The Race

During my morning sessions at the pool, I like to keep myself going by ‘racing’ fellow swimmers.

I use inverted commas there because my opponents have absolutely no idea that a race is taking place, given that the narrative takes place entirely in my own head.

Until one morning this week, when we all went head-to-head for real.

Sort of.

Competitors swim in the women's 200m butterfly heats during the London 2012 Olympic Games

The unusual scenario played out when I arrived at the pool to find the curious sight of everybody lined up in the shallow end, backs to the wall, as if they had been called to stand outside the headteacher’s office. Presumably for flooding the school.

I whipped off my shoes, shirt and shorts to reveal my swimsuit beneath them, stuffed my bag into a locker, endured the obligatory couple of seconds beneath the cold poolside shower, and found myself a gap in the line to jump into.

“What’s going on?” I asked the bloke waiting next to me as I pulled on my goggles and cap. “The lifeguard’s late”, he replied. “They say we can’t start until he gets here”.

A few more moments passed. “Shall we have a race?”, I asked, my question greeted by polite laughter. Screw that… I wasn’t joking.

It was at that point that The Walking Dead arrived and stood at poolside.

“ON YOUR MARKS…”, he roared, looking more thrilled than anyone has ever looked before. “…GET SET…”

…and would you believe it, the bastards actually went on ‘GO’.

Meanwhile, I stood still, alone, like a moron, waiting for official permission from the still-absent lifeguard.

After a couple of seconds, I realised that this was no time for playing by the rules. There was a race to be won.

I surged forward, trying to eliminate the head-start I’d unwittingly granted to my adversaries, and soon overcame much of the chasing pack (mainly because I, unlike most of them, am under the age of 60).

By the 15 metre mark, I had just two swimmers in front of me. Two very capable young ladies, whom I can identify only by the colours of the silicone hats atop their heads – Red Cap and Blue Cap.

The gap was shortening as we approached the end of the 30 metre length, until I found myself already having to circumnavigate The Walking Dead, who had begun his trot from the opposite end of the pool.

With my race impacted once again, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to catch Red Cap and Blue Cap. So I did what anybody would do when faced with defeat – I changed the rules.

They may have beaten me over 30 metres, but this race now covered a 60 metre course. And I had faith I could pull it off.

I turned as quickly as I could, and began to give chase once more, attempting valiantly to overcome the flawless front crawls of Red Cap and Blue Cap with my own peculiar brand of breaststroke.

As we reached past the halfway point of the second length, it became apparent that I wasn’t going to catch up with Red Cap. I could live with that. She’d swum a terrific race, fair play to her.

Second place was in my sights, though. Me versus Blue Cap. I was determined not to allow her to beat me.

And so, for the closing moments of the race, I’ll hand you over to our commentator.

“Into the final ten metres now, and Red Cap leads Blue Cap by a couple of body lengths, and it looks like she’s going to take this…

“…but the battle for second place is hotting up, with Tom Parker in the bronze medal position closing in on Blue Cap, having recovered well in this final 30 metres after a shaky start…

“…and they’re NECK-AND-NECK as they approach the wall… has Parker done enough?!

*pause to wait for result to be shown on the scoreboard*

“HE HAS!!!!!!

“Tom Parker takes the SILVER medal in the Men’s AND Women’s 60 metre whatever-stroke-you’re-physically-capable-of-doing, at the end of a quite ASTONISHING race!”

I believe they then cut to Helen Skelton, Mark Foster and Rebecca Adlington, who spoke at length about how proud I should be of my recovery, whilst lamenting blue cap’s decision to finish her race on a half-stroke.

What a race, what an achievement… what a start to the day!


Introducing Erdington’s finest

I swim each morning at Erdington Leisure Centre. Built in 1925, its exterior boasts a largely unspoilt stunning red brick frontage. Inside, while traces of its original elegance remain, cheap and tacky fixtures and fittings from the 1980s detract from its period charm.


