As part of National Novel Writing Month, (#NaNoWriMo) I've set myself the goal of writing a 50,000 word novel (1700 words a day), consisting of short stories about my memories of primary school. Just so that you know, all names of people have been changed unless they are publically known. Each story is based on my own memory, so may not be an exact representation of events, especially since I am writing this over 40 years after things happened! But I hope you will enjoy each story all the same, and that perhaps it will spark your own memories of life at primary school.
Whether it had anything to do with my swim with the crocodiles I shall never know, but at some point as a child, possibly when I was about 4 or 5 years old, I had my first formal swimming lesson because granny thought I needed something more formal to prove my swimming worth.
Granny prided herself on her swimming ability and would enter the pool with a dive that was perfect in her mind since she had loved to swim with her friends in the 1940s as a trainee teacher at college, but a little embarrassing to those around her now as she consistently landed an eye watering belly flop on the water. But in my eyes she was a movie star and Olympic-esque swimmer, albeit a scary one who made you recite times tables and spellings at her even though you were supposed to be on your holidays and having fun, which is what normal children my age seemed to do whenever they visited their grannies. Mine wouldn't even allow me to have sweets or cakes, not even chocolate for Easter and everything was a formal and rather dull educational opportunity.
And so it was that granny booked me for regular school holiday swimming lessons in the shallow end of the sports centre next to where her and my grandfather were secondary school teachers at Gillott's School in Henley-On-Thames.
I could already swim breaststroke which I was more than content with, but I was probably supposed to be learning how to swim breaststroke properly and learning how to swim a proper stroke like front crawl, which was what my granny wanted and was the gold standard of swimming esteem.
Whilst I wasn't a naughty child, I do recall that most of my time spent in the pool in Henley, and the best and most fun and interesting part about swimming lessons was the bit before and after the lesson, when I would sit in the foot bath between the changing room showers and pool and just play and lay down in the warmth, exploring cracks between the tiles and grouting, delighted in my own little world of make believe. And if I got really lucky, I might find an old tooth, a bit of dead skin, or an old plaster - pieces of treasure!
It didn't matter to me that the foot bath was there for the prevention of veruca transmission between swimmers, it was instead a buffer of warm air between two worlds where grown ups were in control - telling you to hurry up with your shower and the rigmarole of getting dressed or undressed as you shivered in the cold draught, and bundling belongings into metal lockers that were either broken or wanted to damage you, and the world of the pool where they told you to swim from point A to point B and back numerous times, for absolutely no point at all, when all you really wanted to do was to dive under the water where it was quiet and go off and explore what was at the forbidden 'deep' end of the swimming pool.
For some reason, swimming lessons involved wearing a red jersey fabric sports top, with pockets that were too small to put your hands in, and arms which were so short that they left your wrists exposed to the cold air after you left the sauna heat of the pool and ventured through the car park home. But the grown ups took great delight in the receipt of a piece of paper and an embroidered 10m badge which they announced would now be sewn onto your sports top, which you yourself can now sew on as part of a lesson in needle crafts, and even more exciting can be taken into school to show to all your friends and teachers how good you are at swimming. Apparently this was the pinnacle of my swimming prowess and I was now deemed competent enough to swim an entire width of the pool all on my own!
Before long I would have badges for a 25m length of the pool and medals for being able to keep myself afloat in the water whilst wearing pretend pyjamas just in case I was ever in bed at the top of our house on a hill and found myself needing to swim in my slippers! This according to the grown ups was success, but I failed to see why anyone at school would care that I had a badge to prove that I could swim, when I'd always been able to swim and none of my friends could.