As regular readers might know, I’m on a health kick because I’m terrified of dying at the age of 63, like most of my family. This being the case I’ve decided to take on another form of exercise, a sporting activity unusual to me.
I’ve decided to learn to swim.
Now, before you all stand up and shout ‘WHAT? YOU CAN’T SWIM?’ let me explain how and why I can’t. There are good reasons.
Mum could swim. Like a fish. Sadly that wasn’t the only ichthyic quality she possessed as she could drink like one too, but I digress. Mum could swim. Very well indeed. She competed in countless races, over long and short distances, in varying styles, and represented her school and her borough in various competitions. South London’s finest they called her. Battersea’s Lorraine Crapp she was. She could swim forward, backwards, upside down and do all that synchronised swimming stuff, even if people didn’t want her to.
One day, under the influence of a bout of complete and utter stupidity, she dived into the shallow end of the local swimming pool smashed her head and was pulled out, unconscious. This event instilled in mum a classic phobia; from that time forth she was terrified of swimming pools, lakes, rivers and any or all bodies of water.
Every time she went near water she believed the water was calling her to jump in.
She couldn’t look at it. She certainly couldn’t go near it. She would NEVER go in it.
She certainly didn’t drink it either but moving on…
This being the case, mum’s fear and phobia of swimming pools and swimming, I never learned to swim. Properly. I’d go to swimming lessons at school and my mum’s voice would be at the back of my head.
At primary school I was also often ill with tonsilitis and recurring ear infections. Yep, I was THAT kid at school. So a slightly flushed face was a perfect excuse for me not to go swimming and mum would write a note to the teacher so florid and descriptive one would think it had been written by Thomas Hardy. All this coming from a woman so dyslexic she couldn’t spell potato. Obviously something about the notes excusing me from swimming lessons just unleashed her creativity.
Ahhh swimming lessons. How I hated them. The smell of bleach, the threat of veruccas and the very real act of me being pushed in the deep end of the pool when I least expected it by the swimming instructor. How I wanted to murder that man, or at least give him a right hook, however I was 9 and I knew you didn’t do that. I did know, however, if you rearrange the letters in ‘swimming instructor’ and take a few out, it spelled CUNT.
I remember the lessons vividly. Me flailing my arms and going underwater. Me being told to kick my feet and move my arms in long strokes, and going underwater, and me paddling and kicking so frenetically everyone around me would be covered in water, and I’d be sinking, sinking, sinking.
But on my last day at primary school, three years after the rest of my class were all in pyjamas, rescuing bricks from the bottom of the big pool next door, I managed to swim 12 yards in the junior pool. My feet touched the ground twice and I clung to the edge three times, but it counted and I received a rousing cheer and round of applause from the 6 YEAR OLDS who made up the class I was in, and from the teachers who assembled to see this miraculous event. The swimming instructor was delighted, but I think he was just pleased to be rid of me to maintain his 100% record of never having not been able to teach someone how to swim.
I persevered because I was told if I swam 12 yards I’d receive a certificate, and I loved receiving certificates. Yeah, I was THAT kid at school. Anyhow, I did the yards, got the piece of paper and vowed to steer clear of water for the rest of my days. And I pretty much managed it.
Oh, actually I’m wrong. Once, in my late twenties I had a bad back and was told by the physio that swimming would be great exercise. So I thought I’d give it a bash, just in case, actually, I could now swim. Perhaps the intervening fifteen years had suddenly given me an ability I’d never practiced, worked on, or attempted to improve. You know, like we wish when we sit down in front of a piano.
But no. I “swam” a length and then got out and went to the pub. It had taken me fifteen minutes, my feet touched the ground twice and a lifeguard had to stick one of those hook things in as I’d disappeared underwater. My life flashed before my eyes, and not even the best bits were interesting.
And so I never went back. I just never got it as an adult. I saw how people loved swimming and I saw people splash about in pools like Flipper and I’ve thought I JUST CAN’T DO THAT, I know I’d sink. So I might be able to breathe through my ears, if you get me, but I think I’ve just got too many holes to be able to float.
I remember back to TV as a kid, and that advert about how important it is to learn how to swim. You remember the one, with Rolf Harris?
But I’ve seen small children swim, confidently, and kids love splashing about in water. One of my stepdaughters is about to swim a MILE for Sport Relief and she’s only 10. So, I’ve thought to myself that enough is enough is enough. If kids can do it then I can.
I’m going to learn how to swim.
In a way this is me beating those voices that tell me I can’t do something, and me finally getting over the long shadow of the more insane elements of mum’s existence. They fuck you up your mum and dad, wrote Larkin. Yeah, but this is one of mum’s faults that I’d rather not be filled with for any longer.
First lesson is on Tuesday and I suspect I’ll be the only one there as the rest of the world can probably swim. But at least I’m giving it a try. I’m gonna feel silly. I’m gonna feel daft. I’m gonna end up with a verucca innit?
But I’m older and wiser than the 9 year old me. I’m not scared of the same things. I know I can do this, I know I can try, and I know if anyone tries to push me in at the deep end again then I’m giving them that right hook.
Wish me luck.
Thanks for reading.
Is there a fear you wish you could get over? A skill you want to learn? Please let us know via the comments portal below. Surely I’m not the only person in the world who can’t swim?