Thursday, 27 February 2014

Sinking and swimming

Advisory:  This post contains nothing profound, nothing revelatory or inspirational, nothing very spiritual or deep in any sense at all. (Unless you count the deep end, which is 12'6". Not the place to drop your goggles.)

As part of my latest drive to shake off some excess poundage, I have started to swim again. The water level of the local swimming pool rises ever so slightly twice a week as I climb in and trawl up and down for a bit.

I have to say, getting in is a bit easier than getting out; funny how heavy you feel when you try to exit a swimming pool. Heavier than you were when you got in, strangely enough, which is unfair given that you've worked off some calories while in the water - it stands to reason that you should feel lighter when getting out, but sadly not. I hate getting in and out - much more than the actual swimming, which I don't mind too much.

The distance from the ladies' changing to the shallow end seems a long way to me. While in the water, I'm just another head and shoulders, the water happily distorting all that lies iceberg-like, beneath. It's a great equaliser; until we all start moving, it's hard to know who's the swimming club star out for a bit of serious training, who's the sinewy lifelong swimmer with lungs of iron, and who's the portly middle aged woman trying to work off a bit of flab.

That's me, the last one. In case you were wondering. 

My aim is to swim twice a week. 

The other day the water was quite warm, for a change. Last week it was so cold that you could see your breath and the lifeguard had a jumper on; it felt like a Christmas Day swim in the Solent. The cold wasn't the worst of it, mind you. The worst bit was that I saw five people that I knew.

Five. That's not good news for someone as self-conscious as I am. I try to keep track of people I know when I see them in the pool so that I can engineer a good moment to get out when it's time to flee. I try to wait until they're on their outward length when I head for the steps so that their backs are turned when I make my exit but with five people that wasn't too easy.

That's how self-conscious I am. I hate being spotted in my swimsuit, even though I know intellectually that nobody actually cares. The casual observer probably has no interest in the sight of me staggering to the changing rooms but still it preys on my mind.

I was swimming along, trying to stay submerged as much as I possibly could, but it seemed that every time I came up for air, there was someone grinning at me. Figures from the past (junior school classmate: might not have recognised me in goggles - I can only hope), someone from the school run (no such luck, wanted to compare notes on the school trip), a couple of people from church (likewise, bright smiles) and a waitress from my favourite cafe (might not technically count as someone I know, but nonetheless...)

On the upside, I was motivated to keep moving. Chatting at the pool requires effort and concentration as my eyesight is limited without my contact lens and more often than not my goggles are steamed up or half-full of water. My hearing, never that acute at the best of times, is also somewhat compromised when my ears are swishing with water and so more than an awkward 'Hello!' between breaths is about all I can manage. Am I the only person who gets hung up on the possibility of social encounters at the pool? I bet for most people it's not a thing at all.

Sigh.  It's so much easier not to bother, but I must do something. I've asked God to help me with the problems I have with eating and myriad other problems relating to self esteem, body image and health and so it's only right that I should try to help Him help me.

So - up and down the pool.

It's amazing how your mind wanders while you're swimming.

I've tried doing lots of things to relieve the boredom as I trawl up and down the pool - I have counted breaths, counted strokes, sung songs in my head, recited poetry, tried to pray, but it's all a bit disjointed and incoherent, as if the act of swimming demands not quite enough concentration to be absorbing, but too much to allow the thoughts to do anything constructive. 

'Breathe...breathe...breathe...ouch...shoulder that a hair clip on the bottom of the pool or a small creature? Blimey, that guy must have lungs of iron...water in my goggles...breathe...breathe... cracked tile...hello, Jesus, been meaning to talk to you about...bit cold tonight...LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY...did I send Katy's school trip permission form back...?' 

And so on. 

In my own little world, watching the underwater world go by, looking out of my little round windows. 

Goggles. If ever there was an invention straight from the devil, it's got to be goggles. I have a hate/hate relationship with mine. 

Before I invested in my first pair I asked about, got some recommendations and deliberated long before choosing which to buy. Make and model. Then a few weeks passed without the opportunity to nip into a sporting goods shop, so I ended up getting some out of the vending machine in the foyer of the leisure centre. 

That was a palaver in itself as I managed to jam the machine and someone had to come and open it up, rummage in the bowels of the machine (isn't it fascinating, the inside of a vending machine?) and extract my goggles and my change. Then it turned out that I'd inadvertently purchased a pair of kids' goggles, so had to do some apologising before I was allowed to change them for an adult pair. By this time I had no bargaining power and so accepted the first pair that were handed to me. This pair were a sort of grey and purple and, if I do say so myself, I looked a complete prat in them when I put them on. 

It was about two weeks before I got the hang of actually putting them on without snapping them painfully on the bridge of my nose or accidentally removing eyebrow hair, but then it turned out that they leaked. I'd read the instructions on how to adjust them but I just couldn't get it right. Maybe my eyes are the wrong distance apart or something. Every time I raised my eyebrows, they sort of slipped down. Of course, the ability to raise one's eyebrows unimpeded while swimming is a bit of a necessity, isn't it?

By the time I splashed my way to the deep end there they'd be, half steamed up and half full of water. I would squint through the murk and tread water while I emptied my goggles. So I tightened them a little more, but still they leaked. I think my eyes must have bulged with the pressure, but since I can't see much it's not a problem. Actually, as I have one short-sighted eye and one long-sighted eye, I am able to see any distance if I kind of lose focus in one eye, but that involves a slight turning in of the eye I don't use, so I don't tend to do it very often for fear of unnerving those around me. (Imagine: a fat middle aged woman treading water with half-full goggles and a wandering eye?)

