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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 18 - Lost in liquid introspection

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 depth-charges.

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 argosy.

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 end.

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