Taking the plunge; Robin Wilkinson never got around to earning his 25m badge - but
he's learning it's never too late to dive in and find his water wings.
Byline: Robin Wilkinson
THE FIRST thing that hit me was the smell. In one Proustian moment,
the tang of chlorine dredged up enough repressed memories to fill a
psychoanalyst's waiting room.
There's Little Robin, aged seven, craftily picking up quoits quoits: see horseshoe pitching.
Game in which flattened rings of iron or circles of rope (both called quoits) are thrown at an upright
pin (hob) in an attempt to ring it or come as near to it as possible. from the bottom of the shallow-
end with his feet, whilst the swimming
instructor pretends not to notice.
Little Robin gets taller - other children move up to the deep-end.
They dive in head-first wearing their pyjamas pyjamas or US pajamas
a loose-fitting jacket or top and trousers worn to sleep in [Persian pai leg + jāma garment]
pyjamas, pajamas (US) npl (BRIT, darting like fish
and retrieving bricks from the bottom of the pool with their teeth.
Little Robin stays where he is, picking up those quoits with his
feet and occasionally floundering 10m across the pool, propped up with a
miscellany of floats, like a wheezing Wheezing Definition
Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound associated with labored breathing.
Wheezing occurs when a child or adult tries to breathe deeply through air passages that are
narrowed or filled with mucus as a paddle-steamer.
Why, at the age of 27, have I decided to start having swimming
lessons? Well, in one sense, pounds 60 - the cost of a 10-week swimming
course at the Cardiff International Pool- seems a very reasonable price
to right what I see as a childhood wrong.
More prosaically, the last time I tried to go swimming for pleasure
- last summer in Poland - I was so riddled with embarrassment I vowed
I'd have lessons on my return to Cardiff.
To start with, failing to understand the many Polish signs, I
walked up to the pool fully-clothed.
After a complex exchange of gesticulations with the lifeguard I
re-emerged in my trunks, to be told I had to wear a swimming cap - which
meant borrowing one from the equivalent of the school lost-property
A balding man was swimming without a cap, but I decided not to
quibble QUIBBLE. A slight difficulty raised without necessity or propriety; a cavil.
2. No justly eminent member of the bar will resort to a quibble in his argument. this technicality.
Suitably dressed, I climbed into the freezing pool, which was
teeming teem 1
v. teemed, teem*ing, teems
1. To be full of things; abound or swarm: A drop of water teems with microorganisms.
2. with the sort of ethereally-beautiful women Poland seems to
specialise in, all of whom had witnessed my farcical far*ci*cal
1. Of or relating to farce.
a. Resembling a farce; ludicrous.
b. Ridiculously clumsy; absurd.
I completed several spluttering lengths of adult doggy-paddle,
whilst the Polish mermaids zipped past like minnows.
I climbed out, threw my hat back into the festering pile and vowed:
It all just seems terribly unfair. On land I'm a model of
controlled grace - frequently walking through doors unaided and
occasionally passing a day without tripping over Tripping Over is a British/Australian six-part
drama series. Its first episode aired on Network Ten in Australia on October 25 2006, and in the
United Kingdom on Five on October 30 2006. In the UK Tripping Over is repeated on Five Life. a
But, this grace somehow eludes me in the water.
I'm like a reverse-penguin, or to be more accurate, a foal foal
a junior horse from birth to one year. May be filly foal, colt foal.
see enzootic equine incoordination. with broken legs that's been tied in a sack and thrown into a
I've a friend who fits the penguin model. As far as I'm
aware Gareth has only ever been for a run once in his life, and this was
after drinking a bottle of wine, whilst smoking and wearing office
But when we've been swimming together he waits for me at the
pool's edge, openly laughing at my exertions before darting off
like a bearded-eel.
So it's with Gareth's taunts ringing in my ears - not to
mention the childhood demons and more recent Polish shame - that I find
myself standing next to the Olympic Pool with a group of strangers,
essentially all just in our underwear.
To start with it's horrible. I don't take instruction
I find it hard to even listen after asking someone for directions.
God, I think, this person's boring - left-this, right-the-other,
do-this past the cathedral, is that all they ever talk about? Then I
miss my train because I can't find the station.
It's awkward for everyone. Not least the instructor who, with
endless patience, tries not to be condescending.
But how can you not be when faced with a man who hasn't the
attention span or motor-skills to follow basic physical instruction
however calmly and repeatedly offered? Then one week my instructor made
me wear a pair of yellow hand-paddles.
The final insult, I thought: I look like something that might haul
itself onto a Galapagos Island to deposit its eggs.
But somehow they work, and soon - minus paddles - I'm doing
something that could favourably be described as breast-stroke.
My instructor leans in to shake my hand, which I have to hastily
check isn't the one I just used to clear copious volumes of water
from my nose.
I'm slowly making progress, but more importantly, it's
been a valuable lesson in humility.
As an adult, it's all too rare that I do anything I'm not
already good at, meaning I forget that there are lots of things I
can't do well, or even at all. So, instead of mocking people that
can't do the things I can - drinking cups of tea right up until I
go to bed, for example, or playing the snooker theme-tune on the guitar
- I should remember that they have skills that I don't.
And should the world mysteriously flood overnight, the swimmers
will be the ones laughing.
As they save themselves and their families by diving into the water
in their pyjamas and picking up bricks from the floor, I'll be
left, in a futile gesture, putting on my yellow hand-paddles and picking
up quoits with my feet.
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