I realised my swimming bag was large when my son asked if he could borrow it for a week-long trip abroad and it was big enough to fit everything he needed. It’s basically a rucksack; every time I hoiked it on to my back I looked as if I was going extreme rambling with enough provisions for months were I to be stranded on a desert island. Which in itself is unlikely, given that I mostly swim in Tooting lido, and being stranded in Tooting is quite near shops. I’ve often found it really difficult to cram the bag into swim lockers, comparing the experience to giving reverse-birth, but instead of looking to the bag, I complained that the lockers were too small. I was deluded, with wonky shoulders, until my travelling son showed me the light.
When I emptied the bag to hand it over, I found a treasure trove of essential swimming stuff. It was all undoubtedly useful – but there was enough of it to cater for a whole swimming team. Being forced to downsize made me do a stocktake; you may think it disingenuous for me to say I’m pretty low-maintenance when I list the contents:
• Costume. I figure it’s always useful having at least three costumes to hand – one for me, one to lend if anyone has forgotten, and a spare. And a bikini in case it gets sunny. These costumes are all different: one is thinner for if it’s warm; one has a scoop back for if the weather’s nice, and so on.
• Goggles. At least two pairs of goggles, one plain and one tinted (if you swim outdoors, it is best to be prepared for sun and cloud). As I have the wrong kind of face, I need big goggles which take more space. Goggles always have stupid names like Evil Babysitter or Crunchy Seahorse and the big ones make me look like a fly.
• Anti-fog spray. Or, as a friend calls it, bottled spit. I concur: maybe the product I actually need is readily to hand in my own mouth. But I believe in anti-fog spray, it’s part of my pre-swim ritual, and it works. My goggles never fog. If I’m found fiddling with them at the end of a length, I’m playing for time.
• Ear stuff. I don’t use ear plugs, but what I do have, lent by my friend Tim, is a strange little canister with an extended nozzle that you poke in your ear (you shouldn’t poke things in your ear) and it puffs air in to dry your ears out. I think it’s from Spain. Since my ear infection cleared up, Tim has never asked for it back, so I shall carry on poking and puffing until he does.
• Swim hats. Many and various. Plenty to lend, all different colours with different slogans on because you get given them. Each one tells a story, a very boring story. I never swim without a hat because as well as having the wrong face I have the wrong hair, which flops around and needs clamping to my head with the swimmer’s equivalent of duct tape.
• Nose clips. I don’t use these either, but I’ve got some because it’s product, and you don’t know you don’t like things until you try them out. Once people know your hobby, they often buy gifts relating to it. Nose clips are not a good gift for a swimmer.
• Towels. Two. One normal and one micro towel because they’re so handy and take up no space and yes I know it makes no sense to take it as a plus one but I have room in my bag, so why not fill it.
• Dextrose powder. I have convinced myself, and why not, that I need dextrose powder because I get very hungry when I swim and this helps me. Again, part of my pre-swim ritual. I am very possibly an idiot. Who likes rituals.
• Pens. Always a few pens in my bag. I’m a writer, goddammit. No paper, you’ll note, because that would be daft. Paper would get soggy.
• Lido pass. Natch.
• Flippers and hand paddles. Often not even pulled out of the bag for months because so many places don’t allow them.
• All the shampoo and shower gel gubbins, and a variety of oils and lotions for my dry old skin afterwards. (Did I mention the bag was big?)
The above is for summer, of course. In winter the kit also includes:
• Scuba gloves and scuba boots. Both of these are the easiest to get on and off for cold-water swimming. You can get socky things but they’re hard to peel off with freezing fingers. I appreciate that some people look down on the wearing of same, but if I don’t my feet and hands hurt really quickly when the rest of me is fine. And if these keep me in the water for even 30 seconds longer, they are integral.
• Hand warmers.
• A little bit of old towel or bathmat, because the concrete floor of the lido changing room is really cold to stand on in winter and this helps. (It’s cold in summer too, but I change outside in summer.)
Looking at the list, what strikes me is there is so much I don’t have – makeup, an underwater mp3, a Robie (yes, that is a thing) – that I feel positively parsimonious. I’m conscious that I should have a comb. I once towel-dried my hair into a manky fuzz and as I was leaving the lido, bumped into Suggs from Madness coming in. “Nice hair,” he said, as ironically as a man who turned Wings of a Dove into cheeky-chappie pop can. I have yet to put a comb in my bag, but awareness is an important step in the process.
Anything else you can think of that I should have in there? What odds and ends do you carry in your swimming bag?
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