After a fifteen minute stretch, Mid-Life Crisis launches into a freestyle rampage down the fast lane. His buoyant Sunday-roast girth achieves an aquadynamic low waterline, but Mid-Life Crisis wishes there were more people to witness his prowess. The fellow fast-laners today consist of Corporate Lunch Break, who thrashes out her failed marriage with lap after lap of self-punishment, and Muscles, who just wants the world to know that he can do butterfly. After a quick five minute break, Mid-Life Crisis swims another lap, suppresses a heart attack, and decides to hit the showers. On his way he flicks a few sly droplets onto the girls sunbathing on the grass, because a mate recently told him something about pheromones. Of course, Mid-Life Crisis realises that he could squeeze out a few more lengths if he reigned in the pace and joined the medium lane, but deep in his thumping heart he knows that the pool, like life, is all about power.
Her Majesty’s hands give a slight flick (calculated for fabulousness) as her skinny backstroking arms reach the zenith of their arc. Her Majesty takes a liberal interpretation of a leisurely pace, even by the standards of the slow lane, though she doesn’t care. She might be 60 something but she’s got vintage Inner-West written all over those sinewy muscles and that tan which only ever grows browner. She has chosen a pink string bikini for today’s pool outfit, complemented by heart-shaped sunglasses and a green swimming cap covering God knows what. The sunglasses limit Her Majesty to an unhurried backstroke, but the genius of the slow lane is that the longer each lap takes, the more people will have to overtake her, which gives the fans a better opportunity to admire their idol.
Between them, my mate and I stop for our twelfth break in as many laps. We once considered turning our Tuesday afternoon swims into a book club, where you discuss what you read after each successive length of the pool. In the end we decided that this would skew the ratio of swimming to resting a little too far. As it stands, we like to think of the swimming pool as a social event, where the laps are only there to punctuate the conversation.
It’s time to free the rhesus monkeys and let loose the lab rats: for the perfect case study in social psychology you need look no further than Sydney’s public pools. They are a chlorinated and goggled translation of our beach culture, where characters from all walks of life come to flaunt their insecurities in the suspiciously warm water left by the morning’s primary school kids. Our swimming pools are as Sydney as it gets, with people using the weather as an excuse to socialise and be seen. Just like the members of the Bondi Icebergs who are only in it to get their purple nipples on page four of the morning paper, nobody is really here to swim.