I’ve started swimming. Mostly I go to Vicky Baths in Leith. That’s the local name. Victoria Baths, to those who live outside of Leith and Edinburgh. I’m still getting used to how warm it is in there; how sticky I feel getting back into my clothes in the cloying heat of the changing rooms. The cubicles open straight onto the pool, old-fashioned style, women to the right, men to the left. I’m becoming re-accustomed to the etiquette of lane swimming: the fast lane – Olympic speed; the slow lane – for sinkers; the medium lane – everyone else. And there is something else quite new to me: pulling blue plastic covers over my shoes as I enter the pool area. Except that I keep forgetting. Three times, the attendants have sent me back to reception to don my poolside accessories. They look like the blue plastic bags Winemark used to put your cheap booze into. Not so classy. Once on, I keep them over my shoes, even in the locker, so I remember them as I’m getting dressed – they’re obligatory until you leave the pool area.
The thing is, yesterday, I’d been for my swim and was strolling up Leith Walk. I was pleased with myself after a modest 20 lengths, followed by 10 minutes in the steam room (I’m building it up slowly). I’d been to the Bethany charity shop on Duke Street and bought a poetry book for 50p: ‘Heaven on Earth, 101 Happy Poems’ edited by Wendy Cope. With a picture of bouncy children on the cover. “50p, can’t be bad to that, even if it makes me smile it will be worth it”, I thought to myself.
I was well up Leith Walk, and considering a pit stop in ‘Word of Mouth’ café for a bacon roll and a wee flick through my new book. A big, broad, bald, tattooed Leither came walking towards me with a muscled Staffie on a tight lead. “He’d be a perfect casting for a thug from a Rebus story”, I thought. He approached me smiling, and raised one eyebrow as he slowed, then stopped. “Jings! Ye dinnae ken ye hae plastic bags on yer feet, love, do ye?’ We both looked down. He was right, I didn’nae ken. “Thanks for letting me know,” I said, reaching down to peel them off. “I must have been a great source of amusement coming up the road. I’ve been into shops, you know. Why does nobody tell you these things?” He laughed, gave the dog a wee pull on the lead, and headed on.
I did stop in the café for my bacon roll, and had a flick through the book. It was a bit of a disappointment. None of the poems made me particularly happy, as promised. Turns out I’d given myself the best laugh that morning. Wendy should have put one of her own in there. I’ll leave you with it:
“Write to amuse? What an appalling suggestion!
I write to make people anxious and miserable and to
worsen their indigestion.”
― Wendy Cope, Serious Concerns
(I don’t, you know…)