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.
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.