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Friday 24th January 2014


You know how much swimming lane etiquette concerns me and how much thought I put into being in the right lane and obeying the internal rules of that lane. I don't think any other human being has thought (or at least written) about it more. The last time I was in the pool there were three slow swimmers in the slow lane, two quite fast swimmers in the middle lane and two swimmers in the fast lane. I calculated the rates of speed of the slow swimmers and ascertained that I was equal to or faster than all of them and had the added factor that if I joined them there would be four swimmers in one lane and so I placed myself in the middle lane, disrupting the cosy, but rule-breaking lane division of the two swimmers.

I swam one length when the lifeguard got out of her seat, approached the lane and asked to speak to me. "You should go into the slow lane," she told me, "Both these swimmers are faster than you." I was flabbergasted, not just by the assault on my masculinity, medium swimming skill and lane judgement, but also that she'd decided this within thirty seconds of my entering the pool. It was as if she knew how much I cared about this and had decided to puncture my puffed up lane-based self-esteem. Perhaps a memo had gone round telling the staff at the pool to look out for me and to mock me for my adherence to common sense and their own rules. What kind of institution has such disdain for the people who support it?

She had pointed out her own error by saying that the other swimmers were fast. Why was she advising me to go down a lane, where I would be impeded by slow swimmers and not advising one of the other swimmers who had misjudged their own ability to move up a lane. I noticed with wry satisfaction that at least one of the men in the fast lane was going at slow lane pace. This lifeguard had let things get out of hand and had decided to take her own failure out on me. I pointed out the disparity in numbers, which flummoxed her for a second, but then, as luck would have it for her, one of the slow swimmers exitted the pool. Now, even the most stringent lane analyst would agree that (aside from the slow man in the fast lane and the fast men in the medium lane) it made sense for me, the slowest person in the medium lane to go into the slow lane. But that's a close judgement call. And was still going to end in me being punished by being held up by the slow swimmers. I think lane experts would agree that if she was going to interfere then the slow fast lane swimmer should have been moved to the slow lane, the fastest medium lane swimmer moved to the fast lane and I should have stayed where I had correctly put myself.

But it was a line-call and just as I have to respect the rules of the pool even if no one else does, I still must abide by the questionable authority of the lifeguard. As it was I was held up within thirty seconds by two slow swimmers moving in opposite directions having a chat. I flashed an angry look at the lifeguard. She surely understood why I was so furious. Why was she putting me in a position where I was impeded? Why were my swimming rights worth so much less than the two pricks in the middle lane who were clearly going too fast? I think this scandal goes right to the top.

Luckily one of the two swimmers got out almost straight away and we were down to two swimmers, though the woman who remained seemed to be set on random as sometimes she seemed to want to split the lane and then at the next turn she would follow the arrows. I suspect this whole thing had been set up as an elaborate satire of me. But I am like the Rosa Parks of swimming pool etiquette and I will not be stamped down by the iron pool-side shoe-cover of fascism.

Having said that,  this new lifeguard seems to be a permanent fixture at the pool and she was there again today and her steely glare as I arrived did affect my choice of lane. There was one person in the slow lane and one in the medium and a couple in the fast lane. Had I not experienced this earlier humiliation I am sure that I would have taken my rightful place in the medium lane, but intimidated by the previous event and the harsh judgement of my swimming speed I went in the slow lane. I was kowtowed and broken. But I didn't rebel. Such behaviour makes it unlikely that I will ever go down in swimming lane based history. I could have been on a stamp in 2054 if I had stuck to my guns. Instead I had accepted that the vigour of my youth had passed and that I didn't belong in the middle lane with the slightly competent swimmers, but down in the slow lane with the old men and pregnant ladies.

It was a harsh lesson. But perhaps spurred on by the affront to my masculinity I managed to swim 40 lengths in 32 minutes. Not anything like my record of seven or eight years ago, but not bad given how little swimming I have done lately. Take that fascist lifeguard. I am not ready for the knacker's yard just yet. I am not a slow swimmer. I know you're reading this, Richard Branston and I know you're telling your minions to undermine me. But I will not be cowed.

My 99th Metro column came out today. Finally someone has the bravery to take down Rudyard Kipling in the national press. Some of you will recognise this as an adaptation of a routine from Someone Likes Yoghurt, which you can download for just £5 from (or if you wish to also get the extras buy on DVD for £12. Ironically enough for a column about treating triumph and disaster in the same way this column seemed to get the most divisive reaction of anything I've written. One person called it the best one I'd ever written and another said "this turd-rolled-in-another-turd by Richard Herring is officially worst thing I ever read." Ironically Kipling was right all along, the only sensible reaction to both viewpoints is to say "meh" and carry on (and I suppose it could still be a turd wrapped in a turd and be the best thing I've ever written, sadly). Personally I was pleased to get a whole column about Rudyard Kipling into the Metro, surely, at least, a little bit unexpected!

The third (and I think final) part of John Fleming's interview with me about Meaning of Life (amongst other things) is now up on his website

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