Now, I know I said "never again" in regards to the thorny issue of myself and the pool at the gym, but because I NEVER LEARN, I went back there today. And because I apparently have no problem whatsoever with repeating the same story multiple times, I say to you again today: NEVER AGAIN. Because the pool at the gym? Was full of babies. And also: toddlers.

Now, I know this entry will cause a whole barrel load of controversy amongst the parents who read it, so let me just make my usual disclaimer and say that I do not dislike babies. But I was really surprised to see so many of them in the pool this afternoon because:

a) I hadn’t bothered reading the Rules of the Gym, and therefore was under the impression that children weren’t allowed in it.


b) It’s a pool AT A GYM. Where people go to exercise. Not to play "dodge the floating baby" and get dirty looks from parents every time you swim too close to their offspring.

Not, of course, that there was much in the way of exercise going on today (or, indeed, on ANY day that I’ve tried to swim, because this wasn’t a Sunday thing: every time I’ve gone to the gym lately, it’s been more like a creche than an exercise facility). In fact, most of the 5000 people who had dutifully turned up at the pool  (some of whom were all kitted out in ear plugs and bathing caps and everything) were all crammed into the hot tub, unable to swim because THE POOL WAS FILLED WITH BABIES. And toddlers.

The noise level was deafening. This was partly because they’re having the sauna refurbished, of course, but it was mostly because all of the babies were screaming at the tops of their little lungs, managing to achieve that particular pitch that only babies can scream at. You know, that sound that makes your hair stand on end and your head feel like it’s actually going to explode? That’s the sound they were making. Constantly.

There were eight of them in the extra-wide lane, but their numbers had swollen to 11 by the time I left. There were two of them in the "Fast Lane". THE FAST LANE! And they were not swimming "fast", let me tell you – well, they were about five, so they wouldn’t be, would they? In fact, they were not even swimming at all: they were just splashing around crazily, and blocking the lane so that no one else could use it for, you know, swimming. Which is kind of the whole reason we pay money for a GYM subscription.

So, number of children in the pool: 13. (Plus one in the hot tub, which is NOT ALLOWED.)

Number of lanes available for swimming in: 1

Number of minutes it took me to give up and retire to the changing room (Where I was treated to the drama of Little Johnny* locking himself in one of the shower cubicles while his mother stood outside saying "I’m not going to tell you again… Really, I’m not going to tell you again…" so many times that it would have been comical had I not been so distracted by all of the little boys who were standing around staring at me as I got changed) : about ten. I’m actually amazed I lasted that long, but clearly I have a masochistic streak in me that made me curious to see just how bad things could get.

I don’t blame the babies. They were just doing what babies do. No, I blame the parents (God, I wondered when I’d finally be so old and curmudgeonly that I’d get to hear myself say that!) who had allowed their children to take over the entire pool, totally ignoring the signs that tell you to SWIM CLOCKWISE and instead allowing their offspring to float around anti-clockwise (In the "fast lane"!), diagonally, backwards, sideways, and, in fact ALL WAYS, as they played with a selection of floats and inflatable toys. And screamed.

The parents themselves, meanwhile, all just crammed themselves into the jacuzzi (Population: 12), and ignored the fracas around them. I BLAME THEM. And I wouldn’t even mind so much, were it not for the fact that this happens now every single time I try to swim. I use the word "try" advisedly here, because it’s not a huge pool, and it becomes impossible to swim lengths in it when it’s that crammed full of kids playing. If it was a community pool, I would understand and expect it to be like this. But it’s not. It’s a swimming pool at at GYM, so you’d think it wouldn’t be considered too unreasonable for people to expect to be able to swim there. But you’d be wrong, of course.

As I left the changing room, I picked up one of the comments cards which they have dotted around the place for you to make suggestions about improvements to the gym. (My suggestion: maybe consider making it possible for people to exercise occasionally. You know, while they’re at the GYM? That they’re paying quite a lot of money for? Be a novel idea, anyway…) Before I had time to examine it, though, and work out how I would be able to essentially condense this entry into the five lines they allow you, I was disturbed by what sounded like around forty party "tooters" (that has to be a made up word, surely?) being blown by forty hyperactive children. And indeed, as I glanced up in the direction of the noise, a conga line of small children made their way down the stairs from the gym, each enthusiastically blowing on a "tooter".

