I’m not one of life’s natural swimmers; I’m one of life’s natural floaters. Okay, so that’s an unfortunate term but hey, there isn’t really an alternative. I like to float, shall we say? I love water but tend to bob around on top of it, gently swayed this way and that as the current wishes. Or slowly revolve in circles, like Eeyore. I like the feeling of being supported by water. I rather like the passivity of it too. I’m generally a pretty active person so the whole surrendering aspect of floating has always struck me as quite balancing somehow.
James, however, wasn’t impressed. ‘You’re just a rubbish swimmer,’ he said with that careless scorn of the young. Then, catching the look on my face. ‘Sorry, that sounded awful.’ Patting me in an almost avuncular fashion on the shoulder. ‘But you really should learn how to swim properly.’ In other words, not thrashing my head from side to side as I progress painfully through the water. Then he threw down the challenge.
‘I’ll teach you if you like.’Shit. Trapped. I have promised myself I won’t let fear get in the way of stuff anymore. ‘Okaaaay.’
So there we were in the pool. Early, before the Russians ploughed in to play extreme water polo or turning themselves into human pyramids (they liked this game and once got to three levels before collapsing and nearly concussing the newly-weds who were snogging in blissful unawareness nearby).
‘First step is putting your head under the water,’ said James.‘Aagh,’ said I. ‘That’s scary.’
He fixed me with a beady look and showed me what to do. I gulped but obeyed and, hey, it was okay, it really was. And after that it was all just so easy. Why on earth (or should that be 'in water'?) had I waited so long? After he was satisfied I could do lengths of crawl and breast-stroke, he got me diving. Not just off the edge (though that was fun) but sinking down to the bottom of the pool so we sat like a pair of Buddhas, grinning benignly at one another.
I was feeling pretty smug but he wasn’t finished with me. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Time for snorkelling.’ After a quick practice session in the pool, we were off to the sea and bobbing gently in the Aegean… Oh my! Oh wow! How amazing to reverse one’s world. To look down instead of up. To see the sea as part of it, inside it. Who knew the fish came so close to shore? And, just like that, I lost my fear of the sea and its creatures. Ever since a cod sucked my toe in the US (it did, it really did), I’ve been scared stiff of swimming in the sea. But when you can see everything…when you become part of a world, instead of alien, there’s nothing to fear. Okay, smart-arses, the odd rogue shark, I suppose.
‘Do I still swim like Asbo?’ I asked at the end of the week, by which time the boy was so brown I barely recognised him, while I had simply sprouted freckles on my freckles. He screwed up his face in concentration. ‘No.’
I smiled. ‘So, what am I?’ Thinking sleek sea-otter or whip-like piranha.
‘Umm, you’re more of a platypus.’
‘No, no…’ he said with that soothing shoulder pat again. ‘Don’t be offended. Duck-billed platypuses are excellent swimmers.’‘They are?’ Mollified.
‘They also emit a low growl when disturbed,’ he added, raising an eyebrow. ‘And store fat reserves in their tails.’
Let it also be noted that they can also move extremely fast when provoked. :)