Be afraid, Phelps. . . I have a swimming certificate
I watched team GB’s magnificent Olympic performance and anticipate great things of our Paralympians. It is time to take stock of my own achievements.
No medals, but my certificates still cause me to swell with pride. I am 57 and have preserved records of my accomplishments, dating back half a century. They are worth nothing to anyone but me.
If they leave the country, there will be no cry of protest from my countrymen. None of them will be saved for the nation.
But my wee hoard of certificates has accompanied me through life.
If called upon to prove I can swim 25 or even 50yards (yes, this was in the old days of imperial measurements), I can do so. Who knows when I may be called to produce evidence in court of my ability to swim short distances without the aid of water wings?
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“I have the proof here, me lud,” she said, producing a piece of quarto card, signed by the primary school teacher who was patient enough to stand for 30 minutes while she struggled up and down the school’s outdoor (flipping freezing) swimming pool.
My husband out-performed me in the pool. He rescued a brick from the deep end. He jumped into the water wearing his pyjamas, took the bottoms off (he thinks he was wearing trunks underneath), tied knots at the bottom of the legs and threw them over his head to fill with air so they could be used as a float. These were elements he completed for his life-saving certificate.
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I expect this is why he insists on carrying his pyjamas in his man bag whenever we cross the Channel by ferry.
In the event of an emergency, I’m not sure what I could do with my nightie. I would have to fight him for his pyjama bottoms. Has there ever been a real-life instance of someone’s life being saved by inflating their pjs? I think we should be told.
Some people can be scarred for life by early experiences of endeavour. Daughter Ruth, a strong swimmer, was denied her 100m certificate c.1990 because her primary school swimming teacher judged that she had put her foot to the floor. “I didn’t,” said Ruth tearfully when I met her after school.
“I didn’t, I really didn’t,” said Ruth last week, remembering the sting of injustice.
There is as much agony and ecstasy in a small child attempting to reach their goal as there is in a field of supreme, world-class athletes striving for medals.
I have recently read guilt-ridden accounts of swimming certificate holders who admit to getting away with a ‘touchdown’ and of another who was helped off with her pyjama bottoms.
My husband, daughter and son are better swimmers than me. But then, I was the only one who was taught to swim by being dragged across the width of the pool with a rope tied round me. I was hauled in like a bobbing barrel of contraband whisky.
As for the brick, my eyesight was so bad I could never find it. It was probably a better swimmer than me, too.
My tenure as second reserve in the girls’ shinty team did not yield any sort of official recognition and so the attainment of my cycling proficiency certificate remains a high point of my primary school years.
Once again, children were called upon to complete tasks unlikely to be needed outside a circus tent, such as balancing on the bike while stationary.
It was, however, helpful to learn how to make an emergency stop. I seem to recall it was inadvisable to operate the right-hand brake first (front wheel) because it could send you over the handlebars.
We turned up for training in the school playground with our bicycles; no helmets, although my dad offered to lend me his cycle clips to keep my socks up.
I passed (though with fewer marks than my husband) and I have to report I was never subsequently called upon to weave my bicycle in and out of a line of cones. That might be one for the omnium in Rio 2016.
In execution, yet again my husband trumped me. He had been required to know how to put the chain back on his bike.
“I didn’t have to do that,” I said, amazed at his hitherto unrevealed engineering prowess.
“Maybe it’s because you were a girl,” he suggested.
This was, after all, the 1960s, when little girls were so delicate they would not be, could not be, expected to survive such manual labour.
My commended essay in the National Library Week competition 1966 yielded a most ornate certificate. It remains my favourite. If only I had been highly commended, I would have had it framed.
My most recent award of a certificate was for singing in a talent competition during a week’s holiday at a holiday camp on the Isle of Wight in the early 1990s. I can’t be sure but I probably sang something from Les Miserables.
And, no, I hadn’t been drinking, I was very much into musical theatre in the ‘90s.
A panel of judges comprising 10 of our fellow campers decided the man who rendered a pub-singer version of Any Dream Will Do was the winner.
My husband assured me I was robbed. Meanwhile, the entertainments blue/yellow/red coat came over and pressed a certificate into my hand. It was of “it’s not the winning but the taking part that counts” type.
The pub singer went through to the finals and got a week’s holiday as a prize, while the rest of us got a certificate.
I still have mine.
Gaining my driving licence, in my 30s, was perhaps the pinnacle and, although my husband passed first time with fewer faults, at least I managed to avoid the mishap of one of my instructor’s other pupils.
One day he rang at short notice to cancel a lesson and the next time I saw him, I asked why.
He explained that one of his learners had been taking her driving test in the car that day and, when the examiner brought down his clipboard on the dashboard to cue the emergency stop, she was so panicked she’d wet herself.
It was a cautionary tale that led me to make sure I went before I took my test.