I will do almost anything to get out of taking my children swimming. As far as I am concerned going within a half mile radius of a ‘baby pool’ is akin to licking someone with a contagious disease. From the changing room with its hairy floors to the pool itself where toddlers empty their bladders, it is just one big breeding ground of horror.
I think this phobia stems from an incident when I was younger and used to go swimming twice a week with a colleague. During the 6pm-8pm ‘adult swim’ I remember seeing a very hairy man at the end of the pool very definitely washing his armpits. The look of concentration on his face and the stream of filthy water dribbling from his under-arms was enough to almost put me off communal swimming forever. It also explained the rather stale tasting water. It took nearly six years to get me back into a swimming pool after that.
The next time I braved it was when my son was a baby and I felt guilt-tripped to try it out. Everyone in my post-natal group was going to our local pool which had been done up fairly recently. Despite it being in a rather rough part of town (there were three prostitutes outside selling their ‘wares’ that day) it was actually rather beautiful. A large, light open space with lots of big family changing rooms and a generous sized baby pool. However I’d underestimated the stress of trying to get a small, shout-y, reluctant thing into a swim nappy. By the time I’d got him ready for the pool he was hysterical and, as it turns out, plunging him straight into water the sort of temperature only polar bears would feel at home in, was a very bad idea. His lips quickly went blue and within three minutes I’d hoiked him out of the freezing waters and back in to the changing room.
I quickly learnt that if I thought it was hard trying to get a warm, dry baby into his swimming things, it was nothing compared to getting a freezing, wet and screeching baby back into his clothes. And all the whilst I stood shivering and cold in a wet swimming costume with my bare feet on the hairy floor desperately trying to avoid treading on a used plaster. It was then that the idea of ‘two towels for me, two towels for baby and one towel for the hairy floor’ was born. If I was ever going to get back in the water again I was going to have to hire a camel to carry all the towels.
Having dipped our toes into the English swimming pool experience, we decided to try the French version out when we were staying with my mum in the Limousin. We had two children by then and took one each to get dressed in the separate changing rooms. When we arrived at pool side we were met with the most almighty roar of noise. Every man, woman and child from the nearby 15 mile radius had decided to turn up that day. Just as we were edging our way past a group of 18 who appeared to be having some sort of family reunion in the shallow end, a man shouted ‘Non!’ at my husband. We were a little bemused, not sure what the problem was until we realised he was angrily glaring at my husbands swimming trunks. He shouted ‘Non!’ again and pointed to a picture on the wall next to the usual ‘No dive bombing; No heavy petting’ signs of a man wearing long trunks with a red line drawn across it. A quick glance around told us that in French swimming pools only the speedo, the thong and the skimpy posing pouch were acceptable modes of wear and the baggy trunk was complètement interdit.
Apparently it’s something to do with hygiene, your baggy bermudas could be bringing all manner of debris into the pool. My husband, however, would argue that pouring himself into an unfeasibly skimpy alternative could pose just as much a health risk by cutting off some much needed circulation. So we were forced to leave, and that was the end of our French swimming pool experience. And pretty much our UK one too.
So I have decided to stage a one woman boycott against swimming pools, as they’re clearly bad for the health. If you survive the freezing water, the bizarre rules, other people’s weird swimming habits and the exposure to some 30 different types of germs, the dirty floors will get you in the end. This boycott doesn’t extend to the children unfortunately, I’ll be spending every morning of February half term sitting pool-side watching my two learn the doggy paddle.
But may this post act as a warning. And if you do insist on taking the plunge, don’t forget the extra towel for the hairy floor (or the camel to carry it).