I have only ever done one form of exercise and that is swimming. Reflecting on past experiences of exercising, I think I could have been much better at sports if people had believed in me a little more. Don’t misinterpret that; my parents were fantastic and every different bloody activity I said I wanted to do they usually humoured. I did swimming, gymnastics, cycling, roller skating. I tried trampolining, table tennis, badminton, ballet, tap dancing. And there’s probably more still. They believed in me, but my secondary school teachers did not.
It seemed, at my all-girls grammar school, that if you were no good at conventional, usually team based, sports then you were no good at any sport. That, plus being quite an academic, even at a grammar school, wrote you off completely. I remember a couple of instances when my PE teachers demonstrated how little faith they had in my physical ability. The first was when we were practising for the hurdles. My class was split into three groups; the super duper sporty types, the relatively sporty types and then me and my mates. Our teacher walked round to each group and instructed someone to get the hurdles out of the cupboard. When she got to our group she handed us some sticks of bamboo, told us to lay them on the ground and then jump over them. I mean seriously? We didn’t even get a choice. I wanted to do the proper hurdles. I might have been good at it but we didn’t even get a chance. The teacher assumed that we couldn’t do it because we were a bit rubbish at hockey and netball. (Not actually true, we just didn’t want to spend every evening after school being driven all over the county in a minibus to play another team. We were smart. We wanted to go home!)
The other occasion that springs to mind is when we had to do a fitness test. It was basically an assault course and we were timed to see how long it took us to do it. Well at this stage of my life I was seriously into my swimming. My family went every Wednesday for about an hour and a half and we sometimes went at weekends too. I also walked to school and back every day. I was reasonably fit. So I dash round the assault course in 58 seconds. I was pretty chuffed with that. Once everybody had had their go the teacher calls the class over.
“Did anybody complete the course in under a minute?” she says, looking around the group. I put my hand up. My hand is the only hand up. I’m pretty shocked too at this point. Not even Megan Wilson, the super sporty member of our class, has her hand up.
“What time did you get?” my teacher snapped, as though I’d misheard her initial question. Sheepishly I told her. “One minute and 58 seconds?”she replied, clearly doubting my response. I corrected her and she congratulated me, eventually. The damage had been done by then though. I knew that she had low expectations of my physical ability. It was at that point that I stopped trying to impress my PE teachers. I stuck to my swimming.
I’m not the World’s best swimmer. I’m neither fast or technically accurate, but I’d happily spend all day in water. I’ve swam in various seas, lakes, rivers and obviously swimming pools. A bath is my favourite way to relax at the end of the day. Therefore it is important to me that Emily is happy and safe in the water.
From day 1, bath times have been a splashy affair. I made sure that water went on her face and in her eyes. We never bathed her when she was unhappy, so she’d always associate water with fun and calm. Emily has also been having swimming lessons since she was 7 weeks old. We do these with Water Babies, and they are brilliant. Emily has become much more comfortable being on her front, enjoys swimming on her back and has had several underwater dips. They teach them to swim to the edge if they fall in and to hold on to the side. But most of all, they teach that water is something to be enjoyed. I think I like our swimming lessons more than Emily.