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Usually, they are a twosome but today Hell’s Grannies brought reinforcements to the pool. There was quite a gaggle of them loitering in the shallow end like mermaids, swishing and sploshing so that they were hard to count and even harder to get past.

I call them Hell’s Grannies but don’t get me wrong, these swimming ladies don’t wear leather biker gear or swing their handbags at unsuspecting passers by. They have that twinkly pink quality that I ought to aspire to.

I don’t. I think the devil himself is afraid of a twinkly pink senior ‘lady’, one with immaculate grey or blonded hair and a glimmer to her lipstick. Her shell pinked toes peek out from sling backs and sandals even in winter and there’s that year round topped up Capri tan.  I slop up and down the pool in my utilitarian Speedo ‘Endurance’ special with long legs (the suit, not me). These ladies are goddess like, the continental shelves of their bosoms sculpted by highly engineered lycra in rainbows of green, cascades of pink or sweeps of genoese fancy blue. Their hair, even after an hour in the water, looks as if they just stepped away from the hairdressing salon.

On exiting the pool I look like a salmon that someone has recently landed, gasping and ungainly. These ladies slip on their flip-flops and glide to the changing rooms.  These are the ladies who have ball gowns and go on cruises.

I imagine they hog the pool there too.

That’s why I christened them Hell’s Grannies. The rule in the pool, even in the slow lane, my lane of choice and ability, is that you swim clockwise, single file. This is because you only have one lane and sometimes there are six or more swimmers not drowning in it.

At the morning session there are usually a couple of elderly gentleman who swosh up and down with the stately speed of icebergs drifting over the Atlantic. I personally swim as if I just fell off the Titanic and am striking out for land. It isn’t pretty but my head is above the waterline.

It is a quite different crowd at the lunchtime sessions. Here, prior to a lovely pink and twinkly lunch somewhere, let’s imagine a prawn, marie rose, pink gin affair, we find Hell’s Grannies. They slip into the water and swim two abreast up and down the lane and have a chat. Sometimes they don’t swim at the shallow end, they have a bit of a lovely stroll through the water and talk about, oh, hysterectomies or plasma fusion lasers. Whatever the topic of gossip it takes a while and a lot of hand gestures and the swimming slows to a treading of water.

Sometimes they simply halt at the edge of the pool, possibly stretching out a dandling foot or two to splash a little but mostly, well, there isn’t another word for it, they are lolling.

There is no way around them. I’ve tried. You get a smile, a twinkly pink smile and a creasing of the sparkly eyes and no movement out of your way whatever. At times like these I have been known to simply swim in a circle at the deep end until the entire history of Jean’s ovaries is recounted in precise medical detail. Poolside, consultant surgeons are taking notes.

I don’t have anything against these ladies. If anything I admire them and their golden confidence. They have balls, quite hairy and sizeable ones gleaned no doubt from their husbands who are probably thwacking their way around the course at Cumberwell Park Golf Club.

In the Art of War Sun Tzu suggests an army of grandmothers to fool the enemy. I suggest an army of grandmothers to trounce them. These ladies don’t care about a stupid sign giving instructions, they know exactly who they are and how they got there. They paid tax, they own this pool. They know themselves very well. They have the right hair and the right swimsuit. They’re lovely.

I’m never going to be that. I’m not like that now. I don’t tweeze my eyebrows or, most days, brush my hair. Pink is my least favourite colour and my footwear is generally heavy duty, made for tromping about.  My head is rarely tilted into the hairdressers washbasin, instead it is tilted upwards looking for buzzards.

There is another old lady who I sometimes encounter when I am Nordic Poling it up the Kennet and Avon towpath. She wears cords, soft and baggy and above them she wears a man’s shirt and over that an anorak. The anorak is a teal colour with a rather worn fake fur trim around the hood and reminds me of one I had in 1974. This old lady is wiry and small and she rides her bike along the canal at a speed that can only be described as ‘pell-mell’. She rattles along with her basket loaded with shopping or logs she has recently felled from the woodland. Her hair is brown and unruly or possibly a squirrel. If you don’t scoot she will run you over, I don’t think the brakes are that great on her bike, or, more likely, she does not care to use them.

Some days, as her bell prings out its dire warning across the Kennet and Avon I wonder if she isn’t a vision, a glimmer of my possible future, old yes, but wild and freewheeling.




‘a highly original talent’ – Beryl Bainbridge


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