Swimming For Britain Again
The Olympics. We built the Park. We won the medals. We provided the volunteers. We felt proud. And now the Legacy. Part of which is that the Aquatic Centre is now open to the public for lane swimmers. Every red blooded Englishman with a pair of speedos is obliged to go. As advised I buy a ticket on line.
First I dry clean the speedos-this is an Olympic pool, the home of champions, no place for unmentionable stains. Then I go and buy a proper beach towel. I will be swimming with the elite, this will not be some riff raff crowd of poseurs and pensioners like down at the Putney Pool.
The train to Stratford is fast. No problems. The sign post to the Olympic village clear. I emerge. Where now? The map had shown the pool was close. But which way?To the bus stop. Three are sitting there, fully representative of the multi cultural Britain of which the Olympic Park was such a symbol. I note that there is a Westfield Shopping centre which has been flown in from Abu Dhabi or some such.
Anyway I ask the least dusky of the three which way to the Aquatic Centre? Aquatic what? Oh lets look at the map, There is it. Where are we? I don’t know. Ok many people are bad at giving directions. Another opines that I should take the 97. It comes in. No take the 304 behind. The 304 says no take the 97. I go back, he has closed his door , and its not worth his job to open it again. The 304 is driven by a man in a Nepalese woollen hat who says he does go within a ten minute walk. I get in. He has got it wrong ,he has confused the Velodrome with the Aquatic Centre.
I get out. Its an industrial desert. Half built blocks of flats. New but not completed roads. The Velodrome fenced off. I walk. I ask a builder in his hard hat behind a mesh fence. Aquatic Centre-havent a clue. Great, I am on planet incompetence. I am finding it difficult to breath. I am losing the will to live. I should do an anger management course. I see no signs, I walk on ,hope has long since left my heart.
More car parks, more wide-open no doubt well designed spaces. Are they building the third London airport without telling any one? Is the site of some mega mosque? A new site for the BBC? An Amazon warehouse? It’s the stuff of nightmares, lost in a half built car park inhabited by those in community care out for the day.
I see a man behind another fence who looks officer material. Over there mate turn left. At last, I have walked in a circle. But I am there. A charming woman on the desk tells me I have come to the wrong entrance, don’t they know I have a weak heart and ,then adds , to my obvious injury Have a Nice Day. At this point I can hardly breath and I dont care. I made my move, I made a mistake, I must pay, here I die.
Somehow by just going though the motions, playing from memory I make it through the foyer .The staff are busy on the phones. The gates are open. I ask another punter is this way. Don’t bother only half the lanes are working because of a shortage of life guards. I move on. I realise I needn’t have paid. So the centre is running on the same system at Rome buses, not pay as you go but pay if you want.
At last I am in the water. I have chosen the lane with least people. I am down to do 20 lengths of the 50 meter pool. Crisp muscular stroke follows crisp etc. Others pass me. After a few lengths one the few life guards asks me to move lanes because I am holding people up. I point out that if go to another lane I will be doing the same. So I have been found too slow in the Olympic Pool. I ignore her and carry on, down hearted but not defeated.
Hot tears of shame cascade down my sun burnt face. I ask directions for the way back to the station. It is a ten minute walk . I avoid eye contact and make it safely. I have a good lunch in Soho on my way home. Even losers have to eat. Humble pie indeed,the Olympic dream dead.