Erdington Baths.

Still, it’s located a mere two-minute walk from my front door, and has a more than decent 30 metre pool, so it’s good enough for me.

The main drawback is the fact that it’s also good enough for many other people, and it tends to get really busy in the mornings. I must be honest… I get terribly annoyed with some of my fellow swimmers.


The original reception area at Erdington baths… sadly now long gone.

After a few weeks of daily swimming, I’m now au fait with the regulars, and while I’ve no idea as to their real names, I’m going to introduce them to you now by the nicknames I’ve made up for each of them.

I should point out that some of these monikers are unnecessarily cruel. I acknowledge this willingly. But, before judging me, please bear in mind the fact that  I tend to arrive at the pool feeling tired and grumpy (hence the name of this website), and I’m often at a disposition where people can infuriate me just by existing.

Are you ready? Then we’ll begin.

The Walking Dead

Always there seven days a week, come rain or shine. I’ve overheard other swimmers complaining about this guy, so at least I’m comfortable in knowing I’m not alone in my mild irritation.

The Walking Dead is an old man who opts to use the pool not to swim, but to walk. He jumps in at the deep end and ventures to the centre of the pool, before stopping, catching his breath, turning around and going back again. What this means is he spends an inordinate amount of time standing still in the busiest section of the pool, thus getting in way of pretty much everybody.

The worst thing about The Walking Dead is that he tends to do his thing right in the lane which I’m swimming in. This has unfortunately led to me giving him an inadvertent swift kick in the legs on a number of occasions, and it’s happened with enough regularity that he must believe it’s deliberate.

So, The Walking Dead, if you ever read this, please be assured that this is purely accidental. Also, I’m sorry for the insulting nickname my sub-conscious has bestowed upon you.

Michael Feltz

I think I’m more ashamed of this nickname than I am of ‘The Walking Dead’, partly because this man has done nothing to annoy me, and partly because it plays negatively on his physical attributes.

But still. Michael Feltz is called Michael Feltz because he swims with the grace of a certain Mr. Phelps, despite a physique akin to that of TV and radio personality Vanessa Feltz at her peak.


As I said, unnecessarily cruel. I’m a terrible, terrible person.

Doctor Backstroke

As you’ve probably guessed, this one incurs my wrath because she appears to believe that swimming backstroke in a massively busy pool is a good idea.

Why I have decided this is worthy of a doctorate is not as clear.

The Doc’s chosen stroke means that she has no awareness of other people around her, and the onus is on the rest of us to get out of her way as she ploughs through – particularly when she torpedoes her way out after kicking off the wall at the start of a length.

Just this morning, Doctor Backstroke’s insistence on swimming in this manner caused an incident when I was heading towards the deep end as she came in the other direction. With others swimming close to us, and little time to readjust my path, I was forced to abandon my stroke and stand up to let her pass.

Unfortunately, my momentum caused me to stumble forward, in turn leading to a robust shoulder-barge on The Walking Dead, knocking him down helplessly under the water. Doctor Backstroke, meanwhile continued forward (or backward), blissfully unaware of the carnage she’d caused.

Doctor Backstroke is definitely my least favourite at the moment.

Terry Triathlon

This fella is one of the elite few who are good enough to go in the designated fast lane, so I tend not to encounter him during my swim.

Despite this, he manages frequently to make me seethe given that he arrives at the pool dressed like he’s about to cycle the Tour de France, before hitting the water in attire which is usually the preserve of somebody preparing to swim the Channel.

This does not irritate me per se. People can wear whatever they want for all I care. It’s more the fact that dealing with two lots of fiddly gear means that he spends an inordinate amount of time by the lockers, and he has an incredible tendency to stand right in front of the one I’m specifically trying to get at.

No amount of passive-aggressive behaviour on my part is dissuading him from doing this. And seeing as I’m clearly not brave enough to say ‘excuse me’, I’m not sure what the correct course of action is…

Goggles McGinty

Goggles is brilliant. He’s absolutely my favourite.

