Nobody Drowned

I found this online on a Primary Teacher’s Blog many years ago (2008?) and saved it.

Mr Read, I think it was – Thank You Mr Read and Best Wishes, wherever you are. You seem to have stopped blogging in December 2010.

I share this slightly edited version with a postscript of my own.

“Nobody Drowned”

“PE teachers who could have auditioned for Brian Glover’s role in ‘Kes’ nearly put me off sport for life.

Our local swimming gala confirmed that this species, far from being extinct, is multiplying and thriving in a school near you.”

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Our head was keen for the school to participate in the swimming gala, so we had two weeks at the baths to practise. Assembling a team was fairly easy, we picked anyone that could swim a length. Every year our Year 3s start lessons with a large proportion of them never having so much as dipped a toe in a swimming pool.

I’ve got bad memories of the last gala we went to four years ago; our swimmers were struggling to finish and already the next race was being started. The large sports mad primary school came 1st, 2nd and 3rd in every race and scooped up all the trophies.

The Council’s Sports Development Team were ‘organising’ this gala and I use that word pejoratively and in the loosest possible sense. Despite a whole team of people with stop watches no one had thought to book a PA system, a large echoing swimming pool, hundreds of children screaming at the top of their voices – Hello! Chaos ensued, we couldn’t hear a thing.

I gazed open-mouthed at the practise session; a lithe young lad with swim cap, sleek goggles and one of those expensive swim suits, dived in, glided half the length of the pool and then cut through the water with the speed of a barracuda.

When the races began we had the emergence of ‘Competitive PE Teacher’ – running up and down the side of the pool screaming at his children and bawling out those who lost with the full Alex Ferguson hair dryer treatment… Maybe I should have nudged him into the pool, I’d have a ready-made excuse, whenever our children hit anyone, it is always “by accident”.

Our children dutifully clapped in the last swimmers. Shy Sidney from Year 3 tried his best, but Mouthy Melvin bottled out, it’s usually the quiet ones who don’t wilt under pressure. Sheila, bless her, reassured everyone that, “it’s taking part that counts”. …Laura began to throw up because she wouldn’t drink the water provided. We had a snowball in hell’s chance of winning any trophies, so I passed on the humiliation of the relay and we crept out to get changed.

Arriving back at school the head came out of his office, ‘How did we do?’

‘Nobody drowned’

I have my own postscript to this story. Some twelve or more years ago I was invited as a guest to a similar event, convened for primary schools from one local catchment area.

It seemed all the more bizarre to me on this occasion because due to my other role as a swimming club coach, I recognised some of the swimmers in the warmup, as County and possibly regional finalists. They too had the suits, hoodies and swim hats; they stood like superheroes from another galaxy mingling with mortals.

There were no Mr Sugdens (Brian Glover’s PE Teacher in Kes) but the spirit of Eddie The Eagle and Eric the Eel was strong and plain to see everywhere throughout the day.

The lifeguards (there were three for the event- wise move as it turned out), must have been on dangerously high adrenaline levels for most of the event, only relieved, I imagine, whenever, to polite applause one of them had to enter the pool to make a rescue. It happened a couple of times and twice in one relay.

Such is our cultural confusion about winners, losers, taking part and heroism. I couldn’t tell if the applause was for the plucky swimmer or for the prompt and timely heroism of the young guys who had drawn the short straws on the duty roster. I can’t imagine any of them volunteered.

One image, burned into my memory is of a very nervous teacher, conspicuous in that her confidence in her swimmers was such that every now and then she held a woggle or noodle in each hand as she walked down the pool. Desperately urging and encouraging her swimmer to at least finish before the woggles or the now twitching lifeguards were required.

More cheers and applause when one of her exhausted or nervous swimmers took the lifeline she offered and after a short tow let go and thrashed on with renewed vigour and enthusiasm to finish their race.

Once again …. Nobody drowned.