The blue unknown

He lowers himself in balletically, with a calmness at odds with an angry world. Such grace belies his stature; the colossus caressing the lamb.

Meanwhile, an innocent man watches with the baleful gaze of a South Pacific islander peering at an incoming tsunami about to wash away his village.

A fat bastard just got into the swimming pool and I’m about to get a faceful.

Swimming’s for mugs, if we’re all honest about it. Or kids: splashing about in water should be reserved for those infantile moments when Mummy’s home and hasn’t been at the Gordon’s, not adult spells of inexplicable bravado when we pretend water plus lungs won’t end with tough questions for the coroner. Like aeroplanes and free climbing, if it was meant to end well God wouldn’t have invented black boxes or shovels.

But in we leap, to the blue unknown. And yes, there’s a curious pleasure in being suspended in more than a tub’s worth of water. Bobbing about like a damp, complacent astronaut is uncommon enough to briefly forget the usual stomp of gravity’s 9.81 metres per second per second. It makes even a communal pool of mostly children’s urine worth a try every few years.

I do enjoy it, to some extent. But the conventions of the civilised pool are not for me. I get in and cross to the nearest far side from that point, which seems about as close as Algeria. And there I stay, holding on to something connected to the Earth by cement. Meanwhile the rule-followers, squares in hock to The Man, they swim!

Lengths! Up and down, pumping their arms and legs in water, holding on to nothing at all, in water, goading Death herself. There’s a serenity to a swimmer’s face, like they’re imagining their colleagues in the bomb squad’s acclaim after defusing a particularly tricky Claymore. See me: swimmer. I saw what happened to that lad round Barrymore’s, yet still I glide.

Swimmers of lengths are the aquatic equivalent of the man admiring himself in the mirror at the gym. Their heroine is the lady who keeps her head above water to keep dry her inexplicably-not-poolside sunglasses, which I hope will shield her eyes from Hell’s imminent glare. If they could see themselves from the safety of a hotel balcony, they’d realise they actually look like a flailing deer smashed into a Devonshire lake by a tractor.

Not me, of course. At the risk of immodesty, I can actually swim like a dolphin, full of poise and jollity. The poise comes from my genuinely impressive stroke, exactly as a swimming instructor would teach – head and body in the right place, arms hunting the water, barely a splash out of place. 

The jollity comes from my being able to keep this up for eight seconds at an absolute maximum, before my face turns from Adam Peaty determination to Adam Sandler bewilderment at what the fuck I think I’m doing suspended in liquid without an inflatable unicorn in sight.

Part of this is health-based; my lungs are like half-degraded food bin sacks at this point. But it’s not all my fault. When some eighties Speedo paedo taught me the basics they skipped two fairly important lessons: to breathe and to float. Breathing is key, but you have to do it with the proper technique or you’ll be doing the front crawl sucking in air both left and right like a mouth-breathing…I don’t want to say Tottenham fan, but we’re all thinking it.

And then the floating. Genuinely, the science of a human floating eludes me. I get in water, then I sink, and surely there’s logic in that. But some people can coast along like a plank of wood, not a thought in their mind of the tonnes of drownable fluid beneath them. I once saw a woman quite dear to me drift hundreds of metres out to sea on her back, paying no mind to the fathoms of water and fucking sharks by the way under her pasty, tasty English rump. Yet somehow a little later she strolled up the beach uneaten, undrowned and I assume immortal.

Oh yes, the sea. Some people swim in the sea, voluntarily. We’re gonna need a bigger boat, many more harpoons and a suit of armour that floats if you want me doing that. I once saw a stingray a few metres away in water so shallow I could stand up in it, so you can

But the pool, of course, is where you generally encounter a different type of beast: the semi-naked, fat, middle-aged man. As I get older I better understand that absolutely nobody gives 5% of a toss about what I look like. But Jesus Christ mate, depth-charging into the water with stalactitic breasts, over a gut smuggling both triplets and three nights of hotel dinners you couldn’t shift with all the foreign tap water in the world? The moon has nothing on this man’s tidal heft. The bastard’s even got a buoyancy I’ve not had since that night I spent in the Seine.

And so we return to that tsunami. I thought “Put your head under and it’ll just wash over” and in my customary four-foot depth it did. It also smashed my head against that concrete wall I was clinging to so dearly. On he trundled, oblivious to my throbbing nut as I staggered out via the steps. Oh yes, gone are the days I can heave myself out at the side. I can get my leg up, but then what?

Drowning, that’s what. Did I mention there’s water? Sod that. Frankly you can drain the pools, board the oceans up and make my cod fillets out of plastic. And you can shove swimming somewhere the sun doesn’t shine – in the shade, by the bar.

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