The Return of Furious Bob

Our eponymous hero first appeared in the letters column of H2Open magazine back in 2012, subsequent to Simon Griffith, (editor of H2Open) posting a link to the one of the articles I’d written about pool lane swimming etiquette.

Bob was not happy.  Bob was very not happy.

I was an elitist. I was…a lane hog.

(Is that the right term? When I was a kid I thought the hogs mentioned on TV were a different animal from the pigs we had in Ireland. Do pigs swim? I keep track of which land animals can swim by checking the names of Channel relay teams, which are the swimming equivalent of hairdresser’s names. There are lots of dolphins, sharks, penguins, seals etc but I don’t recall any teams named hog wild in the water or similar. I dunno, it seems like it might be hard to get a good forearm catch with trotters. Still.)

My expectation that people lane swimming, in a lane swimming lane, should know the correct etiquette for lane swimming… was anathema to Bob. I was everything wrong with swimming. And by extension, many of you reading this are the same as me. Who the hell are we, with our knowledge and experience?

I believed that following lane etiquette would allow Bob and I and our disparate speeds and abilities to share the pool, to co-exist. Bob thought I was arrogant (he didn’t say that, but I am,so I’m told, so I’m giving him a free point). I was the plaintive voice crying “why can’t we all just get along”. Bob however was the Donald Trump of lane swimming. My experience was nothing. My (I don’t want to use the word knowledge here, because facts and such-like are now the hallmark of the elitist left) liberal belief that everyone doesn’t have to be the same to make lane swimming work were antithetical to Bob’s world view. Bob wanted everyone to be the same. Except for himself, the only special one who deserved to operate according to his own desires. My attempt to codify some etiquette to serve us all was the swimming equivalent of the International Criminal Court, a good idea but only for other countries and other people, not Bob because Bob is special. Bob was actually the perfect metaphor for the world we now live in.

I may have gotten a bit off topic.

Lane swimming etiquette: Swimmers would put it on t-shirts we’d wear while swimming, if we thought any of those who needed it would read it, and if wearing t-shirts while swimming weren’t a drag. (Ba-dum). One of my tattoos says Let me pass you idiot. I agonised over whether to use a comma in that, but since it’s written on my right fist which I would likely be using to punch the offending person, I decided it was unnecessary. I was going to get another on the sole of my right foot that says “If you thought I was annoying when I was behind, wait ’til you see me while I’m in front“. But I have ticklish feets so I just put “annoying” and I am therefore one hundred percent accurate regardless of your viewpoint.

But all this is old news and we’re here to speak of the return of Furious Bob.

You will see a lot of this view

In the scenario the pool is modern and well-managed, and professionally run with a lane for public swims available at all times, directions signs placed by LGs following the direction chosen by the first swimmer that day. The lanes are mostly used by fireflies with an occasional swimmer. The ratio is about ten to one: One experienced swimmer with some grasp of lane etiquette, to ten people with no courtesy and little awareness. Arms and legs all over the place, swimming in the middle of the lane, turning slowly at the wall in front of you, all the usual problems. The LGs are as usual not actually experienced swimmers, so typically not familiar with lane etiquette despite watching it for extended periods often covering years. Lane etiquette is like a secret rite of induction passed between swimmers. It doesn’t matter if you have been swimming for decades, if you don’t understand lane etiquette. Before I swam I thought LGs would all be swimmers. How wrong I was.

The problem wasn’t so much the fireflies, as I think of those not-so-capable swimmers mentioned above who are usually only in the lane for a few hundred metres, fleeting moments compared to the distance swimmer is trying to do a three or four hour swim. Some of them would be problematic, but still a brief inconvenience. In total they could be more irritating like a cloud of insects but that still depended on the swimmer’s acceptance or otherwise of the various obstructions and how many entered the lane at once. Fireflies self-regulate in this one aspect: There will never be more than four of them in the lane with a swimmer. This is an empirically derived Law of the Universe. But four is too many.

The difficulty this day was a special category of firefly; kids. A big announcement by the first young teenager to the two (one distance, one pool) swimmers conveniently paused between long sets, loudly and assertively instructed said old fogies (i.e. no longer in school) to move out of the way.

