Let’s go swimming! by Laurie Atkinson

I have never really learnt to swim, have never needed to; just stay away from water, that’s the extent of my tuition, and all I would ever hope to impart upon anyone else. And it isn’t something I’ve ever found too difficult, the activity has never provided much personal allure, in fact its very nature positively repels me. From public pools to the North Sea, everything about large bodies of water has put me off from a very early age. Not that I haven’t been assured upon countless occasions of the unparalleled pleasure of taking to the waves, and even more frequently, the insurmountable benefits to one’s health: “You know, if you chewed gum while you swam, you’d be exercising every muscle in your body”. But I’m yet to be convinced. Besides, I never chew the stuff.

No, for me, there appears in swimming only a catalogue of vices, poorly concealed by a few intolerant enthusiasts in their efforts to press this blight on the general populace. Firstly, the deceit. Now I’m no saint myself when it comes to honesty but I have never found a wretch less dishonourable than water. It bends light cruelly to alter depth, masks jagged rocks underfoot and delights in mirroring that white pasty form gazing down in trunks and goggles just when he’s wondering whether “boy small” was the size for him after all. Then, there’s the temperature, invariably icily cold, however convincing the bathers’ reassuring calls. The midday sun may sparkle on its surface, but one step is enough to have you longing for the welcome embrace of the sandy towel. But worst of all, the most callous weapon in its arsenal, the debilitation. When the stinging waters are ripping at your eyes, the sand is sinking beneath you, when you need your limbs the very most, suddenly, they are useless. You have a brief moment when you know you’ve gone too far, usually a family member on dry land stands up in a well rehearsed motion of concern, but by then, its too late. You can flap your arms, you can kick your legs, but the tide will have gone out before you’re any closer to land. The phrase “out of your depth” takes on a whole new meaning after such an experience. The panic-stricken terror is disagreeable, I’ll admit, but what I really resent about the whole sorry performance (suffice to say I have had the opportunity to participate on multiple occasions) is the indignity. I’m sure there is some manner of escape – stretch out horizontally and thrash back to safety I would imagine – but I am a swimmer (or rather am not a swimmer) disinclined to submerge without first lowering my goggles. Consequently in such a situation I have little option but to jump up and down, desperately trying to reach the damn things, (which I have invariably moments before raised and have now sculpted themselves to my half-dry hair) whilst slowly edging back into “my depth”. It is a truly abysmal episode for anyone to have to endure. So if I ever now hear anyone declare when met with some petty obstacle, “Oh, I’m out of my depth”, I have the sudden urge to throw them in a very deep pool of water, just to make them feel better: “Well, at least you’re on dry land.”

I’m sure by now you’re more than convinced by my way of thinking, but the fact is I boast one further hydrogenous grievance: the taste. I have always been told never to drink whilst swimming. Though I am yet to find any beverage that complements the pursuit, this is something I have always found exceedingly difficult. It seems part of the paddler’s fare that any excursion beyond one’s knees must end with a belly full of salt water. The case is the same in swimming pools, it doesn’t feel like you’ve got your money’s worth unless you take at least a pintful of chlorine out with you (though after sampling both I must say salt water is preferable, not so much for taste, but as a matter of principle; I’d rather gulp down a couple of crabs than someone else’s verruca sock). And of course, the devilish cocktail is not complete without the swimmer’s cough afterwards. I call it the swimmer’s cough because it is a most singular cough which I have never had the chance to enjoy upon any circumstances but up to my chest in water. It seems to be the body saying “Get out at once, this is disgusting” (regarding I think both the liquid half-way down one’s oesophagus and the swimming experience in general) and is almost as bad as the water itself.

I find the whole reasoning behind swimming inexplicable. Perhaps my brief analysis on the subject has opened your eyes too to the insanity of the activity. But don’t call me a spoil-sport – I won’t stop the fun, go ahead if you like, leave me here on the bank. Yes, I’ll take care of the clothes, I don’t mind, honest – but I’m eating your sandwiches.