When I was younger my Uncle Fran told me that it is impossible to lick your elbow – it can’t be done. He then proceeded to watch me try…fount of knowledge was Uncle Fran !
He knew about many things he did, it was when he told my mum he would teach me to swim that I became really excited…it was before schools actually bothered with things such as swimming lessons preferring instead to concentrate on useful things like rounders ! (that is me being facetious in case you didn’t realise – I mean what are the odds of needing to belt a ball halfway across an all-weather pitch in a life preserving act compared to actually requiring the skill to be able to swim a few metres or so just in case you fall in a canal ?).
So one Saturday morning off we went to Chadderton Baths (or Chaddy Baths as it was locally known). Not so the pristine aqua centres of today – no, Chaddy Baths was decorated more akin to a Gents Toilet than a Sports establishment. Brown tiles from the polished concrete floor made way to Cream ones half way up the wall. A nice Green row of border tiles separating the two.
And then the cream tile lined pool itself and the smell it cast into the air. Before the advent of measured doses of chemical additives and ultra-violet bacteria eradicators they appeared to use chunks of chlorine instead to purify the water (a smell which which added to the ambience further reminding me of the similarity to that of a gents public toilet).
There were also lumps floating around in the water – a mixture of the coagulated chemicals and bits of polystyrene floats that had broken off over time and not been removed. Pleasant it most certainly wasn’t but I was so excited at being taught to swim that these things didn’t bother me in the slightest.
And so to my first ever swimming lesson…I stood shivering by the side of the pool (no air-conditioned facilities in them days). I anticipated my Uncle taking me by the hand and in a fully protective manner lowering me gently into the pool never once taking his hands away from mine.
What happened was far removed from that….I was flung, literally picked up and thrown into the middle of the pool. I don’t know whether I hit the bottom but what I did do is somehow make my way up to the surface, thrashing my arms and legs around like I was having a seizure. Eventually through more good luck than good management I managed to sort of doggy-paddle to the side. My Uncle was on hand…he pulled, actually more dragged me coughing and spluttering out onto terra-firma.
“Are you ok ?” he said.
In between large gulps of air and retches caused by ingesting small chunks of polystyrene I replied “I think so”.
“That’s what it feels like if you fall into water and can’t swim” he said before once again picking me up and throwing me in again.
This was repeated several times and with each subsequent immersing I somehow began to realise that the more I struggled the more water I swallowed, the harder it was to stay afloat and the more exhausted I became. It was on the – well actually I can’t remember – but I’ll say the sixth waterbound excursion that I actually managed not to swallow any water (I was surprised there was any still left), I managed not to panic, I managed to swim – whilst not quite Olympic Freestyle I did manoeuvre my way relatively proficiently across to the side.
Seeing my achievement he suggested we end the lesson as he thought I’d learnt enough for that day.
It was on our way back home that I asked him “Uncle Fran what would you have done if I didn’t make it to the side?” – I was expecting a heroic “I’d have jumped in and saved you” however his answer somewhat both shocked and surprised me; “I’ve no idea Robert…I never learnt to swim myself !”
Despite it sort of working for me, I never did take Uncle Fran up on another lesson.
He was joking of course about not being able to swim, but I didn’t realise that for a few years after and by then I could swim much better and didn’t need his services anymore.
Irrespective of there now being lifeguards on hand and other safety measures including the ‘illegality’ tantamount to Child Abuse of throwing kids (especially non-swimmers) into pools, I don’t recommend his teaching method to anyone else and it was a method I certainly didn’t use when teaching my own son to swim.
But teach him how to swim I did as you never know when it may come in handy.
As a footnote I wonder…. how many of you have just tried to lick your elbow 🙂