READERS who glide into the shimmering spaces
at the deep end of Edinburgh swimming pools may find me sitting on the
tiles in the general posture of Rodinís statue, The Thinker. Having
expelled the bracing diesel fumes of the cityís air from my lungs, I
often pass a few minutes in liquid introspection while emitting watery,
interrogative bubbles about my place in a global sea of troubles while
bodies thrash and plunge about me like errant torpedoes and
I am a keen swimmer. My Australian crawl has a hint of the
vigorous slash of a Mississippi steamerís paddles but lacks their
rhythmic precision, my side-cum-scissorsí stroke resembles the frantic
movements of some swimmer grappling with an octopusís tentacles and my
breast stroke is purposeful but jerky and goes with the apparently
obligatory expression of acute facial agony of one who has just
swallowed a pint of chlorinated water.
I love swimming, not only because of the refreshing exercise but
also because of its social aspect. Often, I will have deep discussions
about weighty matters while bobbing about with other enthusiasts.
Politics is a favourite topic among floating voters and
afterwards some of us repair to the hot sprays, standing like Roman
statues of water gods - although not of the best period - while brooding
on national liquidity problems.
Around me are swimmers of all ages; toddlers dart like minnows,
young men and women, with bodies as supple and spare of fat as conger
eels, stream interminable lengths of the pool and the old, move slowly
and heavily like statues thawing into life.
To be in the swim is to indulge in one of lifeís cheap and
healthy pleasures, and I was sad to read a report about claims that
Scottish youngsters are not being taught to swim properly. Edinburgh
University Physical Education experts believe that Scotland could build
on its Commonwealth Games swimming success if children were not taught
to swim in a "perverse, roundabout way" - that is, with a rough
technique in several different strokes.
Hundreds of children are to take part in a £500,000, five-year
project to research claims that a more straightforward, focused
technique would be more effective.
This is very commendable. I am all for producing medal-clinking
Commonwealth and Olympic Games swimmers, but I suspect that many
children will be out of their depths here. A lot will want merely to
learn to swim and to attain a reasonable proficiency in the strokes
without the remotest thought of going for gold, and as one who has been
engulfed in efforts to keep afloat, let alone achieve a spasmodic
dog-paddle, I remember the buoyed-up feeling one got - like the first,
successful heavier-than-air flight- when one navigated for a few shaky
moments without gasping for breath and getting water up oneís nostrils.
I was first launched, aged six, when my aunt, a keen and graceful
swimmer, took me to the ladiesí pool at Portobello Baths, which seemed
about the size of Loch Lomond. Fitted with a rubber lifebelt, I ventured
on perilous voyages while huge females, broad in the beam and bluff in
the bow, thrashed about me, causing me to pitch and toss like a stricken
Swimming took on a sterner note when the male persuasion of our
juvenile class had character-forming sessions in the school pool under
the steely direction of an instructor who, seeing us standing pallid,
blue-veined and shiveringly-hesitant to enter the Arctic-temperatured
water, would turn an icy hose jet on pool poltroons, forcing us to leap
over the side.
Various methods were used there for swimming tuition. The
ceiling-suspended harness that fitted over shoulders and across the
pupilís body was excellent until the harness was released and the
startled lad went down like so much pig iron. A similar result was
obtained by holding pupils under the chin while they went frantically
through swimming motions.
I taught myself to swim, partly because I knew something about
Archimedesí theory of displacement but also because I taught myself to
float and from that achievement, developed rudimentary leg and arm
movements. I stirred, I splashed, I seemed to feel, the breath of life
along my keel.
I invite, therefore, all non-swimmers to splash out and take the
plunge. The water is bound to be fine, but donít disturb me at the deep