Learning to swim

I’ve never been much of a swimmer.

I reckon if I fell into your average ocean somewhere without a life jacket already on I’d survive for, ooh, one minute, if I fell in your average ocean somewhere without a life jacket and you noticed and threw a life jacket in after me then you’d better throw it close, like, a few yards close.

Don’t get me wrong, I can swim, in your average swimming pool I can probably swim from one end to the other without the need to stop, I realise that’s not much but that gives you some sort of idea of how close you’re going to have to throw the life jacket when I fall in – tell you what, I’ll just wear the bloody thing all the time shall I?

We all know the story of those disastrous Primary School swimming lessons don’t we, yes you do, the one where someone took a shit in one of the cubicles, there, its all come back to you now hasn’t it, well suffice to say that by the time I left Primary School at the age of 11 I still couldn’t swim very well.

That is I could make it look like I was swimming wonderfully but observers may have asked why I never ventured from the shallow end or why only one leg could be seen kicking in the water, well you need to keep the other one on the bottom don’t you, what a stupid question.

But swimming with one foot on the floor of the swimming pool doesn’t really count as swimming, certainly not in the Olympics anyway and so when I joined Leeds Modern Grammar School and the PE Master Sinbad Simpson asked, nay commanded us to stand in two groups, swimmers and non-swimmers, then I gladly joined the non-swimming group.

Sindbad left all of the self declared swimmers up in the deep end of the pool (and boy was the school swimming pool deep, those Victorians knew how to dig a deep pool is all I’ll say) and concentrated on assessing his disparate group of non-swimmers.

We ranged from those who wouldn’t even get in the swimming pool, at all, yes that was you Andrew Clark and David (Pretty Woman) England, to those like me who were just one extra little morsel of confidence away from lifting their trailing foot off the bottom for good, being an ancient mariner himself and an ancient PE instructor of indeterminable age, Sinbad immediately recognised my condition for what it was – idleness.

He sent me and a couple of others towards the deep end, barked at us to keep shuffling further up the pool, Sinbad never asked you to do anything, he barked at you like a Regimental Sergeant Major and after much shuffling, nudging and pushing from my fellow almost-swimmers we were up to our chins and just about teetering on our toes to keep our hair dry.

A barked instruction to us almost-swimming-nearly-drowning unfortunates indicated that we were to attempt to reach the other side of the pool by some pretence at swimming, foot on the bottom not being an option this time, the three of us were reluctant to try until Sinbad went and got the window pole and reaching down from the edge of the pool cracked all three of us around the back of the head in encouragement.

Its amazing what a teacher can achieve when he has society’s permission to beat some sense into his pupils and the means to do so by way of a window pole or a board rubber, I was halfway across the ten yard wide pool before I realised that both my feet were off the bottom, I was swimming, hurrah !

Immediately that I realised that fact I was suddenly sinking, the mere conscious effort of maintaining a floating location on top of the water had caused me to capsize, there was more to this swimming business that Sinbad was letting on – I did eventually reach the other side of the pool, waterlogged and several stone heavier after consuming most of the heavily chlorinated pool whilst underwater, in fact most of the ten yards was probably swum underwater, thinking about it I seem to recall walking most of the distance underwater, it just seemed easier that way, it could be a wonderful Olympic sport actually, underwater walking races, wait here while I go and register my new wonderful idea.

Meanwhile softy David (Pretty Woman) England, so named after the Roy Orbison song of the same name, had been cajoled, coaxed and bullied with the window pole into actually getting into the swimming pool by Sinbad and he stood in the very shallowest part of the pool, arms clutched to his flabby womanly chest and shivering in fear while the water lapped around his chubby knees, christ knows how his mother got him to take a bath every week.

Andrew Clark was even worse, simply refused to get in, just sat there and no amount of yelling, bellowing and “encouraging” with the window pole could get him to even put a toe in the water, to the best of my knowledge he never took part in another swimming lesson at all, he’s probably found a place to live somewhere on earth that is as far away from the sea as you can possibly get, somewhere like the exact middle of Australia would be ideal for him, not even any rain to bother with.

By the end of that term David (Pretty Woman) England had learned to swim across the width of the swimming pool, or rather he had learned to kneel down in the water and get Sindbad to tow him across the width of the swimming pool using the window pole as a towing device, and thats where Sinbad left it, after the first term David (Pretty Woman) England was excused further swimming lessons mainly because SinBad was sick and tired of walking along the edge of the pool towing him back and forth on the end of a window pole, hopefully if David (Pretty Woman) England ever falls overboard from a passing ocean liner with or without a life jacket there will be someone reaching out from said ocean liner with a window pole for him to grab hold of, otherwise he is doomed.


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