A gentleman whom I’d estimate to be around 60-years-old, Goggles is there nearly every day, yet I’ve never seen him swim more than a couple of metres at a time.

He kicks off from the end, puts in a couple of token strokes, then stands up to adjust his goggles, before walking the rest of the length, still fiddling with them. He then rests for a good ten minutes, during which time he’ll usually stop somebody for a chat, before repeating the process again.

I love him, and I want to be his friend. Maybe I should buy him some decent eyewear for Christmas?

Billy Butter-Free

Billy rivals Doctor Backstroke for being a danger to others in the pool, given his unique swimming style which sees a freestyle stroke somehow delivered with a wide armspan that you’d normally associate with butterfly.

His problem, as with others, is spacial awareness. Put simply, if you ever find yourself in the same lane as Billy, keep your eyes open – I’ve had to dodge a smack in the mouth on more than one occasion.


The pool – Circa 1955.

So, there you go. A cut-out and keep guide to the characters I encounter on a daily basis.

Despite my harsh character assassinations, I have to say that I have a weird fondness for them all, and their little quirks… or at least I do when I’m over my early morning grump.

Just like me, they are all people who have opted to forego time they could easily spend dozing in bed because swimming every day is something that makes them feel good, or better, or healthier.

And let’s face it, they probably think of me in exactly the same way I think of them.

Terry Triathlon, for instance, might refer to me as ‘All The Gear, No Idea‘, such is my tendency to come along dressed from head-to-toe like Michael Phelps, despite possessing none of his ability.

The Walking Dead might think of me as ‘Alan Shearer‘, the prick who aims sly kicks at him and pretends it was an accident. (For the avoidance of doubt, it always is an accident!)

Doctor Backstroke may have nicknamed me ‘The Big Bad Wolf‘, such is the amount of angry huffing and puffing I do every time she swims near me.

The point is we’re all the same. Each exactly as guilty as the next. Agitating one other by not doing much wrong at all.


The pool – Circa 2016.

What’s nice about Erdington Baths is that there seems to be a community feel among many of the regulars. At around 8am, as I’m leaving to get on with my day, many of them have reconvened in the shallow end of the now empty fast lane, sitting jaccuzzi-style in the corner of the pool, having a chat.

That said, I’ve not been engaged in conversation with them myself, so I guess I have more to do before I’m accepted as one of their own.

Either that, or they’ve heard me muttering ‘for f**k’s sake’ when they’ve been in my way…

Follow me on Twitter! @SleepySwimmer1


From Wembley to Stratford, one stroke at a time

I was settling down on the first day of an Easter 2015 holiday in Ireland when I got a phonecall I’ll never forget.

“Mr. Parker, I believe you recently entered a competition to play with Ian Wright at Wembley…?”

“Yes, that’s right…”

“Well I’m pleased to tell you that you’re our lucky winner”.

Holy. Mary. Mother. Of. God.

Having grown up harbouring doomed ambitions of a career as a professional footballer, the opportunity to play at the home of football is something I’d spent plenty of time dreaming about, but had long since conceded would never happen.

And now, here it was. My figurative lottery win. Every boy’s dream. Yet, along with my natural feelings of excitement were ones of apprehension. Dread, even.

Yes, my dream had come true. But it had done so at a time when I was in about the worst shape I’d ever been.

The late fitness test

My week of feasting on Guinness, Tayto and the odd Easter egg was abandoned. Instead I threw myself wholeheartedly into a crash fitness course in the short time I had before setting foot on the hallowed turf.

The days that followed saw me make a few trudges up and down the Slievenamon mountain in Co.Tipperary, as well as a few blasts around picturesque Irish country lanes on a mountain bike.

At the summit of Slievenamon as part of my training for Wembley

My return home to Birmingham saw me continue in the same vein, with a few desperate trips to the local park for a kickabout to try and kid myself I was in any way ready for a 90 minute game of football.

