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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Math and Mass

There are so many things to know. When I begin to think of the things I don’t know, actually making a list in my head, it goes on forever. And it’s impossible to finish the list not just because of the number of things I don’t know, but because I don’t know most of the things I don’t know, I can’t even add them to the list.

Here’s an example. Today I went to the pool hoping to swim awhile. But I didn’t know they had a class on at the time I decided to arrive, Ladies Aqua Fit.

It’s not the end of the world. It’s a large pool. And there are about thirty, forty, large, huge, and not so large ladies in there. I’m not being sexist or fatist here. I’ve got weight problems of my own. And they don’t take up the whole pool, these ladies, because on the other side there are lanes for those few of us who have got it wrong and turned up hoping for some kind of relaxation or quiet exercise.

We’re not going to relax because the instructor for Ladies Aqua Fit has a microphone strapped to her mouth and she’s supported by a machine that spits out a medley of pop tunes which ricochet around the tiled walls of the hall like a colony of ambushed monkeys. Plus the instructor is going through the motions on dry land, showing the ladies what she wants them to do in the water, which is making her breathless, which in turn makes her shout into her microphone, adding enormously to the general cacophony. Some of the ladies are singing along as well, obviously here to have a good time. The designers of swimming pools need to know this stuff.

We’re all there for an hour. A couple of times I stop and sit in the jacuzzi or the sauna (which is slightly insulated against the acoustic) but the women keep at it for an hour. I reckon I burn about 300 calories, plus the women collectively, if there are thirty-five of them at, say, 500 calories each, will burn something in the region of 17,500 calories. With four or five other brave souls like me the total calories burned in that pool during that hour is around 20,000 calories.

Now, this is what I don’t know. Calories burned are fat lost, right? I can see and experience a lot of turbulence in the water, sometimes it gets really choppy in there, pushing me over to the wrong side of the lane, putting me on a collision course with a superbly mustachioed ex-policeman doing a rather eccentric and dangerous karate-butterfly stroke. He glares at me as if I’m a motorist.

But the water doesn’t get hot from the energy burned. The fat doesn’t dissolve and increase the level of the water. What happens to the energy? What happens to the fat? Is it still there, somehow, invisible, lurking in the atmosphere of the hall as the other swimmers, the ladies and I all drag ourselves to the showers and the coffee looking as though we are perfectly normal?

14 Responses to “Math and Mass”

  1. M.E Ellis says:

    Well bugger me, John (not literally!). Eldest and me discussed this same thing just the other day. Where do the calories go? Do they actually exist? Like, you can’t ‘hold’ a calorie by itself, yet it is in our food and bodies. WHAT? One of the complexities of life, something that can never be understood, I fear.

    Well, I don’t fear, it’s just an expression. Which leads me on to that expression. Why say it if we don’t fear it?

    Look what you’ve started in my brain!

    Thanks for your email about my blog. Nice of you.

    I think this place will be one I frequent. I’ll add you to my blogroll.

    By the way, your post was funny, especially the choppy water part. Still smiling now.

    Happy day, John!


    jb says: Hello, thanks for calling round. Good to see you smiling. Your site is already on my links list.

  2. Andy says:

    A great deal to find in this entry – very funny bit about the motorist comparison! And the images… It’s almost poetry. I can see the water churning, hear the ladies making noise!

    I am turning politician for the awards season (hopefully it won’t leave me permanently tainted). I hope I can count on your vote in the 2006 Weblog Awards as I’ve somehow got through to the top ten for Best UK Blog.

    JB says: Good luck with the award, Andy.

  3. Hi John. Came here through M.E. Ellis’ blog. I’m her fiction editor.

    I’d love to have a place to swim like that, but the closest to me is a 45-50 minute drive to Wheeling, West Virginia’s fitness center. I live in the Appalachian foothills, so that makes for a scary drive in snowy or icy weather.

    jb says: Hi Faith, good to see you here. I’ve been looking for an American editor. Those Appalachian foothills sound grand, but, listen, eat your heart out, the pool is so close I don’t even need wheels. I just got to walk to the end of the street.

  4. Steve Clackson says:

    I think you may have answered your own questions:)

    What happens to the energy?
    “A couple of times I stop and sit in the jacuzzi or the sauna”

    What happens to the fat?
    “the ladies and I all drag ourselves to the showers and the coffee”

    jb says: Hi Steve. I’m gonna work on this.

  5. Thanks for the laugh, John! I especially loved the description of the instructor and her methods as well as the policeman’s facial hairstyle, stroke and glare. (Perhaps he was from the north Wales force.)
    As for where the energy goes, these pools are usually very hot and humid in atmosphere aren’t they? A little bit more heat let out into the ether would go unnoticed, I suspect.

    jb says: Strange how this post brought out both the people who like to laugh AND the great thinkers.

