John Edward Cooper’s Notes

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Swimming lessons at Beechwood School

Early Days

 1. I think it was when I was in Class 1 that my classmates and I were first taken for swimming lessons to the swimming-pool at Beechwood School. I have the impression of going there on one of the cream-and-green, unique-to-Blackpool-Corporation, centre-entrance, double-deck buses; but if that is the case, I imagine that the bus was hired, and that thirty-odd boys and girls were not herded to the Gardener’s Arms bus stop, all to troop onto the No.14 bus.
 As we proceeded on our way, I got all excited because, of course, this was how I went home every day, and this was the route I took; and, look! that’s my house, just to the right there—yes, that’s where I live, just there—just opposite Beechwood School here, and I know all about Beechwood because I go there regularly.[1] But my euphoria and feeling of superior knowledge dissipated when we were all in the pool, and I was one of the remnant of clingers to the pool-side when the others were proudly displaying their newly acquired skill of swimming out in the middle.
[1] I go there regularly: See Beechwood Baths.
 2. The instructor was a woman, looking a strong, athletic figure in her swimsuit; neither young nor old to my eyes, so, I guess, in her thirties; with fairly prominent facial features, so handsome, I would say, not pretty; and with shoulder-length wavy hair. (This was while she was at the pool-side; I think she wore a white swimming cap when she joined us in the water.) She had an authoritative voice and manner that commanded respect and confidence—confidence, that is, till she let me down.

 3. Our first act was to grip the rail at the pool-side, with hands behind the rail and elbows against the tiles, so that gentle bending of the arms brought our bodies up to the surface and we were able to make the kicking motions of the “crawl” swimming stroke. That felt quite safe to me, because I was holding on to the rail. I was able also to take the next step, of leaving the security of the rail, holding a square cork float, and launching out into the middle of the pool, propelling myself with the same foot-paddling motion. For although the water sometimes lapped over the top of the float, the float never got completely submerged. It was the third step, of having the confidence to launch out without the float, that, unlike many of the others, I could not—just could not—take.

 4. It was to assist me and a few others like me that she got into the water. This is where the big let-down occurred. For she was undergirding me with her arms, while I paddled with my feet and reached forward with first one arm then the other, plunging each beneath the surface then pulling it back through the water—and she let go of me; she released her arms downwards into the water. And I felt myself go under, especially my head, and I got water in my nose, and I panicked. I felt horribly distressed by this incident.
 And while the school year lasted, and the lessons continued, I made no further progress towards being able to swim.
[2] I made no further progress towards being able to swim: But see I learn to swim.

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