Our local leisure centre is running a special offer – 5 days free use of their facilities. I won’t be making use of the gym – I’m more a running-outdoors-from-my-front-door sort of a person – but I’m using the swimming pool.
I’ve been in the pool before (and I once won 10 free swims in a local recycling competition – don’t ask) but otherwise I don’t swim there very often because it’s peak rate charges when I want to go and, to be honest, I find swimming up and down the pool a bit boring. Another reason I don’t swim there much is that I don’t fit into either of the groups of pool users that predominate first thing on weekday mornings.
There are the lane swimmers who plough up and down in their budgie smugglers (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up) and the female equivalent, with their power drinks lined up on the end of the pool. I’ve never worked out why they need to rehydrate – swimming can exhaust me, but I’d never describe it as ‘thirsty work’. The other main group are the social swimmers – people who have reached a certain age and stage in their lives when standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool to chat with other early risers seems like a good idea.
I’m not knocking it – swimming pools are great places for socialising as well as exercise – but it does make me feel as though my swimming up and down is intruding on some not-very-private conversations. If looks could kill – they feel like daggers (or maybe in this context it should be ‘torpedoes’?) – I’d have sunk without trace without making it beyond 10 lengths.
Then there’s weekends and another group where I don’t fit in – young swimmers – with most of the pool taken up by young learners on one side and family fun on the other. Adult swimmers are squeezed into one lane in the middle so I accidentally ended up breast-stroking another swimmer while she stroked my back, also presumably by accident. I’ve just identified a fourth reason not to swim in a pool on a regular basis – there simply isn’t enough space.
And ploughing a lonely furrow is, er… lonely. It’s obviously more comfortable to go with the flow, but my upbringing tends to point me in the other direction – standing up for what I believe – even when this risks resistance and courts criticism.
My grandfather was a liberal MP so I know all about being in a minority. And while my Quaker upbringing has never resulted in discrimination of any kind, in my youth I was perhaps regarded as a bit unusual (as might anyone from a religious minority).
For the past 20 years I’ve also been inspired to plough my own furrow by a great friend whom I met at a very low and uncertain time in my life. He took me under his wing and, as the brilliant networker and connector he is, he found me a job and helped take my career in a new and exciting direction for which I’ll always be grateful.
In the context of this blog post, for the past two decades I’ve seen this friend swimming against the tide – agitating and campaigning – to further his sincerely held beliefs about ways to change the world and make it a better place. It’s been frustrating to see the brick walls and brush offs, but I’ve always admired him as the grain of the sand in the oyster; the grit that creates a pearl. He’s like a terrier that won’t let go – it that’s not using too many metaphors in a couple of sentences.
I hope I’ll still be as tenacious as my friend in 20 years’ time – he’s 80. For now, I’ll keep swimming up and down the pool – at least metaphorically – risking upsetting people in the pursuit of greater causes.