Yesterday I swam a mile before work at The Oasis, the public open air pool in the heart of Covent Garden. The pool is 27.5 metres long so a mile is sixty lengths. The Oasis is one of my “locals”, being close to work and so where I swim both before work and some lunchtimes (not on the same day, though! 😉). Being open to the public and situated where it is, it’s always always crowded. It’s heated year-round to a comfortable 28° and although it’s slightly less busy during the winter there is never a time when it’s what I would call a relaxing swim, particularly at the times when I can go, before work and at lunch time. I’ve never ever been there and not had to share a lane with at least two or three other swimmers.
Yesterday was no exception. The outdoor pool opens at 7am and by the time I hopped in at ten past there were about six people, all young men, speeding up and down the fast lane. Just to get in I had to wait for one chap to get to the end and turn and for one chap to push off. I and another guy had arrived poolside at the same time, but on the basis that I already had my goggles on and he had his in his hand I hopped in ahead of him and pushed off.
The Oasis has the usual fast, medium and slow lanes that pools, at least in London, generally have; their lanes are probably about three metres wide. This is wide enough to have two streams of swimmers doing front crawl in a lane, the faster up and down the middle, the slower along the sides, but if anyone is swimming breaststroke, the lane is too narrow to comfortably pass them. The medium lane usually has quite a few people swimming breaststroke relatively slowly, so I always swim in the fast lane, squished over as far as I can towards the side or the lane rope to let other swimmers past, where I’m usually among the slower swimmers (although still faster than the swimmers in the medium lane).
Given the restricted space and the number of people trying to use it, this makes swimming in The Oasis in the morning a bit of a dog’s breakfast. The pool is so short that it’s hard to get into a rhythm, and you hardly have the chance to get going before you’re running into the end. That brings up the issue of turning; as I say, since I’m one of the slower swimmers in the lane I usually try to swim over to the side, so when it comes to turning I have to grab the end, turn around to see if anyone’s coming up behind me or up the middle, get myself across to the other side and push off, all without colliding with anyone else. At the deep end this is all this involves; at the shallow end I also have to try to avoid the guys standing against the wall and resting or chatting; sometimes there’s only about six inches of tile to actually turn and push off on, and I also have to try to avoid any faster swimmer coming up behind. I have to try to work out, if another swimmer is coming in to turn, or to push off, at the same time as me, whether they’re faster (let them go first) or slower (try to get ahead of the to avoid either swimming up their arse or having to pass them and piss off the faster swimmers coming down the middle). And the number of people swimming in a relatively small space means the water is a bit disturbed; it washes and slaps about and sometimes bashes into your face so you swallow a mouthful of stale swimming pool. It’s not exactly horrible but it’s not really an interval of relaxed reflection either.