Make I my Bed to Swim

My local council offers a free, seven-day pass to any who wish to sample its gymnasia and swimming baths in a bid to obtain monthly or annual subscriptions. Approaching an age at which good health cannot be taken for granted, I have been swimming a few times to see whether it is a recreation for which I would be willing to commit. I approached the baths with reticence.

Firstly, I recall swimming each Friday night as a child at Heysham baths. For fifty pence, one could swim and frolic for an hour. I wore arm bands and spent some time each week meditating upon the meaning of one of the baths’ rules which were conveniently posted on two of the walls: NO PETTING. My other memory is the sheer quantity of chlorine which must have been poured into that water. Looking back, I can still recall that overpowering stench and the bloodshot eyes and reddened skin. I wonder if I actually went swimming in a giant vat of barely diluted bleach. I used to be blond as a child; perhaps swimming at Heysham baths is the reason.

My other nasty memory is of school swimming lessons. My school had a relatively small, Victorian pool, the changing rooms of which felt like they were heated by a pipe connecting them to the earth’s magma. Mr K, one of the PE staff who was tasked with ‘teaching’ swimming to 16 small boys did not apparently enjoy Tuesdays, period 3. Although he transpired to be a nicer man when we grew bigger, his disdain for little lads was quite clear. His method of taking a register involved us shouting out our number in the register to save him the trouble of using, much less learning, our names. His pedagogical methods were limited but uncomplicated: we were all told to line up on one side of the pool and swim to the other. And again. And then again. The process was then repeated. I sometimes came last, and certainly never learned how to swim better or faster. Mr K taught his swimming curriculum for 20 minutes, after which we whipped our neighbours with wet towels while getting changed, and discreetly monitored each other’s rates of pubescence. All in all, a very unsatisfactory 30-minute stretch of my life each week, and one which put me off swimming for the next thirty years.

The staff at my local pool were friendlier than my old school’s teaching staff, and the chlorination left few ill-effects once I had showered and changed. What did not surprise me was my poor levels of fitness. Cycling, even with an occasional burst of battery power, does wonders for the legs and heart, but little for the torso. Swimming a length caused muscles to ache which have lain dormant for years. Although I was one of the youngest in the pool at that hour, I quite rightly identified the slow lane as my rightful place. Whether I continue remains to be seen, but swimming is a good exercise but without some of the joint burdens imposed by other forms of activity.

In Psalm 6, the downcast psalmist observes:

I am weary with my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim; I water my couch with my tears. Mine eye is consumed because of grief; it waxeth old because of all mine enemies.

So crushed is he by his enemies and grieved by his many troubles, he feels like he swims in his own tears. He asks:

My soul is also sore vexed: but thou, O Lord, how long?

There were moments during the first return to the baths that I wondered if I could still swim, when the water got in my ears and up my nostrils and a sense of panic almost arose. That no longer happens, but my slowness and poor stamina prove dispiriting. Yet the more I swim, the better I become; the more I trust God during my worries and troubles, the sooner I shall overcome them, and the less likely they shall overcome me.

Image by 12019 from Pixabay