The early autumn equinox is upon us and the latest push for exercise has been ramped up a gear or three by yours truly. As such, I thought I’d give my reflections on the terrible physical circumstances of having to deal with the bodies of other humans (yuk) in the deep end of the swimming pool or on life’s yoga mat. I have realised that when dealing with the universe, or the insolent ugliness of other people’s bodies, there is nowhere any of us can hide when we’re all lying on yoga mats wearing pairs of £15 grey tracksuit bottoms from JD Sports.
The rest of London seems to get out of bed at 6am. I know this because by the time I lower myself gingerly into the slow lane of the pool at Marshall Street at 7.30am, most of London is already in it. It’s a kind of floating M25, with traffic divided into three lanes, and everyone rushing to cover their mileage before getting to work. As with driving along the imperial, flippant majestic route that is the M25, if you don’t ‘mirror, signal, manoeuvre’ someone is going to get hurt. The pool operates a strict clockwise swimming motion system in the slow lane and an anti-clockwise one in the middle lane, but in the pre-office splashabout, the rules are often discarded in a manner that I, from underneath my Speedo lunatic swimhat, can only describe as cavalier. They overtake, rippling front crawls into your breaststroke, goggled up like floating Martians, overtaking on the inside lane. This is not acceptable, mainly because it runs a 64% risk of drowning, primarily because if you overtake me illegally and put me right off my stride I will probably make you drown, especially if I am pre-menstrual, in which case you have no one to blame but yourself for getting caught on the spikiest spoke of my menstrual cycle. You have to swim in the rotation. If it says go clockwise, then go clockwise. If you swim faster than everyone else (show off) then bugger off to the middle lane.
Other etiquette rules are adhered to – very few people, excepting those with a deathwish, choose to run alongside the side of the slippery pool. Most people have the consideration to shower before going into the pool. Usually the 12 year old lifeguard who happens to be on the rota that morning is not looking down the tops of swimming costumes as they loom towards him threateningly down the length of the pool. But there is on cardinal sin that isn’t being addressed at Marshall Street : the odious, arch appearance of back hair.
I don’t mean in the women (I’m waxed monthly you know) but in this age it is completely unacceptable for men to have this silverback look, an age in which women cannot have any suggestion of pubic hair poking out of the Debenhams sale swimsuit. We ladies have to pretend that we don’t know what it is. “Pubic hair? What? How do you get it? What is it?” In the last 15 years the bikini wax has gone from merely tidying up the borders to making it all completely disappear, in a kind of vaginal vanishing magic act. This means that when women who have had a Hollywood are in the altogether there is little indication to show where their vaginas actually are, which is very confusing for husbands, unless they have excellent aiming skills and 20/20 vision. We ladies do what we are meant to do. Having said that, why the Hollywood bikini wax is named after Britain’s hairiest baker, I shall never know. Does Paul Hollywood have a Hollywood? Methinks not. I think he has a back like half of the patrons of the Marshall Street Leisure Centre. But he has had the decency to stay away from my swimming pool. I fake tan my arms and legs purely for swimming. I arrange my leg-shaving regime around my swimming routine. There is no excuse for a man to have a hairy back. Line ’em up. Wax the bastards. This is an abhorrence.
I also had the unpleasant sensation yesterday morning, when completing my half mile, that I had wondered into a suspiciously warm patch. I shudder to think at the awfulness that may lurk beyond the surface of the pool or the dire bodily emissions that may be found within it. I’m just hoping the chlorine ravages the nastiness just like it’s ravaging my cuticles. Once I’d floated about in the pool and done my day’s work, I headed off to a drafty Hampstead church hall for an Introduction to Pilates.
Pi-Fartis, more like. Never before have such a series of stretches been devised solely to make your bowels feel that they are on some sort of temporary holiday from their ordinary, socially acceptable behaviour. If you try to move your right leg up and down in a seesaw motion without moving your pelvis whilst lying down on a borrowed blue mat in Frognal, you too will feel the overwhelming urge to break wind for England. Or indeed, any other United Nations country. Or all of them. The problem with discovering the initial muscular delight at getting bits of your body to do what they are organically designed to do is that the other bits of your body don’t comprehend what’s going on. I carry a lot of tension in my buttocks, or as my teacher called them my buttOCKS, which makes them sound like an autumnal supper dish. When realising that my buttocks are tensing for England, during a sustained series of hip-type jerks to nautical sounds of whales having a high old time on the portable stereo, I naturally relaxed them. The result was disastrous, and so potent that I think I managed to offend the whales.
A very old lady arrived for Pilates, and she went out of the room with her shoulders pushed back and her head held high. This was a vast improvement because she had arrived an hour earlier bent over like a four foot tall broken concertina, so there is certainly a lot to be said for Pilates. I just had trouble working out what the funny blue ball was that we were supposed to sort of squash under our top bottom / lower back area. Mine couldn’t settle. It ended up bolting out from underneath me and making a break for Finchley Road & Frognal Station, as if hoping to catch the 19:23 to Kew Gardens. Eventually, the teacher noticed that the calm stretching atmostphere and slow breathing of the room, with its background of faint buses on the Finchley Road and the fragrant sound of happy whales was being compromised by my balls-anxiety.
We were told to centre ourselves (O2 Centre?) and it reminded me of Drama School. There we did Alexander Technique on a Thursday morning with a gentle man called Michael. He fascinated us because he was good looking but had a wife with very short grey hair and a terribly plain face who had mysteriously managed to lure him away from his first wife by her Alexander Technique semi-supine position-supported sexual prowess. Either she was an irresistible sex pot or he was blind. Either way, I’ll bet my Pilates-supported spine that she didn’t have a Hollywood. I’d imagine she went au naturel, sitting there with her Hampstead Bazaar shapeless dresses and unplucked eyebrows, probably aiming to improve her vagina by feeding it with lentils and regularly giving it interesting articles to read from The Guardian. But we were frequently told to relax and “find our centre” in Alexander Technique class then back in the mid 1990s too. My centre hasn’t moved since then, apparently. But the problem with college years was that we were too obsessed with the undercurrent of possible attraction and repulsion (or if you were really unlucky both in one night) from fellow students to bother about mutely tapping into our student centres.
“Leave the ball! It doesn’t matter!” my Pilates instructor chirruped last night, whilst casually lifting both feet off the ground and wrapping them around her own neck. Twice.
“It’s not the balls that are the problem,” I felt like shrieking. “It’s the hairy BACKS.”
Join me in a fortnight, readers, when I shall be found weeping during a leg lift and ruining my chlorine-red eyes by that punishing 28th length….That’s if I’m not dead first, obviously. But, if I am I bequeath you my Pilates ball, should you wish to shove it up your chakra.
Please return to The London Bluebird if you enjoyed this. This blog is updated every other Thursday, so we look forward to seeing you on September 26th!