Friday, March 19, 2010

Going Backwards On Your Back

There's lots and lots of water on this planet and it's a good idea to be able to swim. Breast stroke, front crawl, butterfly - - yes, all those I can understand. But backstroke? Never.

Human beings did not evolve in order to swim backstroke. If we had done, we would have eyes on the top of our heads. Goggles would need longer straps. Eyes on the tops of heads would, I agree, be great for backstroke - - but they'd be really, really rubbish for everything else.

"It's raining. And I know that because it's dripping straight into my eyes."

BANG! "Ooh, sorry, I walked into a tree. Again."

So, we should take that as a cue. We just weren't meant to swim backwards, lying on our backs. It's a ridiculous idea.

Rolf Harris was the 1946 Australian junior backstroke champion and then moved to England and, very sensibly, left backstroke behind and moved into doing huge paintings and playing the didgeridoo. His new catchphrase became "Can you see what it is yet?" which replaced his earlier one which was "Oh, damn it, I banged my head again."

There are, even now, a few poor souls who think it's worth investing the time to get good at swimming backstroke. Here is one of them.



He should, perhaps, consider showing this video to any group of Atlantic Grey Seals. They would laugh so much they'd fall off their rocks. Are seals good at swimming? You bet. Do they lie on their backs and try to swim backwards? No. Why? Because it's a very stupid idea. I expect from time to time you get one that thinks it'll give it a try - - and it swims backwards, straight into the waiting jaws of a killer whale, thus ceasing to be a Backwards Swimming Grey Seal and starting to be a Delicious Lunch.

In swimming pools the people who swim backstroke are always either very bad at it or very arrogant.

So we have Delicate Oriental Lady. She swims in the fast lane. Slowly. Backstroke. What's that all about? What she's doing is some kind of approximation of back crawl but where her arms should go closely past her head, skimming her ears, they don't. Instead they are right out to each side and they revolve, mind-bogglingly slowly, in a tiny little circle. This way she can take up most of the width of the lane.

All the rest of the swimmers in the fast lane spend their whole session trying to get past her but whenever one comes up behind her she gently drifts out into the middle. The Proper Swimmer moves in the other direction to get past her and ohhh look, she drifts back again. There is a small collision. Oriental Lady apologises gently, with a serene smile on her face. She knows she can't really be held responsible, because she's swimming backstroke, and so, of course, can't see where she's going. So she can then go back to blocking the whole of the lane with a clear conscience.

And we have Fast Backstroke Man. Zooom! Right up the middle of the middle lane (which, incidentally, is where I am). SPLASH SPLASH WINDMILL WINDMILL I AM GOING REALLY FAST GET OUT OF MY WAY BECAUSE I CAN'T SEE BECAUSE I'M SWIMMING BACKSTROKE OKAY? SO IT'S YOUR RESPONSIBILITY TO DODGE ME, NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND, GOT IT? SPLASH SPLASH WINDMILL WINDMILL.

And then there is Old Lady Backstroke. I'm afraid that my mother does this. When you've been swimming just about since you could walk, and you get to your mid-eighties, a strange thought comes to you. You have swum nearly the length of the pool, breast stroke, but when you're about five yards away from the far end, you have a sudden idea.

"I know," you think, "I'll turn over and swim backstroke, shall I? Oh yes, good idea. Swim, swim, swim - - "

I spot her from the next lane.

"MUM!!! STOP!!!"

Everyone in the pool stares at me.

"MUM!!! STOP!!!"

But no. On she goes. BANG.

"Oh dear," she says, "I banged my head again."

So the next time I try the Lecture. "Mum, please, promise me you won't swim backstroke. I just spend the whole time waiting for you to crash into the end."

"Oh, don't worry, I won't do it again."

HA! No, you won't, will you, not until you're five yards from the end and you get that sudden thought - - "I'll turn over and swim backstroke, shall I?"

Don't get me wrong. She'll be eighty-six in a few weeks and I'm so glad she's swimming again. And I have been known to do a bit of backstroke myself. Ten or eleven strokes. In an otherwise empty pool. And that's where backstroke should stay. It should be a solitary pleasure, with slight feelings of guilt. And nobody should ever feel able to do it in a crowded swimming pool.

4 Comments:

Blogger Jennyta said...

I'm delighted your mum's getting back to normal life again. An empty pool is the best for any swimming, I think.;)

6:11 pm  
Blogger Ailbhe said...

Otters do it!

6:26 pm  
OpenID submum said...

That's just made me laugh out loud! And I know ALL of those people because they all swim in my pool too :)

7:13 pm  
Blogger rhymeswithplague said...

My mother liked to do the sidestroke.

11:11 pm  

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