Custard on Swimming

I have been a swimmer most of my life, my parents were keen that I learned to swim and signed me up for lessons at the same time I started school. It is one of the greatest investments they made for me, a skill I use regularly and has given me life long friends. The smell of the chlorine and soap in your eyes from the showers takes me back to the local swimming pool of my childhood. I still haven’t fathomed out why it is so hard to get dry and get your clothes on in a swimming pool changing room!

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t swim, as a child I was always in the swimming pool at the local leisure centre. It was swimming lessons on Fridays after school – my mum used to watch from the balcony. I had a good friend in my swimming class too – Kieran we’re still friends now 30 years later. It started simply with the 10 metre badge, once you completed the feat you would get a badge which your mum would then dutifully sew onto your cossie. All well and good until you had 5 or 6 badges and a small costume! My mum (and Kieran’s mum) stared sewing our badges onto your swimming towel, I can’t believe I lost my badge laden towel at somepoint during one of my house moves.

As it was the 1980’s we also had school swimming lessons with the utterly terrifying and clinically obese Mrs Stones. This would involve walking in twos from the school to the baths and being shouted at for a mass swimming lesson with the rest of the class. Girls had to wear swimming caps – legend had it the Mrs Stones had once seen a girl drowned by being pulled underwater by her pony tail by a classmate who was a struggling swimmer. Girls were shouted at by the colour of their caps and all the boys were called Charlie! I was never phased by these lesson unlike many of my classmates, as I was a water baby. You would then struggle back into your uniform to head back to school with wet hair and smelling of chlorine.

Once we had gained the essential skills and the all important swimming badges, we progressed through the lessons until our lessons were Friday evenings. Our Mum’s didn’t watch any more but went to a keep fit class on at the same time. Our younger siblings also had lessons so we would swim almost all night and we had great fun. Looking back we were those really annoying kids constantly in the way of swimmers trying to pound through their twenty lengths.

I have fond memories of swimming pools on holidays – my parents always booked somewhere with a pool. All our holidays being taken in the UK this meant shivering beside outdoor pools much of the time. Once you were in the water you soon warmed up. Holidays were family affairs so occasionally even my grandma in her rubbery, flower swimming cap would enjoy a dip. I was even photographed in the pool of the now defunked Farringford Hotel for one of the promotional leaflets, bet you didn’t know I was a swimming costume model!

Lifesaving badges were all the rage. Attaining these badges required for some reason I still don’t understand, involved having to do a surface dive for a brick and tread water for what felt like a week in your pyjamas. As a none PJ wearing child (it was strictly nighties in our house) I had to complete these life saving tasks in shorts and t-shirt! We also had to be involved in the school swimming gala for house points! I never really had the drive to race, swimming was a fun thing not a competition and so my short trial in the local swimming club didn’t come to much. I swam for pleasure.

I still swim for pleasure. As a puppy fat insulated teen, team games weren’t fun, I was always picked last, I was worried I was rubbish and would be ridiculed by my team mates, but in the pool I was only up against myself. I didn’t swim as regularly in my teens but I would go when the mood took me and I still do. Living close to the sea if the temperature permits I have been known to do a bit of sea bathing, which is a totally different but exhilarating ball game!

I often take a dip in my local pool and as I plod up and down the lanes the children in the lane next to me are 25 years behind me with the teacher shouting “Kick, push, drive” or “Breathe now”. I feel for the little blighters they are trying their best and in 25 years they will be thankful for all that tutoring as they glide seemingly effortlessly up and down the blue chlorinated lanes as if they’d been doing it all their life…

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