Being paid to stare at water
Rummaging through the boxes in the spare room, I found an article I wrote for the local paper back in 1996.
POOL LIFE MORE "BRAT PACK" THAN YOUR BAYWATCH BABES
Law graduate Alison Bell found lifeguarding a more lucrative vacation job than most and spent every holiday throughout university working at different pools. She still works occasionally at Bitterne Leisure Centre where she has gained a reputation as 'Mrs Hitler'. She shares the humorous and hazardous aspects of being paid to stare at water
"Can you swim?" is one of the most frequent questions children ask lifeguards.
"No, but the ambulance gets here very quickly!" is a tempting reply.
Their curiosity is well founded since we whistle–blowing maniacs are a strange breed, perched on our high–chairs and apparently intent on quelling any fun with the assiduity of Yorkshire Water Board.
Any notion of glamour conjured up by Baywatch's curvy Pamela Anderson is dispelled by the average British lifeguard's legs. A whiter shade of white can't be found.
"Life–saving" sounds a noble profession, but despite rigorous training and gaining more medallions that Mark Spitz, occasions to plunge in heroically remain few and far between.
As for throwing out trouble–makers, we're in the line of fire if behaviour gets out of hand.
In extreme cases police are called, but often it's sufficient to bring in the "gorillas" (powerlifting champions running the fitness suite).
These hulks are extremely effective at persuading abusive youths it would be best to leave NOW.
Benefits include free swimming and, in leisure centres, endless hours of free fun with "vogue–funk" or whatever the latest fitness fad is.
This leads to an intriguing thought: Could a lifeguard's extensive exposure to near–naked bodies (or even naked ones should the pool run naturist session) change his or her body–consciousness?
Could it counter the media's exclusive use of slim and youthful models?
I believe for most people a costume is a blessing and there was probably a Speedo fig–leaf in the pool of Paradise.
Unfortunately, some people who feel shy sporting only a tiny stretch of lycra have a bizarre predilection for wearing T–shirts and cycling shorts over the top, which as well as hindering swimming, act like a sign screaming I'M FAT!
Removing watches or glasses can easily slip one's mind, but occasions when punters forget to divest themselves of other items cause much amusement.
A dignified lady in a two–tone costume once caught my attention.
She had put on her turquoise suit at home, but forgotten to take of her lovely, lacy, lilac drawers while changing.
If a potential employer requires examples of tact, I shall recount how I managed to keep a straight fact and suggest she'd perhaps forgotten something.
Reactions of the public to emergencies are unpredictable.
Once a little boy tumbled out of the flume, only to discover his mum wasn't waiting to catch him. Hauled to the side, his shock gave way to tears, but Mum's reaction was far from comforting: "I paid eighty bloody quid for swimming lessons and you still can't swim!"
If anyone dares suggest watching a pool is boring, try lifeguarding during the school holidays. Pools are used as a baby–sitting service, with kids left for the day, until they are as shrivelled as seventy–year–olds and the only game left is "Bait the lifeguard".
When called "Mrs Hitler" after merely enforcing the rules, I was overwhelmed by the temptation to goose–step down the poolside, screaming in my best German, "Vee hav vays ov making you schwimm!!"
Communication skills and foreign languages are such valuable assets!
A final note of warning: Although the Baywatch crowd never mention personal hygiene, the topic brings groans of recognition in our staffroom: feet and trainers are always soaking, resulting in chronic foot odour.
So if you have a penchant for foot massages or find toe–sucking sexy, lifeguarding could seriously damage your love–life!