Such a bold announcement surely heralded the arrival of a young aquatic star in his bright vari-coloured jammers, accompanied by his train of admirers, likely the age group stars of the local team. The old fogey was impressed. He’d done things, but didn’t possess this level of self-confidence. Maybe we’d look back in years to come, and say of the Olympic multi–medal winner; ‘I remember when he told me to get out of his way. I was his mentor for a while‘. He watched while the kid struck the classic swimmer-putting-goggles pose, shoulders back, elbows high, pigeon-chested,  the aquatic version of pulling on a pair of vambraces and tightening a sword belt.

Unfortunately, the entire spectacle fell apart when the kid plopped into the water and started granny stroking down the middle of the lane. His coterie spread out on either side, like a gaggle of ducklings who have gone to the water too long before fledging.

The penultimate three-quarter kilometre set was mostly typified by ongoing skirmishes with the young gladiators. All four would hang off the wall at the deep end. They’d stop swimming and turn back, going the wrong direction. They berated the two ancient swimmers to keep away from them, to not swim into them, even demanded apologies. They’d turn, and then stop two metres from the wall right in front of the long distance swimmer flip-turning off the wall. America had voted for Trump.

And then Furious Bob arrived.

It was after a turn, barely avoiding punching into one kid’s stomach from a flip turn. I stayed down in the water while the aquatic star started mouthing.

I was completely in the right. I’d tried to avoid them, I’d tried to tell then what to do and what not to do. I looked (uselessly) to the LG for help.

I’d been swimming for about 9000 metres, and feeling crap, but you can’t swim that long without your heart rate elevating somewhat. So in the end, I snapped at a kid, and told him he hadn’t a clue what he and his friends were doing, and that he shouldn’t be in the swimming lane if he didn’t know how to swim with swimmers.

It didn’t matter that I was right. It didn’t matter that I knew the etiquette. It didn’t matter that I’m always aware that if a kid gets hurt, regardless of circumstance, I’d get the blame. It didn’t matter that we all learn the hard way, by making mistakes. It didn’t matter that I’d kept cool through all the preceding problems, collisions and impositions. It only mattered that I snapped at a kid and argued with the LG that none of them knew what they were doing.

I’d become Furious Bob.

My session was over after only another one and half k. Later, after my heart returned to normal and I back was at home, I was annoyed at myself and a little ashamed. I understood that even though I was right, I was also wrong. I don’t like to be angry. And certainly not at kids, who, all the context aside, are still only kids.

Each swim is only one dot. What matters is the line. When faced with a difficult swimming situation, I usually try to stay calm, treat it as something that will over soon and think about the line I’ve drawn across the waters over the years, instead of that dot.

I’m no saint, and sometimes, I will try the various stunts that possibly might but actually rarely work: butterfly, extra kick splashing, slightly too close flip turn, foot touching. I’ve only exceptionally managed to successfully verbally explain to someone who didn’t know what they doing what the correct etiquette is. Most of the time, we just struggle on, and hope that as people swim more, they will begin to learn and implement the appropriate etiquette. It’s not, and never will be easy.

I don’t have any tattoos.

I’m sorry for being Furious Bob.


12 thoughts on “The Return of Furious Bob

  1. I was furious yesterday at a person ignorant of etiquette yesterday. Was 3km through a 3.5km swim when Drafting Drake jumped in and would tail me for a length then rest as I did my next length, then repeat. Then he loaded up with paddles and pull buoy, would draft me for a length, but now instead of resting, would pass at the last second, tumble turning at the same time as me and pushing off. I was unaware as I’m focused on the wall and goggle warping impedes peripheral vision. First I learned of it was getting a paddle to the head. I went DefCon 1. I’m not proud of it. I work in a field where I’m focused on helping people, saving lives, and I love the variety and positivity of humanity on this planet. So I was incredibly surprised that I was threatening to f*n knock the other swimmer out if he did it again. My initial attempts at communicating the basics of etiquette in a civil way were unsuccessful. Drafting Drake was the swimming version of Trump described above.


