memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

The Swimmer

Starting the day with a swim is highly recommended.

So I enrolled at my local Municipal Baths at Feira. These were modern, strategically located facilities with a 25-metre pool (half-Olympic size) and a circular shallow heated pool for children and for hydro-therapy for the physically-disadvantaged (such as I am now).

I opted for the free regime three times a week during the dead middle-of-the-week morning and started building it into my routine.

I must confess at this point that I am not a very good swimmer. I was simply never taught how.

When I was at my Prep school the sadistic gym-teacher would herd us 9 year-old, white and shivering boys down to the deep-end of the pool and, one by one, we had to jump in … sauve qui peut … in a water-gulping splashing panic most of us managed make it to the side of the pool which we gripped, gasping for air. (One poor little wretch, doubtless assuming that all was up with him, refused to move his limbs and sank like a stone to bottom of the pool, so that the gym-master had to spoil his fancy track-suit by diving in and fishing him out).

I never learned how to breathe correctly, for example, so I ended up with a limited repertoire of only two strokes – the breast-stroke and the back-stroke. Nevertheless I read somewhere that swimming exercised more muscles of the body then any sport.

THE SWIMMER - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

So I would slowly churn (or ripple) my solitary furrow along the watery lane towards the future.

Sometimes there was a swimming class for a group of middle-aged women who used to cluster at one end of the pool and exercise the only part of their bodies that didn’t really need it – their mouths.

From time to time a white-skinned girl, a Municipal Goddess, with the wide shoulders and streamlined hips of the professional swimmer would dive in and cover 20 lengths of the pool in an unbelievably short time, cutting through the water efficiently with her lazy powerful strokes and her flashy racing turns. Then she would unhurriedly climb of the pool and stalk gracefully from the hall (leaving us, the doggy-paddle brigade, feeling somewhat rueful and chastened).

Yes, there’s nothing better than a good swim to start the day.

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