Those goggles never did stop leaking. I tightened them until they started making a sucking noise when I took them off, and still they leaked. They left a pair of rings, raccoon-like, that stuck around for an hour or so after I've finished swimming, which isn't a good look for the school run.

Then there's the issue of steaming up. All goggles steam up, even the ones with the non-steam coating. I was struggling with mine one day when a stranger volunteered the information that you had to spit into your goggles to stop them steaming up. He demonstrated (on his own goggles, I'm pleased to say) and then stood there, waiting for me to do likewise. I hesitated, then delicately licked the lenses in as ladylike manner as possible, and he laughed, informing me that I'd be better 'gobbing' in them.  I muttered something and pushed off from the side with as much dignity as it's possible to muster after an exchange like that. 

Next time I was at the pool the helpful man was there again and he smirked at me from the far lane. Had I felt like it, I could have informed him that his advice didn't work as copious quantities of saliva still hadn't solved my steaming up problem, since I'd had a sneaky gob on them before I left my cubicle in the changing rooms. Maybe there's something wrong with my spit. 

I think my current pair are a bit better, and I have to say I have finally cracked the steaming up problem, if not the raccoon rings or the looking like an idiot. My goggles are reliable enough for me to leave in my lens these days so I have a better chance of identifying objects beneath me on the seabed without adding a floating contact lens to the debris. 

The struggle continues. 

Up...down...tiles...tiles...turn...agh, much longer? I'll be 44 next birthday...MUSIC AND PASSION WERE ALWAYS THE FASHION AT THE COPA, COPACABAAAANA...oh, lovely swimsuit...bit chilly tonight...'Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him, Horatio...' ouch, my hip...breathe, breathe, breathe...



1.  I am not actually a Barry Manilow fan. Really.
2.  The secret to unsteamy goggles appears to be a tiny, tiny drop of washing up liquid rubbed over the inside of the lenses. Pass it on. Let's eliminate the need for goggle-gobbing.
3.  This is my 400th post. Thought I'd make it an important one. 


  1. Helen, that made me smile, then laugh out loud, but I know you well enough now to know the seriousness underneath it all. Praying you'll achieve your plan x

    1. Thanks, Helen. I won't achieve it without His help; never have, never will. But He is a God who can do miracles, so I have hope! (and water still in my ears from yesterday...)

  2. Love it! You are a very talented writer. I don't know anyone else who could write such an entertaining piece about something seemingly quotidian (is that the right word?). I salute your writing and also your courage. And no, you are NOT the only person for whom the walking to and from the changing rooms is the stuff of nightmares. I haven't been to a pool for four years but I remember the horror and mortification well. God bless your efforts! xxx

    1. Thank you, lovely. I've been swimming twice a week for two weeks now and I'm eagerly awaiting some sign - any sign - that it's doing me any good...

  3. This made me laugh...because I've been there! I tried swimming (which I adore in theory) at a public pool for about 2.5 seconds, so I commend you for being disciplined. Bravo, sweet friend. If I lived across the sea, I'd be your pool buddy, and you won't feel so awkward in a swimsuit next to me. :)
    PS. Praying for peace for you in all this.

    1. Ginger, thank you. Peace would be nice - it's so hard. It's such a huge thing in my life and I can see the absurdity of it but... it's so hard.
      Thank you so much.

  4. I LOVE your story Helen, and as a swimmer I could relate too! Hope you are enjoying your lengths and I don't know if there will ever come a time when thoughts are coherent while swimming. Sometimes I wish I could write while swimming, the thoughts are so great! Love you Helen and especially enjoyed some of your "English" having never heard the term trawling.

    1. It's a sort of 'stream of consciousness' thinking when I'm 'trawling' up and down the pool! A far cry from coherence!
      Thank you, Jeannie. I'll think of you when I'm next in the pool. :-)

  5. You are an absolute treat. Congratulations on your 400. Wow!
    I wanted to say something profound about your last post, but I didn't get to it. Now I'm laid up in bed feeling too sorry for myself to be profound. So just a grateful thanks for honestly and gentleness. And strength for the journey. Blessings.

    1. Thanks, Ian. Thanks for reading and being so encouraging. Sorry you're poorly - hope you're feeling much better very soon. Bless you.

  6. I absolutely love this! So warm and human. Almost makes me want to swim....

    1. Almost, but not quite? :-) I understand completely.
      Thanks Jeannie. Lots of love. x

  7. I hate meeting people in the pool. But I am loving swimming while heavily pregnant as I don't feel self-concsious about what I look like - it's not as if I can suck my tummy in and look all slim and toned! It's one of the best things about pregnancy - the licence to have a tummy!

    1. That's a very good point, Chloe. I'm kicking myself that I missed that!
      Enjoy. And thanks for reading. :-)

  8. Oh, I CAN"T stand getting into cold pools. So alas, I choose walking and hiking as my cardio, 30 day challenges on body parts that are beginning to jiggle, and I was forced to change my eating habits to accommodate poor hubs intolerance and migraine giving foods we used to eat. However, with that being said, I learned something new about goggles and steam and my whole family feels better when we do a bit of moving and eating more fruits (wink).
    400 posts? Awesome. Sure hope all your moving in the pool pays off! Hugs!

  9. Ah Helen you are a wonderful read - warm , funny and inspiring. Your honesty is so attractive Helen. It encourages me to know again, that basically we are all the same - little children, with hopes and fears hiding in our hearts. But we have a big Father who loves us. Thanks for sharing :)

    1. Thanks for reading! The older I get, the more I realise that I'm just a kid on a long journey. Thanks for the encouragement. Means a lot.x


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