Something happened this week that I like to refer to as the Battle of Palatine.
It probably won’t be studied in secondary schools in years to come, and there was no bloodshed, but it was relatively exciting nonetheless.
For the first time in my life, I have a little roll of fat on my stomach and felt the need to sort it out – or at least I’ve felt the need since Mrs Canavan told me if I didn’t exercise she was leaving me for the postman (a David Beckham lookalike so good-looking he even makes women swoon dressed in a Royal Mail uniform).
So I went to Palatine baths in South Shore because swimming is, apparently, an effective way to lose weight.
It is, however, a pastime I’ve never felt particularly comfortable with.
There are three reasons for this, the first being that it scares me. This stems from an incident on a family holiday when my dad, while swimming in the sea, began waving at us. We waved back and turned away to continue our game of beach cricket. Five minutes later my blue-faced father crawled pathetically on to the sand on all fours and collapsed at our feet. Turns out his friendly wave had been a desperate cry for help and that he’d been caught in the currents.
The second reason is I’m not very good at it. I am to swimming what Steve McClaren is to hairstyles. I have one stroke – a sort of doggy paddle – and can manage only two lengths of a pool before requiring an oxygen mask and a lengthy massage.
Lastly, my torso – it isn’t the best. Indeed if it wasn’t for my wrinkled, wizened face I could easily be mistaken for a 15-year-old boy. Biceps have always been strangers to me.
But in a bid to get rid of this little bulge of fat, I put my concerns to one side, headed to Palatine and gingerly entered a little ringed off area labelled ‘slow lane’.
This was a slight blow to my manly pride but the upside was that the medium and fast lanes were quite busy, whereas I had the remedial lane to myself. I set to work, completing my first length of doggy paddle in a reasonably quick time, well under 11 minutes.
Then from the far end I noticed a bloke wearing goggles and dressed in an incredibly small pair of Speedos emerge from the changing room, clock the other two lanes were busy, and jumped in my lane.
He then began to swim furiously towards me and, reaching my end, proceeded to do one of those fancy Olympics-style upside down turns and push off back for his second length, simultaneously spraying water all over my face.
I was mildly annoyed but graciously forgave him and set off back up the pool. I was barely a quarter of the way up when he was back passing me again. This time, and despite the fact I was tight against the rope on my side of the lane, he whacked my right thigh with his foot. I turned around, expecting him to stop and apologise, perhaps offer to pay me substantial damages, or at the very least get me a cappuccino from the cafe afterwards. But he carried on swimming, oblivious to the assault which had just occurred.
At this point it’s fair to say that I really didn’t like him, which is probably a little unfair. I mean for all I know he may have been a born again Christian who had devoted his life to raising money for the local orphanage. But it didn’t matter – I’d made my judgment.
This fella was clearly flouting the rules so I did something uncharacteristically daring. I began to swim at a leisurely pace right up the centre of the lane, knowing full well that Mr Speedy would have to either (a) swim right into me at speed or (b) stop, which would really annoy him. He headed towards me at breakneck speed, arms flailing, head bobbing up and down, spittle flying from his mouth in all directions. Then, just when it seemed my life was about to end with a sickening thud about 30cm from my head he abruptly stopped, stood bolt upright, and shouted/spat ‘what the hell are you doing blocking the lane?’
I said, calmly, that this was the slow lane and that if he wanted to swim like Duncan Goodhew on a banned substance he should use one of the other lanes. He began to shout back at me, when the lifeguard – probably delighted to have something to do after spending his last seven hours watching a variety of unhealthy-looking folk splosh around in water – appeared from the side and said in the direction of my aggressor, ‘sir, do you mind getting out and using the fast lane’.
Faced with the voice of authority – despite the fact the voice of authority was about 16 and looked like he spent his evenings swotting for his Maths GCSE – Shouty man meekly clambered out of the pool and trudged towards the fast lane.
With the sweet taste of victory in my mouth – plus a fair bit of chlorine – I leisurely did a couple more lengths then got out to celebrate victory with a brew and an ice pack on my bruised thigh.
Crash victims treated as an afterthought?
It is difficult to put into words how sad and tragic the death of Glenn Thomas is.
I didn’t know him personally but by all accounts he was a terrific bloke, with a zest for live, and one of those types of people who just make the planet a little better.
The manner of his death is sickening – travelling on an aeroplane, along with 297 others, which was shot down – and it is impossible to imagine what his family are going through.
What is most distasteful of all is the politics that have been played out since the incident. So intense is the verbal bickering between countries that it is almost as if the victims are already something of an afterthought.
What a terrible, depressing world we live in when something like this can happen, and it makes one wonder what the future might be like.
How long will it be before a government supplies weapons with the capability of bringing a passenger plane down to a group of terrorists?
I often think the world can’t get any worse.
But some weeks, like the one just gone, prove it can.
How Mr Thomas’s family feel I have no idea but the pain and suffering must be extraordinary.
We can only wish them well as they attempt to come to terms with and get over this, and hope that the tragedy might ultimately, somehow, persuade the world to come to its senses and act in a civilised fashion. I wouldn’t count on it though, and that’s the saddest thing of all.