Any thoughts that New York is a freewheeling metropolis where just about anything goes were finally dashed for me this week on trips to the city's beaches and its biggest swimming pool. I had previously read critics' complaints that officials were turning this into 'Nitpick City'. But most of the complainers seemed to be pop stars and editors who were angry that they could no longer smoke in New York's bars. I told myself that they were a minority who would never forgive Mayor Mike Bloomberg for introducing the smoking ban more than three years ago, and would ratchet up the exaggerations. I also assured myself that the fining of a man in the Bronx for sitting on a milk crate in 2003 was an isolated incident. (He was charged with 'unauthorised use of a milk crate'.) But go to the beach or a pool in and around the city and you soon wonder whether a quota on fun is being enforced. On Coney Island, an attempt to play with a ball in the sea was quickly ruled out of order by the beach's lifeguards. They signalled their displeasure with loud blasts on their whistles and dramatic arm waving. Clambering over the small outcrop of rocks on the beach was also determined too dangerous. A walk on the pier led not only to a search for alcoholic beverages, but also an order to cover up my bikini top - the fear apparently being that a fisherman would embed his hook in my skin. At Long Beach, they wouldn't even allow me into the sea on one day a couple of weeks ago because of the waves. I am a strong swimmer and I went to that beach just because of the waves. Now, I guess I could understand this interest in my health - the lifeguards will do anything to stop you dying on their beaches. But the petty rules I encountered on a trip to Astoria Pool in the picturesque shadows of two of New York's bridges seemed to have little to do with life or death. First, I was pulled out of line for not having a lock to secure my small bag in a locker. The guy in front of me was stopped for not having swimming trunks. An enterprising stall holder came to our rescue - at a price. Then, on my way out of the changing room, I was stopped for wearing a yellow shirt - apparently only white is allowed on the pool deck. I was also prevented from bringing a plastic bag and mobile phone to the poolside. Inflatable toys were absent, and the youngsters' laughter restrained. A security guard even prevented me from taking photos of the pool from within the main building: 'Those are the rules,' he said. Of course, the biggest problem with all this is that it rarely works. If you want to drink alcohol on the beach, you'll actually find someone selling it. And if you really want to find a beach without lifeguards, you can do that, too.