I swear to God, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

* For those of you who are wondering, by the way, Little Johnny was finally liberated from the shower cubicle, and proceeded to run around the changing room, followed by his harassed mother, who was screaming "KEEP YOU PANTS ON! I WON’T TELL YOU AGAIN!" at the top of her voice at two second intervals. There’s nothing like a relaxing Sunday afternoon swim, is there? No, I mean literally: there is NOTHING LIKE a relaxing Sunday afternoon swim. Not while The Others are on the case, anyway…

  1. In fairness to the parents, it doesn't help that a) the weather was f'n awful today, and b) Bubbles (the local municipal swimming pool) has been closed since last autumn due to a fire.

    In fairness to the wee boys, I'd probably have been staring at you getting changed too… ;+)

  2. Ouch. I mean, I don't exercise (yeah, I'm going to die a fatty) but I can imagine how irritating that would be.

    Ever seen Dara O'Briain's stand-up shows? He makes mention of mothers using people they don't know to discipline their children (i.e. 'Stop it, or the man over there will come over and tell you off'). I'm surprised Little Johnny's mother didn't try that tactic…

  3. One word: complain. If that doesn't work, threaten to stop your membership (and Terry's) if something isn't done and also say you'll bad mouth the gym on this here blog. I've found whinging and complaining is the solution to everything!

  4. I'm totally with you on this one – I have kids of my own (aged 12 and 8) and I would NEVER take them to a gym to play (which is essentially what their parents had done). Ok so it can be difficult for parents to find things to do with the kids and also get time for their own activities (especially when, like me, you're a single parent) but sometimes them's the breaks of parenting. Complain to the gym, they shouldn't be allowing this to happen.

  5. Parents these days!

    I am with you on that one, but the gym should have strict rules on this – on safety grounds if nothing else. A time for babies and toddlers in the pool, and a time for serious swimming for exercise for paying members.

    If you are working from home, why not go along at times when 'the others' are busy in their offices or schools – or nurseries. Like Monday morning etc.

    Or is the gym pool filled with school parties during the day?

    Definitely complain. And say how concerned you are for toddlers' safety from speedy adults getting some exercise in.

  6. Stephen –

    I do understand that it's hard to entertain small children, but bad behaviour is bad behavior regardless of the weather, and things like dive bombing, throwing stuff and blocking lanes isn't appropriate behaviour in a gym at any time.

    I don't object to the presence of children in the pool, per se, but I do think their parents should have the courtesy to keep them in one part of the pool (and under control) rather than just dumping them in the middle of the fast swimming lane and allowing them to splash around there while a growing group of gisgruntled swimmers (who are all paying hefty membership fees, unlike the children, who are allowed in free as a courtesy) are forced to all try and share one lane, or stand around waiting for the children to leave. That's just selfish. No one would think it was reasonable if the gym was crowded and someone was using an exercise bike to sit on and paint their nails – the same applies to the pool.

    Steph –

    Oh, I HATE it when parents do that! "That lady over there will come and smack and you!" Oh, don't tempt me…

    Toni/Selina –

    I think I probably will complain, because all it would take to resolve the situation would be proper supervision on the part of the gym. There should be someone patrolling the pool who would be able to eject children from the fast lane, stop the dive bombing etc, and try to make sure that everyone is able to use the facilities. At the moment we seem to have a situation where ONLY children are able to use the pool and swimmers can't access it for large parts of each day. I did overhear two women complaining about it in the changing room, so hopefully it's not just me that's getting fed up with it.

    David –

    Unfortunately, working from home isn't nearly as flexible as most people seem to think it is. I have deadlines and clients to work around, so I can't just go to the gym any time I feel like it, sadly. Luckily children are not allowed in the gym itself, so I'm still able to use some of the facilities.

  7. I would be totally pissed! And pissed angry, not pissed drunk. Although, maybe that would help? This isn’t a community pool in the neighborhood! This is a GYM!

    They should make a kid-only time, like at 10 AM on a Tuesday, when most adults are at work.

  8. That sounds somewhat familiar. Though I do not dislike infants and kids either neither of them should be even near a gym's pool.

    I think it isn't the most fun for toddlers there anyway.

    My gym has a separate pool for the kiddies which is great but I can relate to what you're saying.

  9. The Little Johnny reference reminded me of a ditty I learned in a Chemistry class…

    Little Johnny took a drink, but he shall drink no more,
    For what he thought was H20 was H2SO4

    -Hydrosulphuric acid.

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