Saturday, 11 July 2015

In at the Shallow End

Late evening in the kitchen, and the swimming gear dangles, damp and depressing after a bad day in the pool.
How I hate this swimming lark, but how determined I am not to be defeated by it all.
Then I think, 'Defeat is all right. It will give me more time in the garden'.
But no, I will struggle on.

I was quite excited when I found out that at my local pool people over 75 could have unlimited swimming for £10 a year. When I told my younger son he said, ' Come on, Mum. Everyone in Malvern is over 75. You'll not be able to stand in there'.
Well, he was wrong. Not everyone over 75 wants to swim. And neither do I. At least, I do, but I hate this process of having to master skills that seem to require far more coordination that I possess.

Recently, in a small warm pool in Wales, with lots of grab rails and ladders I could do widths and lengths and float and glide and swim a length underwater. I didn't splash or flounder. I even felt a touch of triumph, once or twice, and the very kind instructor told me I was good. How positive is that? How reinforcing? And how incredibly childish, to need such reassurance in the mid 70s?
Not childish, or rather child-like in the most basically human way. How much better we all feel and respond when we think we are being good. Doing well, accepting approval are things we all need throughout our lives, and when you live alone such things can be in short supply.

However, in the small warm pool in Wales a length is equal to considerably less than a width in the impressive local pool.where a length zooms so far into the distance that it makes my goggles steam up.
A leisure pool is nothing like a swimming pool.
At least not to an insecure old biddy like me.
For starters I can't climb down a ladder, which is my preferred way of getting into water. I have to walk down a sloping tiled 'beach' and when I totter into deeper water there are no comforting rails along the sides.
There is a wave machine, there is a great plastic tube that hurtles people into the deep end. This is fun, apparently.

There is, in compensation, another kindly instructor, and he and I have the vast, echoing, shimmering acreage of turquoise water to ourselves - apart from our own private life-guard, up there on a high perch.
I tell the instructor what I think I can do, and then I find I can't do any of it.
I can do the arms bit.
I can do the legs bit.
I can't do them together. I can't balance, I can't breathe. I gibber. I haven't gibbered for a very long time, but I gibber in the glittering water, and then I can't do anything at all.
How elderly. How humiliating. I wished my son was right, and that it was a case of standing room only. But this is a private lesson, and there is nowhere to hide.
Absolutely nowhere.
The instructor and I formulate a sort-of plan, but I suspect that he sort-of thinks I will give up after such an uncomfortable time..
But I won't.
Even though at that point two dinky four year-olds appear for their private lesson and immediately go into efficient front and back crawl modes.

As I creep back home down the hill, toting a soggy bag of towelling and with knees like jelly, I know that I must creep back up again.

P.S. I've found a ladder. I can get into the water without gibbering. Things are looking up!


Elephant's Child said...

Good luck.
I like swimming (and need to get back to it). Sadly I have discovered that when doing freestyle either my arms OR my legs function. I cannot co-ordinate the two of them. So mostly my legs just come along for the ride.

Relatively Retiring said...

E.C: thank you - that's encouraging, and I shall concentrate on taking my legs for a ride.

Zhoen said...

I thought I could swim, when I took a class in college long ago. I was the last across, as everyone else was already back. Couldn't coordinate breathing with arm strokes at all, nor make any headway. I wound up quitting because I was holding the class up. Felt out of my depth, as it were. Not the sort of class I wanted to fail.

I love getting in water and floating, but actual efficient swimming? Not as easy as it looks. Children do it well, because learning that sort of thing is their job, and they don't hurt themselves when they throw themselves around. At 70, Evolution didn't really have a plan for grannies, "Um... remember stuff and protect the little ones? I dunno. Whatever you want, I guess."

Talk to the 7 year old in yourself, be kind to her, she's doing the best she can, and it's wonderful.

Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: thank you so much for more encouragement. I feel so much better for the help from you and E.C. Together you have summarised my struggles and I will keep on struggling - at least until the school holidays when that place will be Bedlam.

Marigold Jam said...

I'm another non water baby (I put it down to almost drowning in a boating lake aged about 3) and although I did eventually learn to "swim" it was my own style a kind of side stroke which means I keep my face dry!! If my eyes get wet I'm done for. I am happy to sit on the side and paddle my feet or even to actually get in the pool - notice I said get in not jump in! - but it is not a treat for me to be invited to "bring my swim suit and we can use the pool" as was often the case when we lived in France. If I tell you my swimming costume must be nearly 15 years old and that the one before that lost it's elasticity otherwise it would still be my swimsuit you'll realise just how infrequently I don such garments! I admire your tenacity and do hope that you will eventually come to enjoy the water or if not then to feel that there are enough things in life we must do without adding learning to swim to the list and if you don't enjoy it and decide to give it up and concentrate on the garden that willl be entirely up to you and great too!!

