Sunday, 17 November 2013

When things are going swimmingly and only the coin is terrifying

I may not be crazy about swimming, but persisting in going at awful o’clock in the morning does seem to be revealing a surprising streak of craziness in me. 

One of the delights of early morning swimming, and there are so few I make the most of any I find, is trying to decide exactly what’s grimmest about the experience. And, funnily enough, it turns out not to be getting up at 6:00 a.m.

Nor is it that terrible moment when you’re half into the water but haven’t quite let yourself slip beyond the point of no recovery, so you could still, in principle, change your mind and climb back up the ladder. That’s pretty ghastly, because it’s the instant when every nerve at last realises that it’s true, that your wayward mind is really going to do that terrible thing, again, and immerse the whole of your protesting body in that frightful wet stuff.

But it isn’t that. It isn’t even the moment when I realise that I’ve left something crucial – towel, goggles, shampoo – in the locker and have to reopen it with the consequent loss of the 20 pence coin I dropped in the slot to lock it.

No, it’s that 20p coin itself. This has become the terrible, obsessive object of all my fears as I prepare for early morning swims.The 20p bit haunts my thoughts.

The humble 20p bit. The stuff of obsessional nightmare
Not, you understand, for any inherent value of its own. Why, it wouldn’t buy much more than 10% of a large latte. In fact, if you take your coffee in more fashionable establishments than I frequent, it wouldn’t cover even that. 

What concerns me is not the value it represents, but its value as an object in itself. 

Our swimming pool has lockers that will only accept those coins. Two tens? Out of luck, pal. Four fives? You must be joking. Ten twos? A suggestion not even worth dignifying by a refusal.

It’s odd, though. I’ve forgotten lots of things when going swimming but never, as it happens, a 20p bit. But the fear of doing so never leaves me.

Come to think of it, that may be the reason I always remember to bring one.

In any case, even if I didn’t, the fee for Danielle and me leaves us with a 20p coin in the change. And, as often as not, the receptionist asks us if we need one anyway.

On one occasion, I did turn up without my coin purse. I know, I know, coin purses are deeply unfashionable, please don’t think I haven't been told, but they are convenient when you’re sick of clinking coins around in your pocket.

My apprehension was intense when I forgot mine. How was I going to be able to overcome the terrible obstacle I’d created for myself?

‘Your change and your tickets,’ said the receptionist.

And there lying in my hand, small, shiny and apparently winking at me in good cheer, was one of those funny little seven-sided not-quite-silver coins. The relief was overwhelming. Which just made me feel stupid.

Especially as, when I came to put my possessions into my rucksack, preliminary to dumping them in the locker, I found several more 20p pieces in its front pocket. Where I’d put them as a reserve, just in any case I ever did what I’d done that morning and left without my change.

It made me wonder just how crazy swimming was making me. Until I remembered that I’d put the coins in my bag one morning at about 8:00, when I’m tolerably rational. And I’d worked myself into a panic over their absence before 7:00, when I’m certainly anything but. Perhaps I can put the whole embarrassingly dumb behaviour pattern down to time of day.

After all, we don’t call it stupid o’clock for nothing.


Anonymous said...

What do you mean about the trepidation as you go beyond the point of no return? Didn't they make a man out of you at Dartington Hall?

David Beeson said...

Some sort of man, I'm sure. Not the kind who plunges with pleasure into cold water at dawn.