I am 10 feet tall
It all started so innocently, I never saws it coming, an event more memorable and embarrassing than the time the Jack Russell I had crouched down to pat was urinating against my back. I had been doing improvers swimming lessons for a couple of months, which took place on a Wednesday from 8:30 " 9:00pm. Although I wasn't a particularly bad swimmer to begin with, I was keen to learn a proper stroke and move away from the old one eye open, one eye closed, balancing a vase on my head technique, so popular with women.
The swimming lessons are held in the local baths, complete with colour coded male and female cubicles to the side. It is always difficult to ignore the overwhelming stench of urine emanating from both the pool and the cubicles at the time of my lesson, which directly follows a children's class. As I lower myself into the pool after quickly scanning its floor for a code brown, my first thought is always the same.... "I am swimming in piss, hello piss, here I am". To make matters worse, I have no confidence in the pools lifeguard, who looks like the type of person who would throw you the finger rather than the rubber ring if you were drowning.
There are three of us in the Wednesday class, consisting of me, James and "mother of three". Out of all of us, I am by far the best swimmer for no other reason than that the other two are shit. James is a twenty something year old Australian hardly able to stand in waist high water without the aid of a large floatation devise. For him, simply being in the shallow end is the equivalent to a normal person trying to stand up straight on a slippery surface whilst lubricated in butter. Every stroke he tries ends up being an exaggerated version of the doggy paddle, with him panting loudly, mouth wide open, swallowing pints of piss as he goes. I struggle to watch him splash about with his front teeth protruding through his hair, which is plastered all over his face. I imagine that he is not Australias proudest export.
The third woman in the group after James and me is a lady I call "mother of three". She is slight and pasty and looks like the type of person who might be allergic to sunlight. She has a constant vacant expression and packs an extra bag under each eye every time I see her. I have overheard her telling various people in other classes time and time again "this is the only bit of exercise I get because I am a mother of three". She refers to her children as thou they are some sort of a disabling disease.
Our teachers name is Terry or Gerry, I never cared to clarify. He is devoid of bottom teeth, has a supersized belly, which hangs over his pants and unusually feminine, slim upper arms. He and his belly parade up and down the pool shouting orders, most of which I can't hear due to a combination of water stuck in my ears and an extra tight swimming cap, which cuts off the circulation to my head. On occasions however, from my temporarily deaf world, he becomes mesmerising to watch, no sound needed. I often imagine that he would make a great rave dancer, with the sweeping arm gestures and the rhythmic swerve of his hands as they float through the air mimicking swimming actions. From time to time, he will lie down at the side of the pool and do riding the bike motions. This is not so much fun when he is wearing his short shorts and we all get a peak at Terry junior.
A beginners swim class goes on in the shallow end at the same time as our lesson, which incredibly makes mine the advanced class. On occasion, when swimming our widths, beginners will cut across us. Like any normal person, I anticipate this and wait for them to pass. James on the other hand continues, swimming right through them, pulling a number of them underwater and giving them their first near death experience. It comes much to the beginners horror to see this tooth infested thing with flailing arms coming towards them. For all, except James this is a traumatic experience.
Two Wednesdays ago Terry informed me that he had come to the conclusion that I was progressing far beyond what James and "mother of three" were. He invited me to join a more advanced class, which takes place on a Friday. He said the words "competitive swimming club" and my ego inflated immediately, I could feel my shoulders broadening and my arms lengthening then and there. "He thinks I am amazing", I whispered to myself.
Friday finally arrived. All week I had been visualising what the "competitive swimming club" would be like. I pictured body beautifuls with triangular builds and tiny asses, the exact opposite of James if you will. I considered that there was a chance that James and "mother of three" are actually excellent swimmers and that perhaps my ability to gauge talent is distorted, this revelation would of course mean that I am an outstanding water baby.
