I have booked E into a series of swimming lessons. It has been a while since we have ventured into a leisure centre to submerge oursleves in a heady cocktail of warm water, chlorine and baby piss. My attempts at getting E to feel at home and confident in the water seem to have backfired somewhat to date, and the sound of his damp screams from the last set of lessons still ring in my ears.
But ever the optimist, I have booked us in to the new leisure centre for what the swimming co-ordinator calls ‘an amazing, fun time in the water’. Which I fear should be more accurately described as ‘half hour of barely disguised torture with the added ignomy of being seen in public in your swimming costume’. As we enter the changing rooms, I begin to feel a smidgen more positive. There is no sight of a soggy plaster on the floor, it doesn’t smell of body crevices and I am not paddling through puddles of cold liquid that look like pool water but quite frankly, are more likely to have originated somewhere a lot more sinister.
Soon bedecked in an insufficent quantity of lycra (now there is a phrase that makes me blush just writing it) I put my bag in a locker, insert my 20p and shut the door. It springs open, minus the 20p. Buggar. I scrabble around in my purse and prise out another 20 pence piece. Okay, don’t fuck this up again. Slowly, I push the coin into the slot and gently close the door. Hmmm. Perhaps I should have adopted the ‘slam and kick’ strategy, as again, the door swings open, coinless. Shit. I begin to twitch slightly as I contemplate with horror a trip out to reception in my swimming costume to get some more change. I’m not saying I look grim, but I could be hired as a useful evacuation aid should a fire break out. I am getting a bit tetchy now, mainly at the thought of how much this is going to end up costing. Where are all these bloody 20 pences disappearing to? Have I just stumbled onto The Great Locker Scam?
However, a friendly member of staff wielding a mop delicately points out that is is my own ineptitude that is to blame and slowly, with the manner of a special needs teacher, explains the finer operational points of inserting a coin, twisting the key and locking the door. Suitably humbled, I search my purse, the bottom of my bag and the surrounding floor area for one last coin, throwing a quick prayer out to the God of Fat Thighs to avert the impending horror of going out to reception. Bless her, she duly obliges and I find a coin languishing at the bottom of the bag.
Finally, we venture to the pool and sit on the bench. E watches the swimmers in the main pool with interest and I chat about the exciting lesson we are about to embark on with as much enthusiasm as I can muster whilst simultaneously sucking in my stomach, holding the towel over my unshaven legs and making sure E doesn’t stray too close to the edge. The swimming coach arrives. To be fair, I only know this due to it being written on his tee shirt. Without the subtitles, I would have assumed he was going to be joined by his mother and take part in our lesson, he looked so bloody young. I invite E to come into the water, but he refuses. I go in myself and try and cajole him in with a broad smile (no mean feat when your teeth are gritted) but he stands on the side and slowly shakes his head. After several minutes of this, the coach joins in this marvellous game of ‘get that bloody child into the water so we can start the lesson’ and I pick E up and carry him into the water, where all the other kids are happily spashing about with anticipation.
“Can I get out now, mummy?” E implores, after precisely thirty seconds in the water. My sodding sentiments precisely.
We start the lesson, which involves me dragging E up and down the pool whilst he flawlessy executes the ‘flail and wail’ maneouvre, ensuring it takes all my strength just to hold onto his wriggling, thrashing body whilst getting drenched with spray. Luckily, the splashes on my face disguise the sweat that is beginning to appear with the exertion of dragging the dead weight of my son through the water whilst slightly bent over and trying to subdue the ever-increasing feeling of stress of putting myself and E through this voluntarily.
“Can I get out now?” asks E. Several more times.
At one point in the lesson woggles are introduced. In my day, a woggle was something to do with the attire of scouts, but crikey, look what the technological revolution has done for us: now they are six foot long tubes of polystyrene that the kids are supposed to hook their arms over and use as a buoyancy aid. In my hands though, the woggle acts as a giant weapon that slaps me round the face several times whilst I attempt to wrap it around E’s torso. Obviously, he hates it instantly and struggles against the best efforts of both me and the coach to get him properly installed on it. As the rest of the class reach the other side of the pool, I dredge the woggle and my son through the water. He is protesting loudly at an ever-increasing volume and looks like he might cry. Which would make two of us. I focus on the other side of the pool, determined not to give up. Should it really be this hard? I glance down and realise that for at least the last ten foot I have actually been dragging E through the water with the woggle clamped round his neck, which has at least quietened him down for a bit. Are we having fucking fun yet?
Eventually, whilst floating around on a giant foam frog, E seems to enjoy himself. This lasts approximately forty seconds as we are instructed to lift the child from his perch and dunk him in the pool. Predictably enough, E isn’t overly keen on having his frog-floating moment rudely interupted by being thrown into the water and he enquires again about the possibility of being able to go home. I myself am seriously considering bailing at this point, but a combination of sheer bloodymindedness and the not-inconsiderate cost of the lesson makes me stay to inflict further water-based stress on my son.
However, revenge, as always, is his. I plonk him on the side of the pool and along with the other mothers, encourage him to jump into the water in front of me. All I can hear around me is the splash of toddler-sized bodies and the cooing of proud mothers as every other child duly obliges and throws themselves happily into the pool. E looks around, seemingly plotting an escape. He spies a watering can left from an earlier exercise and bending down to the water, fills it up.
“No,” I say sternly and shake my head, with a look on my face that I hope clearly communicates the seriousness of the situation. E duly pours the contents of the can over my head, drenching me. Now he thinks swimming lessons are fun.
Can I get out now?