Thursday, 23 January 2014

Olympic ambitions

It's all Tom Daley's fault.  Really - it is.

I saw this picture on Instagram, and it reminded me that the Olympic aquatics centre opens to the public in just over a month's time.  For a split second I thought to myself 'it might be rather nice to have a swim in the Olympic pool', and then the thought faded as I remembered that I hate swimming.  Plus I can't really swim either.  I can float and tread water just enough to not drown, but I can't swim properly and the only 'stroke' I can do is basic doggy paddle for a few metres.  

The last time I did any amount of swimming was when I lived in Queensland, Australia for 9 months in 1995.  It was probably a condition of my visa that I had to swim while I was there; you can't be in Australia and not swim.  Any swimming I did was either snorkeling or splashing around in the sea though, so my 'not drowning' technique was perfectly adequate.  I can't actually remember the last time I went swimming in the UK.  It may have been as a child, with my parents.  I skived off every school swimming lesson at secondary school.  

I have never taken my own children swimming.  When they were toddlers I really wanted them to love swimming and be good at it, and I knew that the quickest way to ruin that would be for me to take them.  So Graham took them, and taught them both to swim at a very young age.  It is one of my greatest parenting achievements that they both swim like fish now, and love it, despite having me as a vehement, non-swimming, role model.  They are baffled at my dislike of it.  My parents have a pool in France, but I don't swim in it when we visit them.  Occasionally if it is really hot, I will sit in the shallow end sipping a cold glass of wine, or float for five minutes to cool down - but I'd rather be sitting in the shade reading a book and watching the others swim.

And yet...when I thought of the Olympic aquatics centre and how I would probably never swim there, I actually felt a little bit sad and regretful that I don't have a life skill that every other adult in the UK seems to have.  I remembered how I thought I hated running until I actually gave it a go.

"Right!  I'm going swimming tomorrow!" I announced to Olivia last night.
There was a long pause.
"You are?"
"Yes.  I'm going to give it a go."

I rummaged in my cupboard and found a swimming costume I bought over five years ago for occasional floating in the pool in France.  Olivia stood next to me, wide-eyed, as if she couldn't really believe I was going to go through with it.   She claimed never to have seen me wearing that swimming costume.

"You'll need googles," she said.  "Do you even have goggles?"
"No.  Do I really have to wear goggles?"
"Durr.  You can't swim without goggles."
"Okay - can I borrow yours?"
"I use Dad's second-best pair...but I think he's got a third-best pair somewhere that you could borrow."

Being a spoilt Londoner, as well as the Olympic aquatics centre just a ten minute bus ride away I also have two pools within walking distance of my house.  I have never swum in either, despite having lived here for fifteen years, but this morning after I took Olivia to school ("are you seriously going through with this?" was her parting shot as she got out of the car) I walked to the closest one and paid my three pounds (I don't even know if this is good value?  Is it?  It seemed pretty good to me).

In the changing cubicle I discovered that my swimming costume didn't fit.  I have - entirely accidentally - lost over 9kg in weight in the last year through running and working shifts, and the costume was gaping horribly.  I suspected that it would gape even more once I got it wet.  Happily, I discovered I could use the bracelet from my locker to clip the straps of my swimming costume together at the back, and this made it fit much better (although admittedly it left me looking like even more of an amateur - as if I didn't even know how to wear my locker bracelet).

The lanes in the pool were marked slow, medium and fast.  I got into a slow one, which only had two other people in it, and set off - not entirely sure whether I could swim a whole 25 metres in one go.  It turned out that I could just about manage a length of doggy paddle - and I stood up at the far end, heart pounding, feeling extremely pleased with myself. 

I had not expected everybody else in the pool to be so friendly.  Everybody chatted during the pauses at the end of the lengths.  There was much consternation and interest at my (lack of) swimming technique, and one man said, after watching me thrash up and down as hard as I could, "how come you're going so fast, given that you can barely swim?".  Polish Paul, in my lane, tried to show me how I could swim with much less effort. 
"This way, you won't be tired!" he said.
"I kind of want to be tired though," I replied, "I'm here for the exercise"
"No, no no.  You want to just glide up and down.  Don't wear yourself out.  I am an expert at gliding!"
As well as meeting Polish Paul, I learnt that the elderly lady in the green costume is known to everyone as The Fish, and that Mustafa, who is sixty this year, learnt to swim for his fiftieth birthday.  I suspect that if I turn up regularly at this time, I might become known as Crazy Doggy Paddle Woman.

I managed twelve lengths in total (not in one go - I stopped between each one), and when I got out, my arms and legs were trembling with tiredness ("you see - you should be gliding, like me!" said Polish Paul, as I rather shakily said goodbye).  

Graham's third-best pair of goggles
I think I might go again.


  1. Good for you! I suspect not being able to swim is a lot more common than you'd think. My husband can't swim - I doubt he could even do 5m let alone 25 - but his mum learnt at a much older age so there's time for him yet! Keep at it, you will find it easier every time.

  2. Well done, your fellow swimmers sounded like a nice group. I can swim but don't like getting my face wet!!

  3. Well done you - theres nothing like a pep talk from others to keep you going. That happened to me in the gym yesterday when I was looking glum as I have no stamina and cant really run although I desperately want to - when the man asked why so sad I replied when the zombies come I'll be the first one eaten - I cant run - he just looked at me strangely and said everyone can run to sort my head out and try for 3 miles!!! I dont know how that converts to km but I can only do 1.5km and think I'm going to die - lol :-)

  4. I never had you down for a non-swimmer Nancy - not that I spend time wondering if people I know can swim or not. I haven't been swimming in an age and I suspect that if did I would have the opposite experience to yours in the changing room. But swimming is the only exercise I enjoy despite not being able to see while I'm doing it and I'd really quite like to learn how to do proper swimming and not just middle-aged lady breast stroke. Perhaps you have inspired me to get some lessons.

    1. I had swimming lessons a couple of years ago for this very reason. It was a lot of fun.

      I really must go back and see if I remember what to do.

  5. Hey, Crazy Doggy Paddle Lady, I'm really impressed that you went and that you managed twelve lengths. My swimming stroke is fairly dreadful, I've always thought it would be nice to know how to do it properly though.

  6. I also have a swimming pool about a five minute walk away that I have never used. Though I have been down there twice in the last twenty years to pick up a timetable - the extent of my good intentions. But you may have inspired me!

  7. I've barely been in a pool for years and have no swimming skill but I was also planning it as my shock challenge for 2014 so your post really resonates with me. I loved the bit about you not knowing how to wear your locker bracelet and sniggered out loud - waking poor Mr locket! :)

  8. What a great achievement, well done and good to hear your fellow swimmers were so encouraging, I hope you manage to go again. I love swimming, although I don't go much, it's so relaxing.

  9. Don't do this to me. DO NOT DO THIS. Just stop being so damn inspirational.

    *gets out swimming costume from back of wardrobe*

  10. what you need is the Ladybird book learn to Swim..oh and a pooffee for practice, that's how I did it...good luck

  11. get lessons. I did it a few years ago. I even got a badge.!

  12. that is brilliant!! good for you... and the Aquatic centre....


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