Getting my bag ready for the club lesson, I was worried about what swimming cap to wear. I wanted to make a good impression on the rest of the club team and couldn't find my usual black silicone Speedo cap, which regulates my temperature so well. Instead, I had to wear the cap that my 3-year-old niece wore to the local pool during the summer. It was blue canvas with a large white stripe running from front to back. "Maybe the others will think my hat is from a club I represent", I thought as I slipped it on, giving me an instant facelift "maybe even a county".
I arrived at the swimming pool and told the receptionist that I was there to swim with the club. Just saying those words gave me a sense of 'I'm better than you'. I was directed to the changing rooms, which were disappointingly non-descript, 'I expected more than this', I thought to myself. I got into my togs and sat on a bench by the side of the pool waiting for the others to arrive. I had quite an awkward moment when I was met with a crotch in my face, a man in Speedos stood right in front of me and started talking to a man behind me. I tried to look anywhere rather than THERE.
Eventually Terry arrived and said he would introduce me to the team. Excited and a little nervous, I looked around for them. As I was lead towards the end of the pool, something dawned on me... why were the only other adults here fully dressed and sitting on the benches by the pool? I soon figured out that they were the parents of the children's swimming team Terry had put me on. I, a 27 year old, fully formed woman was introduced as a potential new team member to Robert, a 7-year-old child up to my waist and Hannah a 6 year old with pigtails and more snot than skin. There were about 12 of them in total. I could have been any one of their mothers. "Hi Niamh" they cheered as they waved like simpletons. Robert was wearing Speedos the size of my thumbnail and had spindly matchstick legs. Although, he looked weak, insipid and insignificant, when he entered the water Roberts matchstick legs propelled him forward with the force of a kangaroo being shot out of a cannon. The same applied to Hannah and the other dwarfs. This was a superior breed of child, a hybrid of Ian Thorpe and flipper the friendly dolphin, I scanned them for gills. I knew instantly my being there was a mistake and not for one moment would they believe that I had taken an evening out from representing my blue and white county. This moment would only have been made more embarrassing had I had forgotten to put my swimming togs on.
"Ten lengths front crawl without using your legs, then ten lengths back crawl using one arm", Terry yelled excitedly. "You bastard" I thought as I evil eyed him through fogged goggles. The kids somersaulted powerfully into the water, hardly making a splash, some swimming over me, some under me. After my third length, my arms felt like lead, I started involuntarily breathing through my nose underwater, I was choking. After 5 minutes of this, I wanted to die. I stopped when I could and hung onto the side of the pool, panting and gasping for air like a washed up fish. I considered trying to drink the swimming pool to empty it, how I wished it were vodka.
To make it all worse, the parents of these children were watching this act of humiliation from the side of the pool. I swore with each length the pool was getting longer and longer and my arms shorter and heavier. Exhausted, I had to get out after every 2 lengths and walk to the other end of the pool, whilst the super kids kept going and going. I staggered by the parents, red faced with my feet dragging and water shooting out my nose. I became conscious of my unusually large body as I saw one of the mothers look directly at me and say to the woman beside her "she's very big for her age". I was tempted to tell her in my best eastern European accent "in my country we bite the heads of chickens bigger than your child" whilst doing a clawing motion at the air in front of her face.
In between suicidal thoughts, I wondered what the hell Terry was thinking asking me to join this class. Does he think I am a child? Can't he tell the difference between Jason, my 6-year-old relay partner and me?
"Niamh, you are doing belly flops, keep your head down, so it doesn't hurt so much". "Screw you Terry, toothless wonder", I thought.
The hour was over, I had survived. As I climbed out of the pool I whacked my knee off the side, one final act of humiliation I thought as I watched the deep purple bruise form instantly. I thanked Terry for ruining my life and hobbled into the changing rooms. I was a broken woman, a shadow of my former self. I had let my imaginary blue and white county team and myself down. My hands were shaking, my legs like jelly. I was so exhausted, I was having problems getting dressed and in particular was finding putting on my bra very tricky. I became full of envy for my female team mates, who did not yet need to wear one. Humbled, I got into my car and with my full adults drivers licence in my wallet I drove off, the James of the kid's club swim team.