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Happy nearly naked New Year to the locals

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Christmas is officially over on Tuesday

Christmas is officially over on Tuesday

Christmas is officially over on Tuesday

Christmas is officially over on Tuesday. Which means, among other things, that I'll no longer be getting brainwashed by 'Frosty The Snowman' at my local leisure centre - one of the songs playing there on a loop over the festive season. (Though I quite liked that 'pa rappa ba bum' one. Or maybe it just grew on me, like fortified fungus).

Still, there is a time and place for even pleasant melodies. I could have done without 'Silent Night' blasting out from the moment I opened my car door in the middle of noisy afternoons. It certainly made a strange soundtrack for parents and little people charging about. But even such bah humbug hazards couldn't put me off this keep fit cabana, which is managed by the ever capable and charming Caroline.

Inevitably, staff have come and gone over the years that I've been a member. Like Sarah, who absconded to Australia, but came bounding over to say hello when she was home for the holidays and spotted me searching fruitlessly for Brussels sprouts on Christmas Eve. Or the keep fit fanatic who kept a lunch-box heaving with hard-boiled eggs and whose aftershave you could smell even when underwater.

But some old reliables are still there, like feisty fair-head Lindsey. Alongside easy-going Aisling, who became a mother to darling Rosie last year. Which was when genial John and a pair of beautiful brothers joined the team; Robbie being a year and a day older, to be precise, than the equally affable Andy.

Of course, many of us rusty old regulars are still knocking about too.

Like the friendly farmer who offered me lifts there when I was carless, and who came charging up to me one afternoon last year, demanding to know if he was the "Dirty Harry" mentioned in one of my columns.

But sure, how could he be, when he's so squeaky clean? I only have to turn around and there he is, wallowing in the shallow end of the pool. Or else sweltering in the sauna or steam room, while sprouting his sassy views.

Indeed, these two hangouts are literally the hottest meeting spots in town. For all country life is there, from the jockey who dons a wetsuit to sweat down his weight before races, to both proprietors and employees of regional businesses. The dress code is not so much "strictly swimwear" as "totally togs", as Irish people say.

Everyone squashes together for steamy sessions of an evening, conducting conversations that range from local lore to the wider world at large. Allowing mischievous members to embarrass each other whenever they meet in town, by joking that they would barely recognise them with their clothes on.

Which is no bad thing. For beneath frayed fleeces or finery, aren't we birds of a feather who flock together?

Sunday Independent