34 and unable to swim, Hazel Davis realised she was ill-equipped to save her kids from wa-tery danger. Here she explains how she became a splash act amid the old ladies.
Illustration by Louise Boulter
If my family had a coat of arms, apart from needing a bloody good clean, it would probably contain the following motto: “Never try anything new unless you are abso-lutely certain you can already do it and, if you can, always mock those who can’t.” That is the philosophy I lived by until I was 34. It’s basically why I can’t (and will never be able to) apply smoky-eye makeup correctly or add or subtract any number from any other number.
A couple of things changed a few years ago. I gave birth to two actual humans and remembered that I couldn’t swim. I couldn’t swim! 34 years old and I couldn’t swim. How could I be a fully functioning parent if I couldn’t save them from sharks?
Anyone British of my generation won’t understand this because Everyone British Of My Generation Learned To Swim At School. They just did. Except me. Our village primary school was about 100 (okay, a few) miles from any form of sporting life so I never went with school. School assumed (as any right-thinking set of teachers proba-bly would) that parents would teach their children to swim. My mother was mortally terrified of the water and could see no value in trying to get over this. My father had won awards in the Navy (yes, the place where it’s basically ALL about the water) for his swimming skillz. My dad was essentially Johnny Weiszmuller yet I got to my late 30s without being able to swim. He’d take me occasionally and bark “SWIM!” at me; I’d cry and look to my mother, who was sat on the edge in her cardi in the dry having a fag and shrugging. “What you gonna do? If you can’t swim already then you never will,” seemed to be the lesson there.
Anyway, I grew up and in that glorious in-between-school-and-university bit where posh people get internships and go to Koh Samui and people like me fester in their parents’ house working at Oxfam and the holiday resort down the road bum around having inappropriate stoner boyfriends, I tried to learn. I NEARLY learned. At the ed of her tether, my lovely schoolfriend Mandy took me aside and one afternoon patient-ly talked me through it. Eventually I got the basic idea and I went off, happy that I’d finished that problem.
Except I never really went again. I was too scared to try out my newfound knowledge. I might fail or look silly or have to make an effort, and we couldn’t have that, could we? See above. And no.
For the rest of “the time in between school and university” (I simply can’t call it a gap year because it rained all the time and I had no money), I went off to work on a farm in Scotland for food and board. The nearest I got to swimming was being so pissed one night I fell in the burn and only realised how close I had come to drowning the fol-lowing morning when I saw my claw marks up the bank.
But last year I started. I started properly. I bit the bullet and joined a gym. I had to join a gym because once I started going I remembered that, although I could technically swim, I was absolutely terrified of the deep end and blind as a bat in the pool so my only option was a members-only sissy pool with an inch in the deep end. And lots of old ladies. SO many old ladies. Fit old ladies with attitude, wobbly old ladies with gos-sip, old ladies with no body-confidence issues whatsoever. And me. Little old me, ploughing faithfully up and down the baby pool twice (sometimes more!) a week. I can honestly say it’s the best decision I ever made.
I have even worked out a little routine for myself. Because the parking is free, I drive to the pool, set up my laptop in the café there (ok, sometimes I also get cheese on toast), get my pressing deadlines out of the way and then casually saunter over to the pool like it’s the most natural thing in the world/like I live on Necker Island. On a really brave day I launch myself headlong into the aquaerobics class which is, let me tell you, the absolute MOST fun you can have with most of your clothes off. I don’t al-ways do the floating bit because I haven’t quite agreed that it’s humanly possible, but I’m getting there. And sometimes I catch sight of myself in the glass and think, “Yeah. If I drown NOW instead of in the burn in Scotland, at least they won’t write ‘Non-Swimmer’.”
Hazel blogs here: http://www.outofherdepth.com/
Hazel Davis is a freelance writer from West Yorkshire. She has two tiny children but the majority of her hours are taken up with thinking about Alec Baldwin singing sea shanties and the time someone once called her "moreishly interesting".