Well that was a surprise. A Bank Holiday weekend in the UK where – at least where I was – it was gloriously sunny all weekend. Somewhat of a rare occurrence.
We were lucky enough to be with friends down on the Dorset coast, a spectacularly beautiful part of the country in all weathers but especially nice when it is sunny and warm. In addition, the sea is clear and relatively warm in the summer and so it was nice to take advantage of that and get in several sessions of proper swimming in the sea – and one dunk for me in a cold river ford, but that was just for a laugh – it was not deep enough to swim in but was deliciously cooling on a very hot day and it seemed to amuse my fellow waders, most of whom under the age of six.
Swimming and I have an odd history. I was never very into it as a child and I think part of that was body self-confidence (or rather lack of) and a general dislike of swimming pools – something I carry to this day, I’d much rather jump in a river. For whatever reason when I ended up at my secondary school I was a very basic swimmer and could not manage backstroke.
So, then came the humiliation of remedial swimming lessons at lunchtime, as this was the kind of school where while it was OK to be useless at sport, basic incompetence was not tolerated. I hated the whole idea, if only because everyone knew I had to do them and I was therefore excluded from the fun everyone else was having during the break time.
Of course, I was entirely wrong about all this and looking back I am happy that I had to go through it. I’m now a competent swimmer and can enjoy it when the opportunity arises and I have some of the teachers at school to thank for that. But it was not the physical education staff that ran the lessons; it was other members of staff that took the classes on a voluntary basis, when their main role was teaching science or geography. I do not know what their motives were – I suspect that for some it was having experienced similar issues in their own lives. All I know is that these lessons were executed in a calm and matter of fact way, with a lot of patience. I can recall the day that I first allowed myself to lie back in the water – with a supporting hand initially – and realised that I did not sink; a moment of revelation from which thankfully there was no going back.
It is a shame I cannot say thank you to those people who helped me back then; some of them at least are no longer with us. Apart from the practical upshot of learning to swim and the freedom that gives me, it taught me another lesson. Sometimes you must accept that in order to achieve something important you might have to go back to the start and accept that your ego might have to take a back seat while you re-learn something you got wrong the first time but you were not prepared to admit because of the shame; because in the long term you’ll be in a better place.
Sadly, not much opportunity for wild swimming in Hertfordshire; and anyway, as the year goes on maybe it will just be a little too cold. But it was fun when it lasted and I’m sure I’ll be taking the plunge again at the next opportunity.