  6. amy says:

    Well, John. This witty blog entry made me laugh. Right out loud. I think a little hot tea even snorted out my nose. That’s okay; I needed to blow it anyway.

    At my place, I generally avoid the pool. I don’t like the looks of the people in it. They’re very sketchy-ish. Dodgy, even.

    I’m sure that’s not the case at YOUR pool, of course. You don’t look sketchy–or dodgy–at all. My theory on calories burned is that they float in the air above you until you go to bed that night and then they jump back inside you.

    jb says: Hi Amy, sorry about your nose. I think you’re probably right about the calories. I can’t think of any other explanation.

  7. M.E Ellis says:

    Hahahahah @ the comments here.

    What I hate most about going swimming (and I haven’t been for about 5-6 years when I was slim-MER) is that hot air someone else mentioned. I always feel clammy and nasty after swimming, even after showering. If you can call their showers such. Trickle of water or a fast 5 second jet. Either way leaves shampoo bubbles dribbling in your eyes and you wandering round the communal shower like a prat, with the risk of bumping into another woman and her getting quite the wrong idea.

    No, I don’t want to put myself through that, though my Eldest wants to go swimming after she’s had her baby, and I said I’d go with her.

    I doubt my cozzy would fit me anymore–my rear end seems to have grown and become the shape of an office chair–so unappealing to fellow swimmers eyes, who, let me tell you, shouldn’t be looking at my frightful bum anyway.

    Ugh. Decisions decisions…


    jb says: Hi Michelle, I know you know this but I’m going to say it anyway. Bums are tricky, a little like politicians. Sometimes a bum can seem to be much larger than it is. You’ve got to get cute with bums. Find a way of getting around them.

  8. Martyn says:

    There’s a whole other post about the state of swimming pools in York since the demise of the Barbican. I’ve not been for years, pretty much due to the fact I don’t really like revealing that much of myself in public. If I did go it would probably be for the dawn shift at Edmund Wilson. That would require an early alarm however and facing a thankless walk in the rain through Acomb to get there.

    jb says: Hi Martyn. Yes, the whole subject of swimming pools in York has been controversial locally for some time. York’s main swimming pool was moth balled ahead of a projected major revamp, but then the local council announced that the pool would close completely. Instead, they’d decided to sell the property to developers of a nursing home and a hotel.
    Now there are rumours of a new pool being built in the west of the city. But who believes politicians any more?

  9. skint writer says:

    Looks like you had a bit of a Rumsfeld moment at the beginning of your post there John.

    very entertaining

    jb says: Hi Skint, ha ha.  It was a fully-blown Bushism to begin with, but I edited it down.

  10. Cailleach says:

    Hi John – your post made me laugh, it’s the sort of thing the kids would say to me!
    It also reminded me of last year when I went to swimming lessons (being one of those not quite confident in the water). Our lessons clashed with the aqua-fit trainer doing his stuff on the side of the pool to music, as his ladies followed on through, and our instructor vying with shouty-pants to get her intructions out to us (in through the mouth and blow out through your mouth).

    jb says: Crazy world, eh?

  11. Julia says:

    Sounds like a lot of fun. Go for the burn! In a few weeks that pool will be simmering.

    jb says: Why are these thing just for women. D’you think it would be possible to get a guy in there? (not me, mind you.)

  12. nicole says:

    If the setting was shifted to to a gym, are we oblivious to being ankle deep in calories/energy? Are these calories leaving some kind of thin veneer all over the floor/gym equipment/changing rooms. I now appreciate how obsessive compulsions start! Perhaps John as an experiment, you could go back to the pool on the scheduled day for “ladies aquafit” but go a bit early, measure where the water line is on the pool, then go back after they have finished and remeasure – viola’ you will then know if the calories vacated the host, or if its all a load of cobblers, and its just excess oxygen in the body fluctuating, or that all the tomes on calories is a conspiracey to give scientists/nutritionists something to do/say.

    jb says: Hi Nicole. I did what you suggest. After the ladies had gone there were 4.7 litres more liquid in the pool. I hesitate to leap to a conclusion as I’m not a scientist. But a huge lady scientist I know told me there might be other factors at work.

  13. Nicole says:

    heheheh…yup, Im not a scientist but I’m guessing you may want to now use a gym instead of the pool. I recall reading that cleopatra liked to bath in “calories” as well. Us Kiwi’s prefer not to share the “calories” around, we prefer the trusty shower!!

    jb says: Kiwi’s are very sensible people by the sound of it.

  14. Funny article, If we could harness the expended energy we could probably power the pool pump and send energy to help power a swimming pool heater. Keep up the exercise routine – As a pool builder it’s nice to at least see a swimming pool being used and not just “looked at”.