It might be worth quickly discussing the general rules of etiquette that apply at our pool. Despite there being nothing written down, or no signage, people just seem to know the rules. Perhaps when new members sign their free time away on their gym contracts, the pool rules are subliminally passed onto them along with their membership cards and direct debit forms. It sounds a little bit like Fight Club, but here are the rules:
- in the non-lane swimming section, people should still form their own lanes. These are marked by their flip-flops or water bottles at either end of the pool
- never swim in anyone else's lane
- if you get the lane first, it is yours - do not move to accommodate anyone
- if someone does get in your imaginary lane, you are allowed to swim straight at them. They are going to move first. Ironically it's a game of Chicken
- if you happen to end up swimming directly next to someone, that is taken to be their consent to race you. It is imperative that you win these impromptu bouts
- standing around at the end of the pool smooching with your girl/boy friend is frowned upon - think 'no petting' a la the Eighties
- don't talk to anyone you don't know. Just keep your head down and get out of there as soon as possible
Is this the same for all swimming pools? I don't know. But re-reading this list, I am thinking it's no wonder I'm not that keen on swimming. And if it's like that in the non-serious swimming area, what must it be like in the "I'm here to train; I'm wearing Speedos" section?
Which leads me back round to my initial discussion point about the men swimmers who run the gauntlet of the fast lane. The normal rules don't apply. Whether you each go straight up and down, or swim in a mini rectangle is decided there and then; seemingly decided with no actual conversation taking place. It doesn't matter who was there first. It doesn't matter how many floats or other aqua-paraphernalia you bring with you. It's all about the creation of the pecking order. Once the king-pin bird has been decided, the others will make way for you and allow you to swim at your pace whilst they stop at each end to let you pass. The weaker birds (what are they even doing in the lane?) have to be prepared to take onslaughts from the poultry higher up in the pecking order than them. They may even be bullied into an early jacuzzi.
But how is the pecking order actually established? Like the chickens, there needs to be a bit of argy bargy early on to show true strength and colour. They swim a few lengths each in their best front crawl to see who is fastest (think qualification races in Formula 1). They try and out stare each other through their tinted goggles. Occasionally, there might be a of collision, a grab on the shoulder here, an accidental slap there. It's pretty much like the Next sale on Boxing Day. But like the chickens, once the pecking order is established, it works. Each man is permitted to swim and get on with whatever he needs to in peace.
Very infrequently, there are those people who put themselves in the fast lane when it would be clear to a blind man that they would be better suited to the children's pool. It is at this point that the lane rules go out of the window. I can think of one such incident. In question were a husband and wife tag team - probably off-peak joint members - who had baggsied the fast lane for themselves. They were spending more time gossiping than swimming. OH got in. Perhaps foolishly, it didn't occur to him that the rules might go out of the window with these infiltrators. He started to swim; fast and loud. They didn't move. In fact, they persisted with their slow backstroke ("backstroke! What a joke!" OH said, as he recounted the tale to me). The man ended up mashing into OH which basically was like a red rag to a bull. A full on shouting match ensured. Wifey tag-teamer ran down to the reception in her swimsuit (I know! Hilarious) to get the Manager. He came, calmed the situation down. OH was too enraged to finish the work out and so left. It's just what happens when the unwritten rules are broken. Needless to say, we've not seen the tag team again. I keep waiting for a letter to land on our hallway mat to say we're being sued for Swimming Pool Harrassment. Bring it on...