Learning To Swim (Iain)

The site of Stornoway Leisure Centre. The pool was knocked down and replaced. The only surviving bit of it is the clock tower.

I learnt to swim in the 1980s. My dad taught me using the “do not drown” approach.

He got me to stand two metres from a pool wall. I then tried to swim to the wall. If I did not drown, he would increase my swim to three metres from the wall, and then four metres etc.

My fear of drowning meant I quickly learnt to swim. Unfortunately, my Dad only knew the breaststroke so that was all I learnt. He did not see the point in freestyle swimming. His view was “Why do you want to stick your head under the water? There is nothing to see there except peoples feet.”

My school attempted to teach me other strokes but I was not very good at them. I hated the weekly swimming lesson at our local leisure centre. I found the smell of chlorine in the pool overbearing.

I have subsequently discovered chlorine has no smell. The smell in the pool was from chloramines, which build up in pool water when the water is not properly clean. A smelly pool is an unclean pool.

If I had known that, I would have hated swimming even more than I did.  

A common sight, in a leisure centre, in the 1980/90s was a footbath in the changing rooms. A sign above it would read, “Always dip your feet into the foot-bath before entering the swimming pool.” Supposedly the foot-bath contained chemicals that prevented foot infections like verruca’s.

Modern leisure centres do not have footbaths. Therefore, have we discovered a cure for verruca’s? No – we haven’t. What we have found is the cause of verruca’s. It was the foot-bath! Leisure centres did not clean them often enough. The foot bath was basicaly a seething cesspit of fungal infection.

I got a foot wart. Andrew got a verruca. Everyone in my school class got something.

As well as pool swimming my first ever open water swim occurred during my school years. My class went away for a weekend to an outdoor centre by the Atlantic sea.

For some reason, which I cannot remember, the teacher made us all stand on a pier next to the sea. Strip to out swim shorts and then jump in the sea. It was November. The water was freezing. I nearly drowned. As soon as I divided into the cold water, my body seized up and I struggled to breathe.

Imagine the scandal now if a teacher forced a class to jump into the Atlantic in November without checking if the pupils could swim!

 Its no wonder that I didn’t swim again after leaving school for university. My abiding memory of learning to swim was verrucas, unclean pools and nearly drowning.