x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

What a dive

Swimming is great exercise, but you do have to be a bit tolerant.
Swimming is great exercise, but you do have to be a bit tolerant.

In a new weekly column, The National's restaurant critic James Brennan takes us along on his quest to get fit. Today, we learn the gym pool is not devoid of pitfalls. As the summer drags on there has to be some respite from the air-conditioned nightmare known as staying indoors. I found it at the pool. There's one at the gym that I've recently joined, and although it's neither huge nor luxurious, it's deep and long enough to swim in and that's all that counts.

After a weekend workout, there's nothing better than immersing yourself in water, stretching those overworked muscles and getting a bit of fresh air. There are sun loungers for the melanoma-resistant. And it's adult members only, so there are no screaming children to contend with. So even though it's hot out there, it's ideal for spending a little time outside - free from the confines of walls and windows - without having to worry about any nasty map-of-Africa sweat patches forming under your arms.

It sounds perfect, doesn't it? And it probably would be if it wasn't for other people. Yes, I know that sounds miserable and curmudgeonly, but when all you want to do is move about the pool in peace and without impediment, other people can contrive to make life inexplicably difficult for you. There are only three swimming lanes in this pool, and a little shallow area at the side for people to splash or laze about in, so inevitably it gets congested.

After a few weekend pool sessions, I have been able to observe the various types of pool creature, and now know which ones to watch out for. Like the gentleman who seems to think he's Michael Phelps. It doesn't matter what time of day I turn up because he's there, bouncing off each end of the pool like a rubber torpedo in perpetual motion. He's got all the kit - Speedos, goggles and an ill-fitting swimming cap that makes him look like he's got a washing up glove stretched across his head. I keep waiting for him to get peckish and go off to consume 12 kilos of pasta and 16 chickens, or some such Phelpsian snack, but to no avail. He's always there in lane one.

In lane two I've noticed what, at first glance, seems to be a new species of subaquatic mammal that's rather less than graceful in its natural habitat, like a cross between a walrus and an ostrich. But on closer inspection, it would appear to be nothing more than a clumsy fat man with skinny legs and a pair of webbed swimming mitts. I've nicknamed him Mr Splashy, because his front crawl technique is akin to a couple of 300lb wrestlers having a fight in a jacuzzi.

And then there's the dawdler in lane three. It's clearly a lane for swimming in, there are signs up explaining this fact. The signs unequivocally do not say: "Lane three is for crouching in shoulder deep, slowly waving your arms around you with your feet planted firmly on the bottom, and thinking about Krispy Kreme doughnuts while inadvertently blocking anybody else from getting past." But it gets me out of the house, I suppose.