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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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…
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