I can’t swim.
A good reason, it could be argued, for not moving to Tarifa, a coastal town we’ve never set foot in, its population swollen each summer with swarms of surfing water-babies. Or should that be shoals of water-babies?
Pods of water-babies?
I say I can’t swim- it might be more accurate to say that I can, but only over (very) short distances. For example, if I found myself in some kind of trouble at the tap end of a bathtub, I’m fairly sure I could get myself to the (relative) safety of the other, slightly shallower end. You might almost say that I’m pretty smug about my ability to cope with such an emergency.
The mastery of larger bodies of water though, has so far eluded me. Near K’s home town in southern Germany there is one called Kieswaesch, to which locals flock in the hot summer months. There they bathe and swim and eat ice cream on the grassy banks of the lake; the pond, the pleasure pool – call it whatever you want.
To me it will always be The Lake Of Death.
A tiny islet sits just a few metres from the shore and between the two runs a channel shallow enough in some places for the very young to paddle. Their elders can swim to the islet and sunbathe there.
The depth of the channel is not uniform, and where it is deeper the lake bed slopes off steeply. Nothing quite as unsettling for the water-shy than the feeling of nothing beneath the feet. Still, I didn’t panic. The islet didn’t look all that far away. I swam across a swimming pool once, you know.
At a certain point the approach of the islet seemed to slow, despite my continuing efforts. There still wasn’t anything solid under my feet. The efforts became a little wild. The islet’s approach came to a halt. The efforts became frenzied. All of a sudden, staying afloat became as much of a challenge as propelling myself towards the islet had been just a moment before.
The lake (pond, pool, whatever) is clean but not clear. All those visitors and paddlers disturb the silt and muddy the water. When your head goes under, therefore, you see nothing. Not even if your googly, panic-stricken eyes are open.
Thank goodness K grabbed me by my shorts and, artfully combining my rescue with the administering of a good wedgy, more or less threw me towards the islet, far enough for my feet to find the bottom again. I really had thought that that was it for me, for a split second there, as I sank like a stone.
If it had been, my last sight before the cold, wet darkness enveloped me forever would have been the chubby little legs of toddlers splashing about in the same water that was killing me, just a few metres away. Their giddy laughter ringing in my ears, this would not have been a good way to go.
K was sympathetic, bless her, as I lay on the bank of the islet, trying to recover my breath and waiting for my oxygen starved brain to stop spinning, throbbing, screaming. She couldn’t quite conceal the laughter she was suppressing though. Nearby bathers discreetly got on with their bathing.
I suppose it might be more accurate to say that I can’t swim.