I learned to swim ten or fifteen times during my childhood – and forgot how to swim that many times as well. Looking back, I realise that trying to persuade a delicate child that it was enjoyable to bob around in an overchlorinated, chilly pool of preadolescent piss was quite obviously a non-starter. A bit of stress might make you pay attention to your task; constant revulsion, coupled with a fear of drowning, is probably counterproductive to any pedagogical mission.
The most recent "success" had been when my dear, lamented friend Wilf took advantage of my enormous obedience, and told me to jump in the deep end of Crystal Palace’s Olympic pool. And after that, I had no particular reason to get back in the water until it was clear that if I didn’t, I’d always be relegated to the sidelines while my two nautical daughters and my wife swam like fishes.
So, my wife scoured Singapore to find a place that would teach adults to swim in a calm environment, and booked me in for a lesson after work this evening. I was semi-familiar, as it’s the same place La Serpiente swims, but I’d never been in the pool of my own accord.
We spent the first five minutes concentrating on breathing. I never realised how little natural prowess I possessed for breathing. I kept forgetting to exhale in the water, and inhale out of it, and not the other way round. But eventually I came to discover that in a clean, warm pool it’s not horribly unpleasant to have your eyes open underwater. Once we started getting me to swim up and down the pool, I forgot most of this again, and kept trying to hold my breath underwater (so when I came up for air I’d have to breathe out and in and then swallow more of the pool), or forget to inhale until I’d put my face back in the water, or both.
But instead of a megalomaniac with a boat hook and a bushy moustache, I had a patient and encouraging coach, putting up with my inability at basic life skills like respiration, at least for the thirty minutes I spent in the pool.
However much of the pool I hadn’t drunk, that is. Still, it’s a start, even if it did take me a surprisingly long time to figure out that if you’re under water and breathing out through your nose, you should look up (so the bubbles don’t get in your eyes) and when you’re standing up and breathing in, you should look down (so you don’t get water in your mouth). Baby steps.