Kim Penstone

"I was left stark naked'

2005-05-12 12:23

A funny thing happened to me at the public swimming pool the other day. I was crawling across the pool (that's the stroke, not the thing that babies do), heaving in air (and occasionally great globs of chlorinated water) and longing for the end of the length lest my legs go into cardiac arrest, when I realised I was naked.

Yup. Naked. Bare. Nude. Uncovered. Unclothed. And unprotected. Except for my goggles.

My swimming costume (or bathing suit, as they say in the classics) was nowhere to be found. Not dangling off an ankle, nor resting on the bottom of the pool, from whence it could be rescued and used to salvage a tiny shred of dignity.

Nope, it had disintegrated, disappeared into thin air. Leaving me, as I said, naked amidst the residents of Linden and several wide-eyed school children.

A science fiction tale, you say? A strange version of one of those childhood dreams where you arrive at school wearing nothing but your socks?

Nay. A true story. At least one that would have happened, had I continued training for the Midmar Mile this year (hey, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!)

Costume rot

See, I was forced into discontinuing my morning sessions at the Linden Public Baths due to an unfortunate case of costume rot.

You know the deal, when your black costume turns grey and starts to sag in places where it's supposed to suck?

The kind of thing that happens to costumes that have been hanging in your bathroom for well over seven years, because one day, those side zips will come back into fashion and your ass will get back in line?

Except my costume wasn't even a year old.

Suffice to say, I was shattered (okay, maybe a little relieved about the Midmar thing). This particular costume wasn't cheap, and there are few things I detest more in life than having to try on swimming costumes in brightly-lit, 360 degree mirrored change rooms.

The thought of having to go through the process twice in one year didn't appeal.

Luckily, I thought, it's a well-known brand, a big swimming brand. One we all grew up with, and one we naturally associate with quality.

So, eager to get back into the pool and my training regime, I called the brand's head offices (ummm, about three months after discovering the rot).

No apologies, all around

I was confident that there would be apologies all around, that my money would be refunded, and that I could use said money to buy a new pair of running shoes (hey, the swimming season was over, and shoe shopping - as any girl will tell you - is much more fun than swimming costume shopping.)

But that was not to be.

"You must have washed it in detergent," the customer service representative said confidently, after hearing my tale. "It clearly says on the label to not wash it in detergent."

"I know," I responded. I border on obsessive-compulsive behaviour when it comes to washing, don't ask why. "I rinsed it in cold water after every session, just like the label recommended. Detergent didn't come within 12 feet of this costume."

That took the wind out her sails, but not all of it.

"Where do you swim?" she asked. "At a gym? A public swimming pool?"

"A public pool," I said.

"Yes, our costumes aren't made to withstand the kind of chemicals they pile into those pools," she said, restored to her former confident glory.

I have to admit that I was too taken aback at this point to reply immediately. It is, after all, a swimming costume. I assume that the manufacturers intended me to use it for swimming. Let me clarify, it wasn't a chamois bikini.

"Umm. But it's a training costume," I said. "Where do you expect me to train?"

(Had I more nerve and less people-pleasing genes, I would have added: "In Evian?")

"The chemicals they put in public pools these days are very strong," she said, adding something about "if I wanted a training costume, I should have bought something out of the Endurance range."

Flabbergasted is not a word I use often. But it's really the only one I can think of that accurately describes my emotion at that point.

From the 'Endurance' range!

As it happens, the costume was from the Endurance range. But I didn't waste my breath. The customer service representative suggested that, if I was still unhappy, I could package up the costume and send it to head office in Durban. But I didn't waste my time (nor my postage money).

Instead, I politely replaced the receiver and vowed never to buy a costume made by that particular brand ever again - not even when I have children and the school insists.

Call me picky, but I expect to be able to use swimming costumes for swimming. I'm kinda funny that way.

No amount of marketing or advertising will ever convince me to try this particular brand again. Ultimately, it's all about delivery, and swimming costumes that disintegrate on contact with chlorine aren't exactly the next iPod, are they?

  • Kim Penstone has given up her idea of ever swimming the Midmar Mile. If her costume couldn't make it through a session or two in Linden, could you imagine what might happen to it in Midmar dam??

  • If you're more interested in the serious side of marketing and advertising, go to www.marketingweb.co.za

    Send your comments to Kim or discuss this column now in our debating forum.

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