Bank Holiday Mondays. Sun blazing through a London pub window, dust sparkling in the glare of the midday sun, the first drink arrives. Or a walk around Hampstead Heath, arm in arm, settling on a pub with a cosy nook and a glass of wine. Telly and bed.
But wait, what is this fresh hell? I have children. So I wake up this morning to WW telling me we’re all going swimming today, to the only swimming pool that has ever closed for refurbishment and reopened grimmer and more disgusting than before. The BUBs are bursting with excitement, so we find towels (WW forgot them last time and had to dry the children with his jumper), make sandwiches, and go about leaving the house.
We see the queue of people snaking out of the building as we approach, so I send WW back to the car to get everybody’s coats because the freezing wind is rattling around our necks. Twenty minutes later, at the front of the queue, we discover we don’t have a £1 coin for the locker and the staff can’t help (“No cash back, sorry, next please!”). So WW dashes to the bowling alley to get cash out to change at the desk. We play an impromptu game, sparked by the fact that BUB.2 has decided to sit at a different table to us as we wait for WW. “Hello little boy, are you lost? Would you like to come and live with our family? I’ll be your Mummy!”. “Yes, OK!” A woman at a nearby table gives me a sidelong glance but I’m warming to my theme. “Let’s see if we can find a lost Daddy! Oh look, here comes one in a blue jumper and a scruffy beard and he’s carrying some loose change!”.
Once inside, I’m the only one who has forgotten to wear a swimming costume under my clothes, so what follows is five minutes of “Mummy is naked! She’s completely naked! *INSERT MY ACTUAL FULL NAME* is completely naked!” shouted from the cubicle. We fill two lockers with coats, sandwiches and towels. BUB.3 wants a wee. We wade through what can only be described as an inch of human scum to get to the cubicle. Once in the pool, along with 673 other people, we decide to take a swish around the lazy river or the “lagoon” as it is optimistically called. Before we can get there, a bastard monkey deposits a bucket of water over everybody’s head, and I am struck in the eye by a spurt of foamy white water emanating from a rusty looking pipe at the entrance to the lagoon. Clutching BUB.3, we bob around the corner and past a screaming cauldron of children, going bat shit crazy (and possibly relieving themselves) in a little lagoon nook. Further round we dance, ducking under buckets of cold water, ricocheting off obese men’s stomach, rippling past frenzied kicking children, mouldy crocodiles and a demonic stork, we make it back to the baby beach, apologising to everyone we get kicked in the face by.
BUB.3 realises my worst nightmare and wants to go in the bit with the baby slide, which is populated by people who think it’s appropriate to wear elaborate Pat Butcher-style earrings to a public pool. Somewhere you crouch down in a foot of tepid water and turn your head sideways every time a stranger’s bum crack passes within an inch of your mouth. I hang my head in shame as BUB.3 decides to walk up the slide (“DANGEROUS. GET DOWN.” That is my voice, being a grown up). Then BUB.2 escapes the big pool and comes to use the baby slide too, only he’s actually physically longer than the actual slide so the momentum is never really there, an embarrassment only alleviated when a boy of at least 13 with hairy legs has a go. We can’t go on the proper water slides because the queues snake round past the toilets. We decide on another bask around the lagoon, a decision I regret as soon as the frothy, rusty pipe ejaculation hits me square in the face.
Back in the safety of the baby beach, which has now reached a temperature of 150 degrees, BUB.3 says “I’m hungry.” Oh angel child of mine, you heaven-sent goddess of wisdom, you gift of life, you treasure, you fairy-winged saviour of mankind. “The BABY is hungry. We’ll have to get out. Did you hear? She’s HUNGRY everyone”. The “baby” is three, but that’s not the point. I gather everyone around and head for the Changing Village (has anything ever been less village-y? Where is the post office? The tea shop? Any of the basic facilities of a human settlement?) and find a miracle. The holy grail of public swimming pools. A family changing room (cottage?). It’s not ideal, the bin inside it is bursting out with used nappies and sanitary towels, and WW suggests we put a bag on it because he has lost his mind and there is just one sodding hook for a family of five. “DON”T GO NEAR THE BIN” I scream. It only takes us the best part of an hour to get everyone dry, and dressed and sitting happily with a bag of crisps. I’ve only had to shout “DON’T TOUCH THE BIN” fourteen times as we manoeuvre our five bodies around the family changing room which would be big enough if we were the Sylvanian Family.
And then the words that come out of my mouth almost every time we go swimming. “I’ve GOT to get out of here.” It’s me, opening the door, grabbing BUB.3 and making a girl’s dash for the loo in the “Vanity Area” (if vanity means leaving great hunks of wet hair for people to step into, then it’s perfect), to avoid the human sludge in the pool-side toilets. There was nothing vain about the person who got there first and decided diarrhoea and flushing were mutually exclusive activities. Dry retching, and hoarse from shouting “DON’T TOUCH THE SEAT” we dry half our heads with the 20p hairdryers and make our way to the car, where all three children demand feeding.
Still retching, I vow never to eat again. We head for Costco, where we all down a hefty slice of pizza (*ahem*) before dragging the tired kids around a warehouse-sized shop, being forced to buy three whole sea bass (another story, another blog post) and a bumper bag of Cornettos to keep the peace. Home at last we chop a head off a fish (BUB.1 has a new hobby, like I say, it’s another story) and I beg WW to go the shop for wine but he tells me to try sparkling water. I weep openly and head to the fridge where I find an old can of Stella which I have three sips of before BUB.2 spills it. Fish head boiling in the pan, the children in their pyjamas, WW puts on some Brazilian music and we all start juddering around the kitchen, which is fun until I catch sight of my belly jiggling to its own rhythm. Flinging myself on the floor, I start to do some emergency sit ups, only to have WW and BUB.2 doing their Brazilian dance over me, legs akimbo, shaking their bums over my head. And laughing. With a fish head boiling on my stove, we are all laughing.
Because in between the dry retching, the human gunk, trampolining off men’s arses, the spunk face wash, the bum cracks, the bodily hair, the sanitary towels, the faeces, the greasy pizza, the boiled fish head, today was actually one of our better family days out.