Novemberland

Not Waving But Drowning

Published by Darren Seeley on Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Now. When I say I am learning to swim, I really mean that I am learning the next stage after 'not sinking and moving about a bit in a body of water'.   I've never had formal lessons, but my inauguration to the first stage of such unassisted solo water activity began quite dramatically on the Costa Del Sol in 1974. 

 

I was five years old and one early evening was playing in the hotel swimming pool.  At the deep end I fell out of my inflatable rubber ring and began struggling to keep my head above water.   My memory is hazy but legend has it that my Dad immediately leapt from his poolside chair (he was fully clothed, wearing the heavy knit cardigan my Mum had packed for him 'in case it got a bit chilly') and dived into the water to rescue me.  The other poolside guests refrained from participating in the drama, and nonchalantly continued sipping their Sangrias, and lighting up fags.

 

This event persuaded my Dad to deliver an impromptu swimming lesson, and from that moment I discarded my safety ring and entered the world of 'not sinking and moving about a bit in a body of water'.  It is there I have remained since. 

So, whilst I plan to take professional instruction, I am for the moment relying on David Wilkie, whom conveniently wrote 'The Handbook of Swimming'  a copy of which I found in a second hand bookshop.   

Source
First published in 1986 it contains whole chapters on the scientific principles of swimming and has pictures of dolphins, propellers and Tarzan.   There are graphs and anatomical drawings showing me how, when and what with.  It appeals to my analytical mind and whilst the hours of video I have watched on You Tube has helped enormously, you can't beat a bit of hydrodynamic analysis of thumb positions to really drive things home.

 

Of course, anything that can be analysed to this degree means there is more to do in getting it right and that is the really difficult part.  You can't really cheat in swimming.  Unlike say cycling where you can stop pedalling and use momentum to continue moving you forward, it's difficult to pretend you're actually swimming if you're not.  


At school I remember the excitement of joining recorder club, and the succeeding abject boredom when I realised I couldn't actually play it, and was too impatient to really listen to any instruction.   However, I did devise an ingenious method of fooling everyone into thinking that my lessons had not gone to waste.  Instead of blowing air in the recorder, I would actually hum the tune I wanted to play through it.  

 

This gave me an incredible repertoire and I was able to produce notes hitherto unheard from a standard issue school descant recorder.   One unfortunate side effect though, was the emission of large amounts of saliva from the end of the recorder at an unknown moment in the future.
  
My undoing, I see now, was probably when I started talking through it.  I'd misjudged my audience, and ignored Lincoln's maxim on fooling people.  I truly believed the looks they gave me were wonder, and not as I now know; pity. 


So I continue to progress and can indeed now move forward through the water in a reasonably orderly fashion.  From above the water I am told, I seem calm and focused which belies the chaos that sometimes unfolds beneath the surface as I try to determine whether I’ve blown out sufficient air, extended my arms enough, and am indeed not waving but drowning.