded and granted me forgiveness for hitting their metal pool lift with my stupid, stupid head.
Meanwhile the swimming lane at the other side of the pool had been commandeered by a local luminary who was giving a child a swimming lesson and the childs swimming pool remained stubbornly empty.
And so I swam doggedly on doing truncated lengths. The Pool/Life Metaphor was taking on new levels of meaning with the Child from Atlantis at one end deliberately tangling herself up in my legs causing me to sputter and drown in much the way my own Inner Child has successfully drowned my attempts at serious adulthood while the veiny wobbly legs of old age were slowing me down at the other end.
In between I was allowed no rest either as there is no rest in real life. Various swimmers came and went, in and out of my path, kicking and splashing and causing me nothing but stress and anxiety as I wondered when one was going to appear or if one of them would jump in on top of me and break my damn neck. Again, as with life, having someone jump on top of you is rarely as much fun for you as for them.
But, as in life, I would not get out before I had done my time no matter how pissed off I was getting. I had wanted to do 40 lengths but as I wasn’t doing full lengths it was impossible to tell how many lengths I had done so I settled for 30 minutes.
I got out, relieved it was over as I suspect I will be relieved on my death-bed. It wasn’t the meditative exercise I was hoping it would be and it didn’t relax me rather made me even more tense ratcheting up my muscles until they could have been played like a violin.
Happily there is life after the pool. I don’t like the impression(scars?)my catholic upbringing has left on me but vis-à-vis the Pool/Life thing, it causes me some comfort to think that I am as at home in the Hell of the sauna as I am in the Purgatory of the steam room or the Heaven of the jacuzzi.
But as I sit in the jacuzzi, surrounded by saggy, hairy old men, paunchy middle aged men and fat, soft, white young men with ridiculous tattoos, the comparison with Heaven is starting to look a bit thin. At least, I think, they are not ogling me or in fact even deigning to look at me, probably because I am not a biscuity coloured 12-year-old in a string bikini with coconut creams for breasts but a scowling harpy with a thickening midriff in a one-piece.
Then it occurs to me that maybe Buddhism works better than all the other religious nonsense when it comes to the end:the Changing Room surely is where we shed our lives and leave to return again another day?But my brightness is momentary as I gloomily remember how similar all my pool visits have been and how I still, after a period of forgetting, keep returning for more. Samsara indeed.