“It was thundering for hours the other day. But did it rain? Not a drop.” Said the woman, fifty-something, strong Norwich accent.
“Yeh. Yeh.” The bloke’s head was in his hands as he struggled with the heat from the sauna. He was probably in his forties, but in good shape, athletic, a short crop of curly, ginger hair. I shifted from buttock to buttock, the exposed screws on the bench searing the flesh of my thigh.
“It’ll start spitting before too long.” she went on. This time the his clipped ‘yehs’ came back faster, more breathless.
“I was up at my daughter’s in Hunstanton at the weekend…”
“…We were hoping to have a BBQ, but fat chance of that.”
“Yeh, yeh.” Quicker still.
There was pause. A long pause. Then she looked up at him with what struck me as genuine sadness. “If it wasn’t for our crazy weather we wouldn’t have anything to talk about at all.”
He exhaled a kind of bemused laugh. “That’s true,” a brief pause, then another little puffed laugh, “that’s definitely true.”
For a brief second these two strangers, were, to me, a husband and wife, and I was witnessing the emotional suicide of their marriage. One person looking another in the eye and saying without blinking “we will never have the time/empathy/money/conversation/hope/laughter, so why not just stop now.” Something died in the chlorine air and then just floated there at eye level. Christ, I just wanted a sauna.
I am speed dating the health and fitness facilities in Norwich. First stop: the Cinderella of leisure centres – The Riverside Pool. The Riverside is fairly new, it opened about five years ago and was designed to replace the old pool up at Asda on the ring road. It’s a public facility but it’s managed by Leisure Connections. I’m aware of Leisure Connections because they used to manage The Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans. They’re a huge company that manage theatres, swimming pools, night clubs and other leisure facilities up and down the country. Their only real expertise, it seems, is bidding for public contracts. They are the ugly, moribund face of outsourcing. Homogenizing the ‘leisure experience’ for a British public too numbed to give a fuck. I hate Leisure Connections with a passion, they embody all that I hate about the corporate mindset and deliver all that I hate about “leisure.”
The first thing that strikes me about The Riverside is the unisex “Changing Village.” Dictionary.com describes a “village” as:
“a small community or group of houses in a rural area, larger than a hamlet and usually smaller than a town, and sometimes (as in parts of the U.S.) incorporated as a municipality.”
“a cluster of lockers and changing rooms in a low-ceilinged room lit by fluorescent strip lights, reeking of chlorine and piss and garnished with the piercing shrieks of toddlers, sharp smacking noises and growled commands of “Shania! Don’t touch that it’s dirty!”
I know that these days every second person is a filthy child fucking pervert but please can’t we just have two normal changing rooms, one for men, one for women, where nakedness is not a crime and you can shower properly after your swim. Please.
The pool itself was a nightmare. A third was laned-off and divided into two lanes. There were, and I am not exaggerating at all, nine swimmers in each. This is in a 25m pool. People were literally queuing up to swim a length. I decided to take my chances in the other two thirds, where I managed 10 pathetic lengths, dodging hand-standing ten year olds, the obligatory diagonal butterfly swimmer and, in this instance, a bloke seemingly in his thirties that insisted on doing ‘bombs,’ before retiring to the sauna to have my belief in human communication crushed like a stepped on coke can.
Oh, Edinburgh! Oh Commonwealth Pool! I miss you!