Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Quacking up

'Ha, ha! I can do this better than you!'
Since there has been so much talk of an Olympic ‘legacy’ and ‘inspiring a generation’, I thought I'd do my bit while out here in the south of France, and get off my sorry butt.

Since I am spending quite a lot of time about a metre from the sea, the obvious thing is swimming.

Now I can swim – after a fashion.

Taught at Stalybridge baths in the 1970s, I can happily putter from one end of a pool to the other and back – up to 100 lengths. But my style is dismal.

We were taught breast stroke, but my version involves never putting your face in the water.

Which presents complexities.

I hadn't been in the sea – and indeed, had never swum in the sea – until five years ago, on our first stay in Collioure.

But I still freak out at getting my face in the water. I don't know why – there were no childhood traumas that I can think of.

Oh, and I panic quickly when in the water – even though I love being in the water. Being out of my depth freaks me.

I give myself little lectures, but it makes no odds. Yet I like swimming.

For the past two years, I dealt with this by giving up any worries about looking like a complete prat, and using a small, plastic flotation board. Bright orange, so nobody could fail to spot me.

But there is no board this year.

However, with the grip now available, dentally speaking, I have resorted to a snorkel and goggles.

It's fairly pointless at this stage for snorkeling – the winter has totally altered the seabed just off our first beach, leaving it with a sandy bottom rather than a rocky, fish-filled one – but it means I have been able to try my hand at the crawl, without freaking over the breathing, face-in-the-water bit.

And so I have been taking dips, crawling up and down over a slowly-increasing distance of up to 20 metres, from just within my depth to the serious shallows, trying to work out the style properly.

My, how quickly it moves you through the water!

Although the downside is that sometimes I haven’t a clue what way I’m going.

But nonetheless, I persist. I like it. I like the reminder that exercise makes my muscles work, together with my cardiovascular system.

The head-out-of-the-water breast stroke doesn’t do that. Although I have now realised that it’s not just me.

Vast numbers of French women do the same thing – but then you have to, when you’re sporting earrings and makeup – and/or a sun hat and sunglasses, while taking a swim.

It was, however, rather disconcerting, the other day, to have surfaced again, feeling rather triumphal, only to have a man race past me doing the butterfly, for goodness sake, before turning and doing backstroke with elegant ease.

Although not as disconcerting as a few days earlier when, up to my neck in the Med, a female mallard paddled past and quacked at me. Laughing, I assume, at such human clumsiness in the water.

Well, my cheeky feathered friend, I eat your kind with relish (or orange)!

But my greatest victory so far came when, without snorkel or goggles, I actually managed something like a real backstroke the other day.

It was even more impressive simply because I managed not to panic for at least a few strokes while lying properly in the water.

Perhaps there's hope for me yet – although I suspect Rebecca Addlington has nothing to worry about.

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