Learning To Swim


Memories are a funny thing, I’m not sure how accurate mine are and whether or not the sequence of events is actually the way it happened sometimes, but I have been reading “Turning: Lessons from Swimming Berlin’s Lakes” by Jessica J. Lee, this week and she writes about learning to swim. This got me to thinking about how I learnt.

I learnt to swim when I was at primary school, so between the ages of 5 and 11. Once a week we’d be taken by bus to the swimming pool in the nearest city. It probably took us longer to get there and back than it did actually at the pool and so it took up all of a morning for our lessons. If you were unfortunate to have a verruca then you weren’t allowed to go, and had to stay at school. We had our feet checked at the start of each term, lining up and having to lift each foot in turn like a horse being shod so that the instructors could check.

If you couldn’t already swim then you started in the shallow end of the pool, and as you got more confident and able you got to progress along the length of the pool into deeper water. We learnt “doggy-paddle” at first moving on to breast-stroke later. We undertook our distance badges (starting at 10m and working up to miles upon miles), and also learn’t personal survival (swimming in our pyjamas and making floats out of the legs of the trousers) – I always thought that we used pyjamas because what else would you be wearing when your luxury liner sank at night? The highlight of my school memories was coming third in the breast-stroke heats at the County swimming gala (unfortunately only the first two got to progress to the quarter finals).

Neither of my parents could swim and I used to pester my Mum to take me swimming, so in the end I used to go with friends to the seaside or the local pool, until my Mum learnt (probably to stop me whining about wanting to go swimming). As a result we used to go swimming off of the shore at Emsworth and the seafront at Hayling Island, West Wittering and Bracklesham Bay in the school holidays.

My Mum continued to swim, going to classes one night a week, with a friend. When I was old enough (you had to be over 16 for insurance reasons) I joined them. 9 to 10 pm on a Monday night, which meant we didn’t get home until 11 pm and then still got up for college on Tuesdays. I had a lot of fun with those lessons, and ended up with a trophy (I think for best improved technique), and some life-saving certificates.

I don’t seem to swim as much anymore, a bit at Emsworth still (in the summer with the dogs), but that’s about it. I must admit though that reading a book about wild swimming (and not the first one btw), maybe I’ll start again. Who knows.


3 thoughts on “Learning To Swim

  1. Ah, the memories. :o)

    I taught myself how to swim and quite by accident. When I was about 10 or 11 years old, we had an above ground pool, which was round and only about 4 to 4.5 feet deep. One time, when I was alone in the pool, I started to walk around the outer perimeter, going faster and faster as I built up momentum in the water. In a little while, I had quite the whirlpool going and I would hang on to the edge of the pool, letting the current lift up my lower half. Unexpectedly, I lost my grip and the current too me away. As I tried to make it back to the edge of the pool, I stared kicking my feet and waving my arms, and low and behold, I was swimming!

    After this happened and I realized that I didn’t drown, for the rest of the afternoon, I did this routine over and over again. By the end of the day, I taught myself how to swim without the help of the whirlpool.

    Apart from those few summers with the above ground pool, I never did much swimming… never really enjoyed being in the water, myself.

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