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Ripon Grammar School -Page 100

At school we had a small outdoor pool. Every morning we had a choice: swim or run. I hated running but I couldn't swim. However, because the pool was small, I was able to do a fast racing dive, a couple of crawl strokes and reach the other side - but that was my limit.


In our physics lesson we were told that the specific gravity of the human body is less than that of water. This impressed me because, as a non-swimmer, I needed something positive in which to believe. I really wanted to swim.


I was in the Combined Cadet Force and one afternoon we had an RAF survival team who demonstrated some aspect of training with rubber dinghies in the swimming pool.


I sat in a dinghy and, when it was in the middle of the deepest section of the pool, I rolled backwards over the edge. I went straight to the bottom and then kicked off and up to the surface, where I was able to take a breath before sinking again. I tried to angle my jumps towards the edge and not panic, but progress was very slow and it took an extraordinary number of attempts before I reached safety. I was too exhausted to pull myself out of the pool and surprised that no one else had noticed my difficulty. I think that I was probably about twelve years old. I was very thin; thinking about it later, it occurred to me that my specific gravity might not be quite as advantageous as it would be to other, plumper boys.


When I was fourteen, I was at home in Bradford for the summer holidays. Holidays were not much fun. I had lived in so many places and I was away at school; because of this I didn't know anyone in Bradford of my own age.


I decided to go swimming in Drummond Road Baths. This was a walk from my home near Lister Park. Part of me still believed, with a sort of fatalism, in the specific gravity theory. This suggested that, even if I did nothing, I would survive.


The Baths were very old-fashioned, even for the fifties. Curtained cubicles down each side gave straight onto the edge of the pool. I changed into my swimming trunks - I think that they were knitted wool. Because I was so thin, the short legs flapped around my thighs and I was very aware that from any angle below knee-height I was exposed to view.


To avoid being embarrassed, I threw open the curtain of my cubicle, ran and jumped far out into the water in one fluid movement. I was surprised at how deep it was. I swallowed a lot of water.


 As I surfaced, probably for the second time and realising that I was in trouble, I grabbed a figure in front of me who happened to be a well-built girl of about my own age. I held onto her bust - or at least the fabric which contained her bust. At first, she laughed good-naturedly and, bringing her arms up inside mine, tried to knock my hands away. Unable to let go, I tried to explain to her that this was not a game, that I was drowning and I needed help. However, water gushed out of my mouth rather than words. Possibly she mistook the desperate appeal in my eyes for malice because she began to scream.


The attendant blew a whistle and my partner, to whom I was now locked, struggled to the edge of the pool taking me with her. By this time most of the girls in the baths were screaming. I hadn't realised that one side was for the boys and the other side was for the girls. As we got out of the water on the girls’ side the attendant probably thought that a fairly serious situation might be developing. She shouted ‘Girls’ side, girls’ side.’

I disengaged myself and ran around the edge of the pool as fast as I could, back to my cubicle and safety, where I dressed and left in record time. So much for swimming.

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