Swimming with a Merman

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It’s not everyone that pops to the pool and finds themselves swimming with a real-life merman. But that’s what happened on Friday.

I had been putting off my swim. And not just because it looked like being a date with drowning. Life was conspiring against me.

Initially I was going to give Spin another go, and get into the pool directly after that. Except there was the laundry crisis. Cruelly caused, as we all know, by the Grumpster. Who was most definitely responsible for the squirrel stock of gear kicked behind the bedroom door after being discarded prior to showering, and not placed, as one might suppose, in the laundry basket. On multiple occasions.

You might suppose that I’d have gone straight for the swim. But Aquafit and Spin are timetabled together, so THERE WAS NO ROOM AT THE POOL.

And yes, there are other pools. But there are 2 important advantages to consider about the gym pool.

  1. It’s free to use with your membership, and
  2. (which has far more weight in my mind), It’s only 16m long, which is very gratifying when you’re going to test your ability to withstand drowning for a distance of 50m. If things go wrong, you get to cling and gasp to a pool-end much more readily. (It’s also fairly anti-drowning, midway through a length, as it’s only 1.3m deep at all points. Good for those of us over 1.3m in height). But for the purposes of dramatising my feat, we’ll gloss over all measurement facts.

Undeterred, I decided to use the time wisely for blogging. I’d written one version of a blog post, then substantially altered it, gone to schedule it and as it appeared in the “to be published state”, I realised it was the original text, which I had discarded. Not my MUCH SUPERIOR and IMPROVED text. And due to failing to perform some update type thingy, there was no option to recover previous versions!! So I was again prevented from popping to the pool, because I was trying to recreate what I had written.

Then, due to another shift of the time-space continuum, it was suddenly lunchtime, and my tummy was rumbling. And Dexter was already getting anxious about his post lunch walk. So we had to do those things.

But I consoled myself that Friday afternoon at the pool was likely to be quiet.

How wrong I was.

Because as I was about to enter the water, I did a double-take at the real-life talking half fish/half man sitting on the edge of the pool, flicking his golden mertail. Having enlightened the swimmer in the neighbouring lane about his merishness, he did a few lengths of tail flicking in his lane, then suddenly emerged in mine.

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Look – I wasn’t the one who had been talking to him. I’ve been brought up not to talk to any strange (mer-)man, so I had been minding my own business and gawping (hopefully discreetly, but probably not). I was quietly warming up with some pleasant lengths of breaststroke and trying to ignore the fact that I’d come to the pool to dice with death. And then suddenly there he was, flapping his tail across MY lane, because he’d decided to perch on the pool steps, which inconveniently were on the side of the lane I was in. So, I was a bit compromised. I’d done my warm up lengths and was finally looking down the barrel at the reality of having to swim front crawl, and now suddenly there was a great golden tail swishing about blocking my way. What to do? I mean, mermaids have a bit of a reputation for turning nasty if crossed. Is that true of the males of the species? I didn’t know, but I didn’t want to risk it. So I waited. I sipped a few more mouthfuls from my water bottle. I adjusted my goggles. I fiddled with my watch which was poolside because I nearly forgot to take it off. But still he kept on swishing. So I did the only thing I could. I waited till the swimmer in the lane next to me was safely swimming away down her lane, and ducked under the rope to get into the merman’s vacated lane.

Which created the miracle! I think there may have been a few magical golden scales that transformed the water.

I needed to swim 3 laps + 2m of a 4th lap to get to 50m.

Now 50m, might not seem a lot. In fact, when I’m in the water, my paddle shaped feet become a gift. So long as I’m swimming breaststroke. There is such a huge surface area of foot to push away the water, I can get a pretty good glide on. But that advantage is reduced to zero when you’re swimming front or back crawl.

Plus, you have to coordinate all the arm pulling and leg kicking with remembering to breath. I only seem to be capable of any 2 or the 3, with breathing being the loser most times. Which is unfortunate, really.

But I did it. I swam 50m of front crawl*.

It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t pretty. There was a lot of splashing and blowing out of bubbles in a panicky sort of way and thinking that my lungs might actually explode but I got through all the turns without stopping and only put my feet down when I judged I’d swum the all important extra 2m.

And I rewarded myself with plenty of recovery swimming, i.e. breaststroke. Which gave me time to contemplate why they bother to teach butterfly. I always thought it was because swimming teachers are basically sadists and enjoy inflicting pain. But actually they are simply empowering children everywhere to grow up to be a merman/mermaid, if that’s what they want.

And I got to wondering if the merman was here on holiday. After all, it coincided with Em Rusciano being in town for her show, and I could imagine her having a golden merman as part of her entourage. But I (discreetly – I’m sure I wasn’t staring with my mouth open) overheard him telling the lady in the lane beside me that he tends to swim with a group of friends at South Bank. He’s a local merman! Which begs the question, has the Brisbane tourist board been napping? There’s a collective of mermen swimming at South Bank, and it isn’t being publicised to the world? Move over Gold Coast: Brisbane has merpeople!

And as I got into a breaststroke groove, I found my mind wandering in a familiar way. The way it does when I’m out on long runs. I started thinking about Swim Bike Mom’s thoughts on not running, (it’s a theme lately, it seems. You can also read Kat’s much sadder tale of not running here, but be warned, her story might break your heart, because hers comes with no easy fixes). Swim Bike Mom misses the way her mind can disappear whilst running, but not so much whilst swimming.  And I can understand that, because she must be constantly fighting drowning, as triathloners seem to insist on front crawl; you’re not going to get that same release when you’re staring down death length after length.

But I remembered that once swimming was my thing. (I was once in a swim club as a kid, and whilst I hated every single stroke of any length that wasn’t breaststroke, I did plough up and down weekly with no drowning).  After all those years out of the pool, it suddenly came back to me how breaststroke has the magical quality akin to a long run that brings the world back into perspective and allows your mind to process all the things.

And on Friday, down with the merman, I found a happy place again.

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*Yes, I’m being a pedant. Front crawl is the stroke that most people chose to swim in a “freestyle” race. Freestyle has slipped into common parlance, but it is a swimming event, not a style of swimming!!

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