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Public swimming pools are just one long exercise in collective suffering

PUBLISHED: 16:59 26 October 2018 | UPDATED: 17:06 26 October 2018

The reality of swimming in a public pool is that it's full of people that don't swim and, according to Steven Downes, is a thoroughly excruciating experience

The reality of swimming in a public pool is that it's full of people that don't swim and, according to Steven Downes, is a thoroughly excruciating experience

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Steven Downes has plenty of things he likes, but something he really hates - it’s cold, wet and could give you a free verucca....

Before I begin today, I’d like it to be known that there are things that I like.

Cheesy mashed potato, books, bone-handled cutlery, beard oil, Asterix, maps, France and beer glasses are all awesome.

Unfortunately, coming up with a short list of good things doesn’t absolve me from accusations of being a miserable old curmudgeon.

I plead guilty - and I might as well add a new offence to be taken into consideration.

And so, I confess to a strong dislike of something that I 
really ought to like – public swimming pools.

Up in Sheringham, North Norfolk District Council plans to splurge £10.5m on a new leisure pool complex to replace Splash.

Quite right, too (even though I think it should be built in Cromer). It’ll provide a place for exercise, fun and socialising.

But my support for the 
principle of public swimming baths doesn’t extend to the practice of using them.

Is it just me who finds them an ordeal? I’m pretty sure most parents and grandparents will understand what I mean.

Even from a solo swimmer’s perspective, though, there are numerous horrors to deal with.

In a collective changing room, there’s the challenge of avoiding a glimpse of another bloke’s unmentionables while making sure nobody can see yours. The towel contortionist act is a wonder to behold – until the towel falls and another wonder is beheld.

The air is a heady mix of Lynx, Right Guard and sweat, while talcum powder is applied like flour to doughy flesh. I fear one day that I will die from choking on cheap deodorant and talc.

Anyway, if – it’s a big if – you can get the locker to work, you attach the key to your budgie smugglers and splosh through the chilly puddle that rinses your feet and makes your extremities retract.

Then, at last, the pool and all its joys awaits.

It doesn’t matter how warm the water is, it always feels cool when you go in. So it’s either the gradual approach, which you can guarantee will be rudely interrupted by a splashing child, or just going for it.

The splashing is a relentless irritation. People assume that everybody shares their love for this numb-nutted behaviour. But I decide what I call fun.

I also find it hard to suppress the feeling that I’m immersed in a cocktail of water, chlorine and many varieties of wee.

For the truth is that people do pee in pools. You probably have done, haven’t you?

If being in a urine cocktail is not a deal breaker, try actually swimming.

I mean swimming for more than five metres, which is an impossible dream. Children splashing, people blocking your route, inflatables flying – it’s pointless.

So out you get, to the uniquely unpleasant experience of walking barefoot on a wet floor, trying to avoid spotting the short and curly hairs that others have shed.

The final hurdle to clear is getting dry and dressed without getting your clothes soaked.

It’s a balancing act that includes towelling yourself while preserving your modesty, then putting each item of clothing on without trailing it in a puddle.

Wet-foot-through-dry-trouser-leg should be an Olympic sport – it demands poise and precision.

I can guarantee that the best efforts will fail when a trouser leg flops into a puddle and you sit down on a sodden bench and soak your Y-fronts.

I’ve written this from the perspective of someone swimming alone. If you add your children to the mix it is another circle of Hell.

All in all then, public swimming pools are great fun – if you 
enjoy suffering.

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