mardi 14 septembre 2010

G is for Gone Swimming

Il faut se méfier de l’eau qui dort — still waters run deep

Our track record in relation to public swimming baths in France is not good. That’s probably why we bought a house with its own pool. A few years ago, on holiday in the Loire, we came across some public baths and decided to patronize them the next day. I can’t remember what the town they were in was called, but if you ever want to find them, they were opposite the romantic-sounding Café de l’Abbatoir.

We arrived and were somewhat puzzled that no one was on hand to take our money, but assumed they had gone for a comfort break and we could simply pay later. We went into the changing rooms, donned our swimwear — and emerged into the middle of a swimming gala. Narrowly avoiding entry into the 200m relay, we made our excuses and left.

For a nation that is somewhat relaxed when it comes to certain aspects of health and safety — we have just returned from an event where some pensioners cooked chestnuts over an open fire — France is particularly harsh when it comes to what you can and cannot wear at the public piscine. We knew from previous encounters that there is just the one style of trunks men are allowed to wear; it can be summed up in a single word — ‘brief’.

But, with our own pool closed for the winter, we bravely decided to head for the nearest public baths.

Gavin had lost his approved trunks somewhere in France, some time ago — hardly surprising, they were pretty small. So we thought we would just check with the receptionist, who looked as if she was having a bad day even before we arrived, whether the ‘brief’ rule was still in place. We showed her Gavin’s trusty-but-not-brief M&S trunks. From the look of complete horror that came on her face, we took the answer as ‘no’. Once she had recovered, she helpfully directed us to a vending machine where, for 9 and 3 Euros respectively, we could buy the necessary trunks and the regulation swimming hats. Even the tiniest tots have to wear the hats, despite generally having little or no hair. I think too we will draw a line under the time I forgot my costume and had to buy one from the dreaded machine. It was not a pretty sight.

Some time later, we made our way into the pool — via the communal changing rooms. Well, it is France. And machine-bought trunks and swimming hats do not a fashion statement make, believe me. Still, after an energetic work-out in the pool, you can always repair to the café upstairs for a three-course lunch and a bottle or two of wine.

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