Relatively Retiring said...

Marigold: thank you for reading and commenting. I think there are a great many non-water-babies out here. Do you remember those ruched elastic swim suits? They used to sag and stretch as they filled with water and sand, and are probably one of the reasons that I hated swimming as a child.
I'm not going to give up just yet.

Joy said...

I am a non-water baby at age 61. Scared to death of water over my head... Have sworn I will never go on an ocean cruise-- Titanic nightmares and such. I can't float at all, although in younger years I could float on my back and swim that way. I am beginning to think there is no shame in quitting if that is what you want to do, or keep on going if that is what you want to do! You are certainly old enough to decide for yourself. Anyways, I do admire you for trying.

Leslee said...

Good for you for keeping it up and being so brave and determined! I think it takes tons of practice for your body to get the hang of these things, develop that muscle memory. Would that we could be like dogs - I remember holding my little dog just above the water and her little legs automatically starting dogs paddling right there in the air, having never been taught a thing. No, we humans have to learn every stroke and kick. Have you tried envisioning yourself doing it, outside of the water? I read that athletes practice their moves in their heads, to keep training those pathways. And you can't sink while lying on the sofa!

Relatively Retiring said...

Joy: thank you for commenting. My days in the small pool gave me a lot of confidence. I was much the oldest member of the small group, and as such got a lot of praise for being 'wonderful'. Then I found I wasn't at all! I am very interested in the complexities of learning new skills at the age of 75.

Leslee: as in my comment to Joy, I'm really interested in the coordination of skills needed for this at this age. I'm sure you are right about the muscle memory, and the visualisations. I'm planning to go into the pool whenever I can (there are over 50 sessions, and ladies only sessions which have more appeal than the 'wet'n'wild' with inflatables and wave machine sessions. I will practise all the bits, breathing, balancing, arms and legs in the belief that one day something might go 'click' and they will fit together. Wish I could be like your little dog.

Anonymous said...

You can do it, you can. Take it slowly. You are going to the pool, you are getting in the water, you are completing your lesson and then... you go back for more! I hope you reward yourself after each lesson.

I am a 'stately' swimmer and due to a whiplash injury years ago I now use a snorkel for swimming. So, no co-ordinated breathing needed. I just put my head down and do the crawl......slowly!

Onwards RR (perhaps with a snorkel?), onwards!

Susan ( HHB that was)

Jenny Woolf said...

I admire your perseverance and I am sure you will improve. Have you thought of asking whoever runs the pool to put in a grab rail alongside that entrance slope? People with balance problems might easily fall and then there is the possibility of the council being landed with a law suit. That thought might propel them to make it a little more friendly for the less agile.

Relatively Retiring said...

Susan: good to hear from you, and many thanks for the encouragement. Yes, Ladies Only today, Over 50s on Tuesday and Thursday, and I think reward myself by getting out at the end of the sessions! The snorkel is an interesting idea. I like the term 'stately swimmer'. It reminds me of that Joyce Grenfell song about ballroom dancing....'Stately as a galleon....'

Relatively Retiring said...

Jenny: yes, good suggestion about the handrail. I will see how the other Senior Citizens are doing in the Oldies sessions this week. Perhaps they are used to it, but it's certainly intimidating on the first visit.

Zhoen said...


Relatively Retiring said...

Zhoen: Yes! And picking up rings from the bottom!

pohanginapete said...

I have only limited experience of coaches and instructors (as you might expect), but it leads me to think that swimming is one of those activities where finding the right instructor is crucial. Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.

I am mightily impressed by your determination. It inspires me.

Peregrina said...

Keep on with the swimming, R R. The co-ordination will come and then it will be like riding a bike. Once you can do it, you can do it forever. (Even better than riding a bike, you can't fall off and hit the ground!)

Relatively Retiring said...

P.Pete: Yes, I was lucky this time round. The first time, in the small pool I was over impressed by myself. I was so much older than the other novices that anything I did was thought to be amazing. This time I'm with a coach who is totally realistic and says it's all up to me and my determination. And it's a ten-week course.

Peregrina: I want to believe this. I agree you can't fall off, but you can sink and flounder and get a big dose of chlorine up the nose!

Frances said...

RR, I admire your determination - something that was evidently left out of my character mix. Impressive: I'd noticed it before, in your valour in driving on freeways.

Relatively Retiring said...

Frances: thank you for your kind comment. Some people might call it being stubborn.