The bag was packed. Brush and towel. The purple polka-dot swimsuit, where was it? 'Mummy,' she said, 'I've put my costume on underneath my clothes.' That's my girl; she was so excited, this being her first time, in at the deep end.
Condensation rolls down the windows, steam floats off the pool's surface, like genies, feathered and transparent. I am five years old. There's a strange smell. It thrusts itself up my nostrils, bites both eyes like mardy wasps. We change around the edge of the pool, my clothes piled on a wooden bench. Green pants. I will always remember the green pants.
The teacher was female, stout, and bottle blonde. 'Is this her first time?' she asked. 'Yes,' I said, 'she will wear armbands, right?' It took three attempts stretching the red cap over her head, mouse brown tufts escaping its sides like grass between flagstones. A very charleston look. She followed the teacher with the other children to the edge of the pool; in someone else's hands now.
The teacher has yellow teeth and yellow fingers, she rasps and wheezes and barks out her orders, Mrs Lennox, the hag from the teacher's den. Full of smoke and rotten lungs. I hold the float in my hands. 'KICK. KICK. KICK' she demands. I kick as hard as I can.
On each arm, three orange floats, and in the water her grin was as wide as the seas. Was I feeling the drag of tears? I think so. The teacher mouthed something at me, spinning her finger in ovals. What? I looked towards my daughter chatting with another girl on the poolside step. How had I not noticed? She was wearing her costume the wrong way round. The frills were at the back. Princess wiliness will blame this oversight on me.
Every Friday morning, a trip in a minibus to the local pool. Mrs Lennox, looking more like a cigarette, sits at the front. No one speaks. The pool's surface looks oily. The smell. That smell. And I change in a cold cubicle by the pool side. Inside, at the back of it, is an open drain, where I see plasters and tangled balls of hair. I remember watching the slow crawl of the bald man, his mouth open, his face hanging, slack like a jumper on a washing line.
Four lessons later only two loose floats dangled from each arm. More confident, more liberated, she let go of the teacher's hand. She doggy paddled. She kick, kick, kicked on her back. And smiled and giggled, the water flowing into her open jaw. That week, there was an assistant, a male assistant; she forgets her legs, her head turned towards his face, and she talks and talks and talks at him... Isn't swimming, well, about swimming? Concentrate, you need to concentrate, stop looking at the guy, kick, kick, kick, I thought wryly. I still gave her the thumbs-up. I will always give her the thumbs-up...
I am braver. I have swum with weights. I have swum in pyjamas. I own a bronze medallion. I can do it, I can breast stroke and back crawl; not the butterfly though, no, no, not that, it looks too ungainly, too splashy, too in your face. I body surf. I let waves pull me under, grasping at stones on the sandy floor. I dive and snorkel and feel salt burn as the sun dries the corners of my eyes. Now I prefer the slow lane, don't mind the chlorine so much. Twenty lengths, no more, no less, the effortlessness of a calm relaxing swim.
I feel so lucky and over the moon to have been shortlisted in the Writer Category of the Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Awards (BiBs). If you enjoy my writing, please vote for Older Mum in a Muddle; I would love to be one of the six finalists. Voting ends this Friday, 16th May. I want to thank you all, my readers and friends, for all your support since I began this blog three years ago. X