  2. I liked your original post about furious Bob and sometimes I think about him. Funny that you became Furious Bob yourself. I agree that it happens to everyone, as Suzie says. I will share my Furious Bob story.

    I was swimming a nice solid set when a swimmer jumped in the pool as I was approaching my turn. He proceeded to take off and swim. I did my turn and almost immediately caught up to him. He was pretty slow in the fast lane. I tapped his foot at the flags and set up to pass him on the turn. He got to the wall and I cut to center and started my turn which is when I glimpsed him moving to center himself. I put on the brakes and yelled at him as I did a dodging open water turn. “What the hell are you doing?!?” And then I tore off down the pool faster and madder because I was going to miss my send off. At my next stop the guy was standing at the end of the pool. He apologized and said he didn’t really understand how things worked. He also didn’t speak English as a first language. So that was his first introduction to an American jerk.

    I quickly apologized for my behavior and not understanding that he wasn’t trying to screw me up on purpose. I then explained the simple rules of etiquette, which are essentially that the faster swimmer has the right of way. And he thanked me and we were on our way. I ended up seeing him many times at the pool and he was a nice conscientious and considerate swimmer.

    Moral of the story is that a lot of times, simple communication can work. Although I’m not sure kids understand adult words. Sometimes you just have to run the little sh!ts over…


  3. Another great post. You have touched on it there in the post (no, not the foot); I reckon a large part of the problem stems from the pools and the management of same. There seems to be little appetite to set up and maintain a decent lane etiquette system. Or certainly, even if a few directional arrows are put up, that’s about it, and if the system is malfunctioning (due to human error), then you are left to fend for yourself. Then you either have a bunfight (which is rare), or the far more common spectacle of the classic Irish passive/aggressive display (otherwise known as charades), with much huffing and puffing and very little changing. Whilst I would respect Furious Bob’s right to the space, he also needs to respect the rights of others. And a polite agreement as each person enters the lane is usually all it takes to sort these things out.
    Sorry to hear you slipped there, Donal. Maybe you need to get a meeting? LSA (Lane Swimmers Anonymous) hold regular get-togethers. Just remember to follow LSA etiquette when attending. Arrive promptly at the hall, suitably dressed, and enter by the side-door, to the left, and don’t come in too quickly…


  4. Dear Lone Swimmer,
    Pigs are great swimmers even with their short legs. However, their hooves are sharp so they run the very real risk of slitting their own throats if they swim. I had a pet pig who loved to swim, and we let him. Never came home from the pond bloody, always came home happy.


  5. We all from time to time fall out of alignment. I fell out of alignment on a motorcycle once… ruined my whole day. More recently I was chased down on a bicycle by a furious bob. Furious that I had past him too fast he got all up in my face at the traffic lights and said ‘you do not pass me like that going so fast do you realise realize how dangerous I was about to turn you should have used a bell!!!’ the lights turned green and as I was fast I said screw you and took off with a big smile. 5 minutes later I felt like a fool and realised my mistake.


  6. At one time or another, we are ALL Furious Bob, right? Most of us however do not have the ability to convey our feelings as eloquently as you ,so we go out and buy stuff or drink or eat too much. This is a much better way to vent those feelings.


  7. Morning Bryon Furious Bob made me laugh. And each new blog makes me discover old ones. All is good in the world, momentarily.  The MSF forum is also a new source of reading. SO MUCH to catch up on. One leads to another and then another, and Suzie Dods’ comment on the Hoopergate thread made me go to the ‘Ego Swimmers’. Interesting reading. But now I’m paranoid that my fundraising and Face-ache posts about my EC may seem ego driven. Hope not. But saying that, I also tend to think too deeply too. I’m also questioning my attempt to raise more for the charities I’m swimming for with my email signature at the bottom may seem too much (that was me hoping the odd person I deal with in business may donate a few squid). This will be the last swim for charity though, all of it has been for that reason, after this is like to just swim for me. And there’s only so many times you can ask for friends and family to hand over their hard earned dosh, it’s also really expensive…I spent a fortune this year sponsoring people who had sponsored me.  Anyway, great blog.  Jaysus 

    Deborah Herridge

    Swimming the English Channel for five charities in 2017


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