30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
I’ve had a troubled, but ultimately rewarding, relationship with swimming.
I have the dubious honour of being the only Sports Captain at my primary school to not actually compete in a swimming carnival. The reason was simple – I could not swim.
How the hell did I grow up in Australia and not learn to swim? I’m not really sure either.
I changed primary schools at one point, and suddenly found myself a year behind in everything, swimming included. So I was thrown into the shallow end – the tadpoles. I was essentially held back in swimming. And I just never got out of the bottom class.
For a long time, when explaining it to people, I had a standard line.
“I can’t swim, but I know how to not die.”
Looking back, I’m not sure even that is true.
Some of my cousins had pools and like all kids, I loved the pool. It’s Australia, pools are everywhere. But I generally stayed in the shallow end. Until my teens, I was still pretty afraid of not having my toes on the ground. I never did any dives or anything clever. I would watch as friends and cousins did all sorts of cool stuff.
There was a time my Dad took up swimming and we would go together. The man smoked and drank all his life. My Dad is a lot of things, but he doesn’t look healthy. You’ve never seen more helpless men in a pool.
James and his family lived by the beach, and even though we would see them every weekend, we rarely went to the beach. The older I got, the more I left sports in favour of comic books and guitars. Around the years of 1999 to 2003 I’m not sure I ever set foot in a pool or a beach.
I really can’t recall where or why, but at one point I was at some sort of art camp. And one of the teachers pulled out this weird Buddhist (she claimed) relaxation, free association hippie prayer thing on us.
Basically, we had to lie down, close our eyes, and take the words she said and think of images. Scented candles were involved. I felt very out of place.
(I was drawing my own comics at this point and was often sent to such camps. Once I spent a day on real pirate ship and was encouraged to use charcoal to shade the texture of the ropes. What any of this had to do with drawing a perfect Batman logo freehand, I don’t know)
It was meditative image association and it was actually wonderful. I still use this technique every so often. You imagine a house, a wall, a key and you do sorts of mind tricks with it. It’s the only new age-y thing I know. But it does help ground me every couple of years or so.
Anyway, I bring it up because it has a lot to do with water, and quite a bit about the body and sex. It’s something about swimming that has stayed in my mind.
The other thing about swimming that stuck in my mind come from an old choose-your-own-adventure fantasy book. Somehow swimming healed a character, and a big deal was made of the mysterious and healing properties of water.
This is, clearly, how I see the world.
Back to reality.
Like smokers and non drivers, non swimmers eventually find eachother. I know a few and they have decided that they will just avoid it. Thank god for Alicia then. With her encouragement, we both went and enrolled into adult swimming classes. Every Saturday for several weeks. It was a blast.
Firstly, we were actually pretty young and fit compared to the rest of the class. So the encouragement I never had in school – have all but 8 kids in the school above me – existed here. We excelled quite quickly.
Secondly, the teacher was great. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in life that I wish for anyone is I hope you had good teachers. It means the world.
Thirdly, I was there with a friend. Saturday mornings knocking on her door, walking down to the pool, and a big well deserved meal afterwards. It was a perfect Newtown Saturday. One I recreated many times without Alicia years later.
I also realised I knew almost nothing about swimming. Kind of shit that school gave up on me in this regard. Someone could have just taught me to do a crocodile. It would have helped.
I also retract my statement of “I know how to not die.” I would have totally died without some basic training. Might not sound amazing to many people, but you can throw me into the ocean and I can swim without a kick off.
It’s a bit like playing music. I think you’ve really ‘got’ an instrument once you can improvise – the idea being you can now go anywhere you want. Same with swimming – I can now go anywhere I want.
And I did. I used to walk past the park at Sydney’s Victoria Pool all the time. So I started going on my own. $3, and just swim. And relax. It’s odd because the pool is surrounded by two very busy traffic streets, and you can hear the trucks and buses. People caught in their cars while I’m doing flips 100 metres away.
I’m still not a very outdoors person, but I love swimming now. What it says about the New Age Buddhist in me, or the mystical healing effects it has on me, I don’t know. But swimming for me, it borders closely to a spiritual thing for me.
I love it, more than anything, on a beach. I find nothing more relaxing. The ocean, the sky an the quiet. That there is no beaches in London kills me. I spend the whole summer not feeling right. It is one of many reasons why I am wrapping up my time here.
Right now, I’m making plans to move to the beach for the first time in my life. I’m looking at Bronte. Yes, I have some friends there. But really, it’s the water I’m moving for. I’ve been away too long.
I love swimming laps and ocean baths. Underwater meditation, as I like to call it.
Not sure if you caught a BBC documentary called ‘Virgin Swimmers’. Check it out on YouTube or something. It was a great watch.
As much as I love the Inner West, the beach calls and calls often. I hope I end up residing there next, too!
All the best for your move back to Oz.
We will go to Balmoral this summer, with a deserved meal of giant fish and chips afterwards.
We can listen to the Monkees on the way.