Lucker churchyard contains the gravestone of my great uncle James, who drowned off Bamburgh beach in 1891 at the age of 26, not long after safely completing an expedition to the furthest reaches of Dutch Guiana. The lesson we clearly absorbed was that swimming was a dangerous business. Neither of my parents could swim at all. Nor can my elder brother. But I had the advantage of a private education (albeit mostly kindly paid for by the ratepayers of Northumberland through the old direct grant school system) which included compulsory weekly swimming lessons. I kept those up for at least six years, until I became totally proficient at forging my mother’s signature on the letters excusing me from the classes. And, as I said, I still can’t swim a stroke.
|The Sutherland Swimming Baths. I gave £1,000 to the fund to knock them down, not realising that they meant to build a replacement.|
But I concede that I might have had more fun in life if I could. In particular, it has been one of the four serious impediments that have always cropped up at social events whenever anyone has suggested that it would be fun if we all stripped off and leapt into a swimming pool.
The first and most critical of the aforementioned impediments is usually the absence of a swimming pool. Though there have been occasions when there were ladies present that I was so keen to see naked that I would happily have gone out and started digging one there and then. But for impediments two and three: my complete inability to swim and the fact that I possess a body best appreciated when it is completely clothed, and ideally (a) from a considerable distance or (b) through a stained glass window.
The fourth impediment is that I am profoundly antisocial, and so have very rarely attended the sort of social event that tends towards skinny-dipping in its latter stages.
However, I am keen for my young sons to learn from my mistakes, and am accordingly determined that they should be (a) comfortable in water, and (b) not excessively overweight. The Boy, now two and three quarter years old, has been going to weekly swimming lessons for as long as I can remember. As a non-swimmer myself, and a horrible sight in trunks, I naturally refuse to accompany him into the water, but I have twice gone along as an observer. When I could wrench my eyes away from the yummy mummies with their darling offspring, he seemed to me to be enjoying himself. (I also noticed that his mother’s feet never seemed to leave the bottom of the pool, so I probably needed to major on the “horrible sight” excuse if ever invited to stand in for her.)
Yesterday Mrs H took him to his swimming class and asked him at the end whether he had enjoyed it.
“Yes,” he replied.
“And what was your favourite bit?”
“Getting out,” he replied, after careful thought.
That’s my boy. As they say, it’s clearly all in the genes.
As for his weight, there is no sign as yet of him carrying a surplus ounce. And, with nearly every meal seeming to consist of a long battle to persuade him to eat anything at all, I cannot envisage it becoming a problem in the near term. But at least we have clear evidence of normal bodily functions in his twice daily calls: “Mummy! Close your eyes, I’ve got a surprise for you! TA-DAAAA!”
This is potty training as a form of variety show, with the emphasis on magic. I wonder whether I could fund a comfortable retirement by selling the TV rights to Simon Cowell?