It is the last week of the swimming term and I have that Dickension affliction, chilblains. Those apparently in the medical know recommend that to avoid developing painful, itchy, swollen toes, you should never, ever allow your feet to get cold. Right. It seems I am in the wrong business. Not that teaching is entirely to blame; reckon that standing on muddy football pitches, week-in, week-out doesn't help. Nor does sitting around a covered market blowing into the fingerless-gloved hands and making smoke-rings with any excess breath. I'd wear the spraunzty fur-lined boots that Jon got me two years ago but I can't feel the pedals when I drive in them, the sensation being not unlike having a bucket of warm custard instead of an accelerator, and my Derbyshire christened walking boots are brilliant for slithering down the peaks but remain somewhat unfleet-footed when I'm dashing up Lordship Lane to make the school pick-up.
Staying warm in winter is the swimming teacher's supreme challenge. And you thought it was teaching little Dudley how to do frontcrawl .. Above everything, us waterborn instructors obsess about how cold we are. Even with shorty wetsuits and rash vests, our podgy purple pins poking out and hunched shoulders gives the game away. We don't clap for attention because we are officious, you know. I also break all the HSE and management rules by parking a thermos of tea under the 'no eating or drinking' sign to cuddle when the shivering gets too violent, and have been known to threaten four year olds with a length of butterfly for knocking over my cup.
Worse is the changing afterwards. You either get privacy in the utterly freezing, unheated and undraughtproofed disabled changing facility - well, they don't need to keep bits that don't work warm, do they..? But they can get their clothes off in the shower without the world watching. Wouldn't want to offend the world afterall.. Or, you stay warmer in the communal changing rooms but can only have a shower with wetsuit firmly on, unless you want all the dads poolside to see just how purple the rest of you can be. Mindyou, some small, freshly rubbed down and dressed sweetie usually opens the door to the outside world just as I peel my costume down and the people who bought the new flats across the way get more view from their balcony than they were promised in the estate agent's specs.
It is even colder in the private school pool I teach in. At least the water in the state sector is maintained at an even 'tepid'. In the independent shallows, where a profit is required, they leave the cold tap on. Still, stops 'em going soft, eh!
The coldest and wettest I have ever been was in the 80s at the last march for the miners in London; in a deluge no doubt ordered by Thatcher, we trudged down Pall Mall and into Hyde Park, the rain disguising our tears. Later, walking home exhausted and sodden, I stumbled off a kerb in somewhere posh like Fitzrovia, causing a woman in a Volvo estate to brake sharply. Behind her, chatting into his brick of a mobile phone, a classic 80s yuppie in his nice warm, dry Porsche went smack straight into her boot. His look of exasperated disbelief mangled with utter disgust was worth every chilblain that grew on every toe that day.
So, I get back from my classes so tired and chilled that I can't speak and I do the second thing that those in the medical know recommend avoiding: expose the afflicted extremeties to sudden heat. Well wouldn't you? I run a bath, Jon makes me more sweet tea and I shudder as I submerge myself all the way under the surface. And I lie there for a long time...