For a metaphor for noughties Britain one need look no further than our local swimming pool. It’s our Nanny State in microcosm except that instead of The Authorities we are governed by barely post adolescent shorts-wearing jobsworths, hellbent on asserting their much treasured powers to manipulate us to their pointless will.
Our local pool is brim full of these polo-shirted admonishment-jockeys. We’re talking the sort of kids that ratted on their parents for Thought Crimes in George Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four or the sort of folk that phone up the Benefit Cheat hotline, even though there’s no cash reward. In the space of one hour my girl, Lil’ Misssy and her pal Random N were told off for the following heinous crimes:
1. Splashing (Swim gently, folks)
2. Alighting an inflatable mat from the side of the pool
3. Jumping in the pool, and
4. Alighting an inflatable mat from within the pool. Yes, I know.
So afeared of the swimming pool Stasi am I that today I was pre-armed. I wasn’t swimming but merely spectating because I had an important crossword to do. The problem was that I had forgotten what the rule was on kids swimming without a parent. I knew there would be at least a few. That they could swim sufficiently would be one, and we had that covered, but there would be a daft one or two, for sure. “Listen, if asked I’m going to say you’re both ten,” I say to the girls, as we drive in, thinking this the most obvious nonsense rule. “Don’t contradict me, play along”. I’ve been here before. Many’s the time I’ve lied to a chugger or Dead Sea Salts or curling iron selling vendor in a shopping centre that “I’m late for a lunch date” or “I’m trying to catch a train” only to have one of my kids shout “No, you’re not!” blowing the whole ruse. This time however,the girls nod in eager agreement, delighted at the idea of being one year older and the parent endorsed fibbing opportunity. At the cash desk, I present myself and ask for “two kids swimming and I’ll be spectating”. “WE’RE TEN!” shouts Lil’. For no reason. The guy clearly thinks it’s her birthday and she’s just excited or a wee bit special.
Inside the walls of the pool are so crammed full of warning signs on one thing and another that I fully expect that the time is near when we have to sit some kind of written test before our trunks can even be pulled on. At one point I notice that a silver backed granddad is being shouted at by a female attendant, clearly angry at the way he was teaching his young grandchild to swim. The bastard. Grandad was unsure of quite what it was he was doing wrong; there wasn’t a warning sign that fitted any of his actions, although I’m sure this will be rectified by this time tomorrow. He shrugged, she shouted again. None the wiser, he cupped his ear in the time honoured “I can’t make out what you are saying” gesture. She shouted once again. I too can’t make out what she’s saying and wonder if she’s just rudely heckling him about his lack of manscaping. Two things were certain, she wasn’t going to stop being annoyed, and she wasn’t about to get off her coveted position of The Big High Chair to explain why. Eventually the granddad pretended to understand and gave her the thumbs up just to make her stop. But his card was marked. Expect to see a “No Grandads” sign soon.
Even outwith the pool area the attendants gave the air of prison wardens watching us all at visiting hours. I try not to hug the kids in case they think I’m transferring a shiv. In the cafe area, the same shouty teenager of before gave my table the once over as she passed no doubt noticing our snacks were not from their vending machine but from an outside source. I looked for a sign prohibiting this. None was immediately apparent.
It’ll be there tomorrow.
Don't ever miss a Misssive, subscribe!