The loneliness of the short-sighted swimmer


January 22, 2014 by Sian Rowland

One of the advantages of freelance working (tenuous connection alert) is that I can nip off to my local pool for an invigorating lunchtime swim every now and then. My local pool in Streatham is brand spanking new and when I saw that they offered lunchtime lane swimming I dragged out an old cossie and went to see what it was all about.

I love swimming but the one thing that has always held me back from going on a more regular basis is that I’m short sighted. Without my glasses or contact lenses I fall over, walk into things and can barely make it from bedroom to bathroom. As a teenager I would refuse to wear my glasses (like, so totally uncool) and once went on a double date with a friend and two boys who quickly nicknamed me ‘shifty’ because I spent the whole afternoon squinting and trying to work out which boy was which (I never did). My savvy mum got me into contact lenses at a fairly young age and I’ve always managed them well. Many is the morning after the night before where I’ve woken up with a cracking hangover to find myself still fully dressed with a face full of old makeup but with my lenses neatly cleaned and stored in their little case.

On my first trip to the new pool I did a recce with glasses on. I checked where the showers were, where the pool was and how the lockers worked. I took a locker and changing room as near to the pool as I could and bravely locked my specs away. Luckily nowadays there isn’t a footbath between changing room and pool. I always used to end up tripping into the footbath, skidding along the bottom with the old verucca plasters and banging my shins as I climbed out bathed in Eau de Disinfectant.

At Streatham there are wide glass doors leading to the pool area. The doors have tiny circles etched on to them so you don’t walk into them by mistake. I can’t see tiny etched circles and I certainly can’t see floor to ceiling glass doors but I manage to slink through without cracking my bonce on them.

Once in the pool area everything is white and blue. This is not helpful. If I designed a pool for short-sighted swimmers it would be orange and purple. The tiles around the pool are a similar colour to the edge of the pool which is a similar colour to the water which is a similar colour to the tiles in the pool and indeed the walls. And everything is a bit steamy which is great for hiding a bit of cellulite but not so good as it hides the pool itself. Once in the water, there are lane guides with those red beads that warn you when the end of the pool is coming up are great but the rest are always blue and white. Like the tiles, like the water, like the…you get the picture.

The lifeguards are helpfully dressed in bright red shirts and are the only people I can sort of see. The rest of the swimmers are a blur. If I don’t say hello to you it’s not because I’m ignoring you. I asked a man dressed in black and yellow for the time last week but he turned out to be the emergency spinal board.

Hello mate, got the time?

Hello mate, got the time?

Talking of clocks, the clock in my own pool heaven would be five feet across.  In reality the clock is barely bigger than a wrist watch and I have to wait for a fellow swimmer to surface before apologising profusely and asking what the time is while they patiently explain that there’s a clock right in front of me. Yes, I know.

Swim over, it’s back out through the etched circles glass door, peer at the locker numbers (also tiny) until I find the right one, get stuff out of locker and find showers without treading on any small children.

So council pool architects: please use brightly coloured tiles in the pool, huge signs that say things like ‘pool is over here you numpty’ and a clock the size of Big Ben. No glass doors, huge writing on the lockers (Streatham scores points here with their orange locker doors) and a little shelf in the pool area to place glasses if we need to bring them in (a bench with a slatted top does not help) and I’ll be tempted to swim a bit more often.


9 thoughts on “The loneliness of the short-sighted swimmer

  1. AP says:

    Prescription goggles are the way forward…. cheaper than you think.

  2. Nicotime says:

    I relate to this post so well! I haven’t risked swimming since I gave up my exhorbitant health club membership, where I had memorised the path from changing rooms to pool – although even then I once managed to end up in the men’s changing room! Not that I could see anything, of course….. I am tempted to try the new Streatham pool but don’t think I can risk it, sadly.

  3. sue w says:

    Sian, I’ve worn my contact lenses in the swimming pool for at least 20 years – they don’t fall out (because of suction) although I wear goggles over the top. I’ve never had any problems with my contacts, or had any infections. I okayed it (belatedly) with my opthalmologist a few years ago and he couldn’t see there was any harm in it.

  4. Nicky says:

    Just seen the comment about prescription goggles and that really is cheap – better than normal glasses! But I am impressed you didn’t end up in the men’s changing room. Like you I am short sighted and have also done the recce. Very funny writing. Also liked your piece about invigilators as apparently some snotty kids think we are dreadful (You tube video). Armstrong miller video is the best.

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