Ankle Paddling For Beginners

The car was like a vintage car, even then, back in 1962, it was about thirty years old, with the that big headlight look and runner boards. I was sat in the back with a big hairy rug wrapped around me, on the leather seats, shivering, greeting and snottering. The driver in front had just pulled me from a deep pool, where I was having a drowning experience, after slipping off the embankment and into the depths of its deepness.
That was the experience that scarred me and has made me feart of swimming ever since.
Swimmers, I hated them, and they seemed to be everywhere, in bakers shops, in garden centres and on beaches.
It’s a fact, that In Spain and Brazil, little children are just picked up by one arm and thrown into the deep blue sea from a banana boat, and they have to swim.
They just have to.
And that’s the way to do it, the poor little Portuguese sardines that they are, thrashing about in the wash, proud fathers looking on, arms folded with love, or in Spain’s case, thrashing about like those little fish that the Spaniards eat, eyes and everything, that I said I liked, once, but was then given everyday of the week, during that time back in 2002, when we stayed with those Spanish people.

I was never encouraged, never. Yet, was it the act of swimming, or was it the water that caused such trauma?
Many a time we would hire a rowing boat on a drunken summer Sunday afternoon, on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and rock it, the boat, in the middle of the freshwater lagoon, with flagons of cider to hang on to.

What example was I to my son ? His father who could not swim, unlike the smug Hispanics who show no panic. What a failure, said the eyes of Jesus, the catarmarran man offshore of Copacabana.
Then in the Coatbridge Time Capsule, I went for it, into the flume, backwards, whooshing in the tube, the tube whooshed, with no control, going my fastest, without choices, skooshing out the pipe, into a big deep frothy deathtrap.
The saviour blew her whistle and shouted, ‘OUT NOW’, but I was drowning. Are you not going to save me, I wondered in a chosen microsecond, as my life flashed before me. June giving me that great kiss on the bus, Christ , I forgot all about that.
I managed to stand and the water was up to my knees. A fatal depth.
At fortyfive lessons were sought, well, ankle paddling in Crete was not a sport that the other hunks seemed keen to participate in.
I swam with the foamfloats in the baby pool for several weeks and then, eventually, was led to the main pool, the shallow end.
My time had come.
I swam, I swam and I swam.
Well done, applause echoed, and at last like marine boy, but without the big fish eyes, I was a waterbabe no more.
The next lesson was keenly awaited, but as a byraway from my sweet instructor, she suggested floating, yes I could do that, everybody can, just lie on your back and float she said, nobody yet under her instruction could not float, just lie on your back.
I did.
Her heart sank.
I sank
She had lied.
My arms splashed about.
I screamed, at forty five, I screamed, but not in the baby pool like the babies who were in the baby pool, screaming, although they were not drowning.
I saw those big headlights again and stretched out for the arms with the rolled up sleeves of that Fairisle Sweater, to pull me out.
I have ankle paddled in Morocco, Brazil, Italy, Spain, USA and Greece.
Like an argonaut, I took a risk in Greece.
I ran into the surf with no pants on.
The little paddle boats, in Gran CanarIa, were brightly coloured, but not fast, compared to a jet ski.
We went on the Bondian jet ski, my son and me, and rode the thirty foot waves and more in the Mediterranean sea, adjacent that Canary Isle.
Other riders, they fell, and their beacons flashed to be rescued. The dark black and blue sprayed and spat in our faces, as the sea spoke to me.
We spun, flapped, broke wind and waves and squealed with excitement, knowing to topple, would be trouble.
No big headlights, only an intermittent flash. It was wrong of them to assume we could swim, some folk can’t.
On returning to the dock as the only riders who did not topple, we got our free drink and chicken nuggets, well worth the risk.
I paddle with pride, now in the knowledge that I cannot swim, but the water it doesn’t frighten me.


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