Back in the pool again

Published on 26 August 2020 in , , ,

Grand Central Pools, Stockport

On Tuesday 17 March 2020 I went swimming at Hazel Grove Swimming Pool. This in itself was not unusual. I’d been swimming on every Tuesday evening of 2020 bar one.

Normally I’d arrive at Hazel Grove around 8:15. Two lanes at the far side would be taken up by the Tri-athlon Club. Another lane would be set aside for lane swimming, with the remaining three lanes open up for anyone to swim as they liked. Tuesdays were usually busy. At least where when I would arrive around 8:15. Slowly but surely it would peter until there were just a few of us (and the Tri-athlon Club) there at closing at 9:30.

But 17 March was different. The Tri-athlon Club were absent and when I arrived as usual, there were about five people in a pool with a capacity for a lot more. Covid-19 was beginning to put people off going out. A few days later, leisure centres were forced to close by law as Covid-19 spread across the country.

My drive home took me past many pubs. One was a Wetherspoons and it was absolutely heaving. I knew where I would feel safer. In a contest between a packed pub or being bathed in germ killing chlorine, there was no contest at all. Even that aside, being fit and healthy is scientifically proven to help you fight off disease and illness. Whilst I like my beer, it’s hard to say the same about alcohol.

Naturally when it came to re-opening up England, the Johnson government prioritised pubs over leisure centres.

Although leisure centres could start to re-open from late July, leisure centres in my area (owned by Stockport Council) didn’t open their doors for nearly a month later. But on Tuesday 25 August I finally got to do my lengths for the first time in five months. Not at Hazel Grove as that pool wouldn’t re-open until the following day. Instead I arrived at Grand Central Pools right next to Stockport railway station, doused my hands in sanitiser, and got into the pool.

The entrance to Grand Central Pools in Stockport

Covid-19 had brought plenty of changes. In order to keep a lid on pool capacity, all sessions had to be booked in advance. And inevitably that means booking days in advance if you want to be sure to get in. Everything has to be planned ahead. If your name isn’t on the list, you’re not getting in. As I almost discovered when the woman standing outside checking people in initially couldn’t find my name. She eventually did, right at the top of the list. (I’m not saying I was extremely keen to get back but yeah, I was the first person to book onto that particular session.)

Finding a slot to book into had been a bit of a challenge. Whilst Grand Central previously offered public swimming six evenings, now there’s only two slots. If you can’t go between 8 and 9 on a Tuesday, or 8:45 and 9:45 on a Friday, tough.

Indeed, at Grand Central public swimming sessions have been drastically cut. Time was the pool would be open to be public most of the day from 6:30am to 10pm. Many days you’re now lucky to have a few hours. The need for more space for schools, lessons, and swimming clubs have dramatically reduced availability for swimming sessions. As for for taking the children, and having some fun, well that’s reduced to a few hours a week. Although that’s a few hours more than neighbouring Tameside whose centres are only offering lane swimming, with next to no availability in the evenings.

Inside the building, things were pretty much normal. The changing rooms had some lockers out of action, but any hopes they’d fixed some of the broken ones during lockdown was swiftly dashed when I found I couldn’t put my old £1 into the slot of the locker I tried. (Yes, we’re still on old £1 coins in Stockport…)

There was a minor change in the introduction of a one way system to get into the pool itself, and the lanes were laid out as four wide lanes rather than eight narrow ones. There were supposed to be capacity limits on each lane, but either none reached capacity or no one was checking. But things were smooth. This perhaps wasn’t too surprising. Grand Central is an elite training centre for swimmers. Olympians swim here. And by the looks of it, the elite swimmers were back in the water before the public were allowed in to the building.

After all the build up, it was time to get in. After so long away, it felt great to be back in the water. My body wasn’t quite convinced by it though. My legs and stamina were fine – I spent lockdown doing a ridiculous amount of cycling in order to keep fit – but my arm muscles were definitely not what they once had been. The more lengths I did, the more they ached. And notably I wasn’t going as fast as I used to, although the two people who kept swimming side by side slowly, chatting as they did so, didn’t help.

For me, swimming is a great way to unwind. The repetitive nature of going up and down lanes makes it easy to stop thinking. To empty my brain. It was different to what it used to be. It was more awkward in many ways. But it was great to be back.

I left the pool feeling great again, waiting eagerly for my next session on Friday. That’ll be an even bigger test for my body. For Grand Central’s a 50m pool. Normally it’s split into two 25m ones, but on Friday night they open the full thing up. And I really can’t wait.