Needless to say, I wasn’t. 20 days isn’t enough time to undo 20-odd years of excess. That the video below shows my most meaningful contribution to the game says everything.

In most ways, my Wembley experience was wonderful. The walk down the tunnel, lining up for the national anthem, and climbing the steps to the Royal Box to collect the trophy are moments that will live long in the memory.

But the day will always be tinged with the disappointment that I wasn’t physically able to grasp the opportunity with both hands. And I have only myself to blame.

Team Wrighty – Wembley winners

Righting the wrongs

The one positive was that the day served as a wake-up call as to how unfit I truly was, and I’d soon joined my local leisure centre to continue my pursuit of fitness.

The problem was that, while I was doing a manful job of plodding along to the gym two or three times a week, I was taking no enjoyment from the experience whatsoever. It made me feel hot and heavy, and frankly I was always glad of a good excuse not to bother going.

An exception to this feeling of indifference was the fact that I quite enjoyed swimming… and now, finally, we get to the crux of why my first post on my swimming blog has revolved around a football match I played last year.

The truth hurts

My gym is located in the same 1920s building as the Erdington swimming pool, and my occasional weekend wallows in the water were much valued, if few and far between. The problem lay in the fact that the pool is only open for public swimming at 7am each morning, and I found myself point blank refusing to haul myself from the comfort of my bed in order to exercise.

Despite gentle encouragement from my fiancee, Anna, I was not to be dissuaded from this view. Until she dropped a truthbomb one day.

“You could use the hour you spend lying in bed and looking at Facebook on your phone to go swimming”.

Bugger. She was dead right. So, the next morning, I set my alarm for 6.45 as usual, but instead of hitting snooze four or five times, I dragged myself up and out of the house.

And shock horror, I really bloody enjoyed it. So I went the next day. And the day after that. And six weeks later, my daily morning swims are just about my favourite thing.

All the gear, no idea

I’m feeling stronger and fitter than I have in a long time after just a few weeks, and I’m feeling certain that swimming may be the route to redemption to rid myself of those Wembley regrets.

A new target

The obvious way to resolve this story is to get in shape, step out again at Wembley and score the winning goal for that classic Hollywood ending. In reality, that’s not going to happen. Opportunities like that rarely come along once, let alone twice.

However, I won’t get closure until I do myself justice in an equivalent setting. And luckily, my new chosen sport offers me an easy enough route to do just that.

Full disclosure time: While I’m a relative newcomer to regular swimming, I actually used to make a significant portion of my living from the sport. Between 2010-2013, I proudly worked for the PR agency of the world’s leading swimwear brand, Speedo, working as part of a team delivering its communications to more than 170 countries across the world.

That period, of course, took in the London 2012 Olympics, and it was there that I enjoyed one of the most rewarding periods of my professional life by helping to deliver Speedo’s projects surrounding the event – with the opportunity to witness the likes of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte turning in medal-winning performances the ultimate highlight.

aquatics centre

It’s for this reason that, for me, the London Aquatics Centre is swimming’s equivalent of Wembley.

And, as luck would have it, it’s since taken on a post-Olympic life as a standard public swimming pool.

One condition

If I wanted to, I could just make a booking right now and swim in the Olympic pool for the princely sum of just £4.95. But I’m not doing that yet, and it has everything to do with how I feel about Wembley.

To swim in that pool, to follow in the footsteps of the greats, feels like a huge deal to me. That’s why I have no intention of taking the plunge into it until I feel ready to do it justice.

How long this will be, I don’t know. I’m not even sure how I’ll define ‘ready’. But I’m sure I’ll know when the time comes.

This blog, therefore, exists to chart my progress as I set out to reach this target, and hopefully my experiences along the way will prove to be interesting, entertaining, and perhaps even inspiring.

I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

You know I am. I really am.