Yes, they exist in every country. The Fingernails have swimming lessons every Friday evening in one of Toulouse's majestic public baths. Seeing as I hate French swimming pools, I never take a dip while they're in the pool next door, choosing instead to read my book in the viewers' gallery. I slip through the turnstile to help them get changed and put the clothes into a locker beforehand, then slip the turnstile again at the end when I see them leaving the pool at the end of their tuition. It's no big deal, I see people doing it all the time in the underground and even the on-duty staff never say a word (as they're probably related to most of them, anyway).
Anyhow, yesterday, after trying unsuccessfully to get through with my daughters at the beginning of the session the pool staff seemed to have my number and I was barked at like a scrofulous dog as I was easing myself through the portico later on to go and help the girls get dressed. I explained what I was doing to the 'man', who, with his tattoos, piercings and squat stature looked more like a cross between a lobotomised ape and a council estate launderette than a sports functionary. 'They'll have to cope on their own; you're not going to help them', he barked. I replied, almost politely, that they were six and nine years old and I was not going to leave them on their own in a communal changing room. He told me I was 'defrauding' the pool by entering without a ticket, to which I replied that I didn't need one as I was not going to use the facilities. 'What if everyone did what you do?' he ventured. 'Well, society would be brought to its knees, of course', I replied 'But before that happens, I'm going to help my daughters get dressed'. I also pointed out that I was not 'defrauding' anyone or anything since I was not making use of any facilities, was taking nothing from the building and, in any case, possessing a free municipal pool pass, could use the whole place for free if I wanted to. 'Where's your card, then?' he snapped. 'At home, as I never swim here' I countered. The sports centre manager then came up and explained very patiently and politely what the house policy was, then asked his co-worker to let me through on this occasion. Another completely unnecessary encounter. Sports centres in this country depress me, anyway. They're populated by jobsworths and are generally quite dirty, despite the claims of almost nazi-like cleanliness by the people in charge. What's more, because the population is basically physically quite dirty and undisciplined, they make you wear speedos and swimming caps, a measure you never find in truly clean countries, like Germany. As we approached, there was a group of council estate heros just leaving, one of them playing to the gallery with his intelligent party trick: holding a lighter to his can of hairspray, making it into a flamethrower. You've no idea how much I hate living in cities, now; populated by cretins, they're just all filth and incivility.