Apparently it’s the most natural thing in the world. If you throw a baby into a swimming pool (and let’s face it, who doesn’t want to do that every time you hear a screechy infant?) they will, with natural grace, begin to sink, thrash about, find the surface and learn a valuable lesson in how little trust you should place in adults. Thankfully, I was an angelic child who never drove his parents to attempted infanticide.
The downside? I didn’t get that natural start to becoming an Olympic Gold Medal swimming champ. I have vague memories of swimming lessons in Presentation College Bray. I have more distinct memories of a freezing, filthy cesspit. That was the locker rooms in Presentation College Bray, not Bray itself. Although, there’s an argument to be made.
When I was a kid, we often holidayed in Trabolgan in Cork. Their very awesome pool had a wave machine, a giant snakelike slide and a gradiated pool which meant I could always avoid going in too deep. I still have ridiculously fond memories of that pool, even now. However, I also have one fleeting memory of nearly drowning in said pool.
A siren went off every fifteen minutes or so to announce the wave machine was about to go tsunami on our asses. Myself and the other pathetically cowardly, weak-willed, scrawny, pitiful, wretched excuses for small humans would usually accept this siren as a call to abandon pool (or at least move to the paddling end in a feigned attempt at bravery).
On occasion, some of us would pluck up a modicum of courage and wade a couple of feet deeper, allowing the weakened waves to lap against our torpid torsos, proving we were real men.
I’m not sure what age I was when this happened. I guess I was about ten or eleven, which means I’ve been holding on to this traumatic experience for nigh on twenty plus years.
While attempting one of these fetes of bravado, I ventured a few inches further into the pool than I perhaps should. One of the waves that I had been so fascinated with was slightly larger than I expected and caught me harder than I could handle. I was knocked backwards. Then the previously insignificant undertow grabbed me like deaths hand in one of the horror movies my grandmother allowed me to watch at the time but my parents would have banned (my childhood relationship with and my ultimate love of horror movies is something I’ll talk about another time).
I’m not sure what I thought, but I’ve no doubt my brief period of existence flashed before my eyes. I kicked wildly and could feel myself being dragged deeper, in over my head. Water flowed into my mouth, my throat, my lungs. My screams were non-existent, but I tried to scream them none-the-less. I have a tiny photograph in my head of my final moment – my eyes were open, I was deep under the waves above, looking up at the water’s surface which was probably only inches away, but it may as well have been three miles from my face. This was it, my final moment, my last farewell, my death.
Then I was thrust forward and upward. Up high, out of the water. I came back down with a splash and was submerged again. The same sudden thrust happened again. My arms were wrenched up and water burst out of my mouth. I coughed briefly before plunging back into the spray again. With one final boost up and out, I caught a glimpse of my dad. He was swimming beside me, pushing me up out of the deep, closer to the edge of the pool. I found my footing, I was well within my depth, I was saved, I was alive. Coughing, tears, embarrassment, and panic followed. But I was alive.
So, you’d imagine that after that encounter, I would have made it my business to learn how to swim, to ensure I never endured anything like that again. Nah!
Nowadays, I love going to the pool in my gym. It’s not so deep that I can’t stand and breathe the wondrous air, so I never worry. I can float. I can wade a bit. I can flap my arms and kick my legs and slowly but surely flounder my way from one side of the pool to the other. I actually find the whole thing relaxing. No, I don’t need to swim.
Watching people doing endless lengths of the pool, plunging their heads and bodies deep under water for what seems like minutes on end, thrashing their arms and legs pointlessly from one end to the other – this all seems far too much like hard work to me. I’m happy as I am. And if I do end up dying because I fall from a ferry while crossing the Irish Sea, then so be it.
I can’t swim and I’m ok with that. The title of my next post? – “I can’t drive”.