Thursday, 15 May 2008

A Backstroke of Luck

Last night I took S to his swimming lesson at the local leisure centre. Both my sons love swimming and are confident and capable in the water. S has a swimming teacher called Ben who makes the lessons great fun as he makes them walk the plank, pirate style, and blow bubbles as they kick and splash. As with many things I do with my children it reminds me of my own childhood and these swimming lessons are no exception.

Sport, as you might imagine, has never been my strong point. At primary school I was always last in class races and my only contribution to playground football games was to be what we called 'a goal hanger' and take opportunistic pot shots at goal. At secondary school we had P.E. inflicted on us at least once a week. Even though the Muscular Dystrophy was beginning to become evident in my gait and posture for the first three years I had to endure this weekly nightmare. The worst times were during the winter season when we had to play Rugby, a game so violent and pointless I'm surprised they didn't equip us with flick knives. I made it my mission to come off the field with out a speck of mud on me. I did quite enjoy swimming though.

Our secondary school had its own pool, some 30 yards by 15 yards of chlorinated ice crystals. We would be expected to swim back and forth across the pool for half an hour before being rewarded with 4 or 5 minutes “free time” where I did my best not to drown. Occasionally we'd do things like our 'bronze survival' award, which involved picking things up from the bottom of the pool and making a life preserver out of a pair of pyjama bottoms. Amazingly I managed to attain my half mile distance swimming award.

But my greatest swimming achievement came at some ghastly inter-house swimming gala when I was about 14. For reasons totally beyond me I was entered in the 2 length backstroke event. I was racing against Paul and Darren I seem to remember as well as one other. We dived, belly-flopped or fell in to the water and took up our starting positions, the whistle blew and off we went in a flurry of whirling arms and legs, generating more spray than motion. Within moments it was clear that I was not destined to break any records. By the time I reached the turn I was a third of a length behind the others and they were continuing to pull ahead. As cheers greeted the winner I still had half a length to go. The others were out of the pool and dried off and the competitors for the next race were lined up and waiting impatiently before I arrived gasping at the finish. A desultory smatter of pitying applause greeted me as I hauled myself out of the water and found my towel. And then the results were announced. Oh glory. “Loader, Williams and the other one, disqualified for an incorrect turn. Therefore the winner is. . .” The disbelief on my fellow contestants faces were a wonder to behold. That was the last time I ever won a competitive race. Or, indeed, ever took part in one.

S, finished his lesson and greeted me a wide grin. “Did you see me go under the water, Daddy?” I assured him I had. “I'm great at swimming, aren't I.” Like father like son.

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