What's William Shakespeare got to do with diving? For most people, nothing. For me? A lot. Here's the situation- When I was twenty five I 'taught' myself to swim badly but wasn't able to stand up in water beyond my depth or have the confidence to try and tread water. I was, as has been mentioned several times before now, terrified.
Whilst learning to dive I've been in my local pool trying to swim and float to the best (?) of my ability. The problem is I sink. Just lying there doesn't work, and even when I had my night in the pool with Mick S he finished the lesson with "ditch your BCD and weight belt, and just lie back in the water- the buoyancy will keep you up"
I'd bought a shorty to help with back warmth and buoyancy for this very night. Guess what happened? I lay back, relaxed...water closed around my face, I kept descending... and came up spluttering.
"...you really are negatively buoyant!" Mick said, "never seen anyone quite as bad as you before- never mind! We'll sort this somehow!"
Problem? Definately. Un-beatable? Not likely.
I tried every method I could think of in the pool and finally, two people came to my assistance- one was Chris herself, who had been coming in my gym pool every friday night and going up and down the lengths herself whilst trying to make observations about how I could improve my technique. The other is a wonderful woman called Sam.
For a number of years now, Sam has been the coach for the British Transplant Games Olympic swimming team (I kid you not! She's incredibly talented) and between them, they gave me the following piece of advice:-
1- you think too much
2- find something to think about and get into your head, so you stop concentrating on the water and think of something else.
3- do that, and before you know it, you'll be at the other end of the pool.
So I did. I managed two lengths instead of one, and when it came to the floating, I found the only way I could stay afloat was by 'sculling' (gently moving my arms and kicking my legs whilst on the surface)- this meant I would 'drift' on the water and found it almost impossible to stay still.
Whilst floating I managed a minute, then two, then three, back to one again, a thirty second failure, and so on.
Weeks of trying this when suddenly, one week, I hit upon an idea- they told me to think of something else whilst swimming, so that was exactly what I was going to do.
And Shakespeare came to my rescue. One soliloquy later, I'd gone to my local pool, recited a piece from Romeo and Juliet over and over (I think it was thrice, verily) and by the time I crashed into another swimmer (sorry!) I stood up and looked at the clock...
Hang on, that meant I could do part of...
The next Thursday lesson loomed and Chris suggested I try the swimming test. Being a non swimmer and never been able to float that well, this was my major fear- if I was going to fail, it would be now.
The pressure was enormous (no diving pun intended)
As said on an earlier entry, to qualify for the open water course, a dive student has to complete two parts of a swimming test:
1- swim eight lengths of a 25m pool (200m in total) without stopping.
2- float or tread water for 10 minutes. (Did i mention the 12?)
I'd never swum eight lengths in my life before and had managed to float for 12 MINUTES (sorry- got carried away there)
Fear? Yeah, you know the rest. You've an idea of how much I was (insert appropriate word) myself at this point. It didn't help driving to the pool with miss NLP-trained observer of the year!
"You're getting nervous again" Chris commented in that appallingly calm, moderated, under-whelmed voice, "you've curled up into a ball in your seat"
Thank you, ma'am. I love her to bits, but sometimes she can be so...
We hit the pool and for once my change isn't into a shorty- it's just into a pair of swimming trunks (advised to go for the leanest pair of speedo's I own to cut down on water resistance) so whilst everyone else is kitted out like James Bond, I'm stood there in my 98% birthday suit and a little black thing around the middle.
Silent. Contemplative. Bricking it. Gratefully, everyone else left me alone.
The plan was, I would attempt the 10m float part of the swimming test, and on Chris' instruction, I would 'have a go' at the swim test but not by swimming normally- because I'd never done eight lengths in my life, I was to do eight lengths in mask, fins and snorkel. This would give me the feeling of what it would be like to do 8 lengths 'as a trial run'.
"Tell you what" she said, "when you get to eight, just keep going and see how many you do. It's not the real test, just a practice. Just have fun with it"
So off I go into the nearly deep end with Liam. I had to do the float over water too deep to stand up in and here was the first psychological barrier- what if I sank? Liam was a rescue diver and would be with me the whole time, so I felt safer having someone with me.
I breathed deep, "it helps to keep your lungs as full of air as you can" he suggested, helpfully. There was no trace of Liam the clown now- he was all support, all care, and absolutely brilliant with it.
Consigned to oblivion, i kicked off and raised my legs.
One of my wife's gems of advice- "clench your buttocks like you're dying to hold in what you normally do on the toilet"- came to mind. Then the legs rose, began to kick, my arms started to scull and my head leaned back.
Quietly, so only i could hear, i started.
"What light in yonder window breaks (breath) it is the sun, and Juliet is the...no, got that wrong...it is the east, and Juliet is the sun...(splash- water over face- keep going), arise fair sun, and kill the jealous moon...I think...for she is sick and pale with grief that thou, her maid, are far more fair than thee... (scull...breath... splash water...still going, concentrating on the words, Will, I love you mate, four hundred years dead and you're keeping me alive...)
"Be not her maid...her vestal raiment is but pale and green and none but fools do wear it...gasp...water...cast them off...sure I've forgotten a bit...gulp- water in mouth...breathe, calm, steady...breathe...got it...oh bugger, near the edge have to turn round...side paddle, side paddle, side paddle...back the other way...where was I? She is my lady, oh she is my love...gasp...oh would that she knew she were...
"She speaks, but says nothing...sure i've got that wrong too...gulp...breathe...what of it? Her eye holds discourse...I will answer...no...I am too bold...tis not to me she speaks... at the edge again, better turn round...side paddle, side paddle, hope no divers come up from beneath to put me off...right, let's go...breathe...steady...
"Two of the fairest stars in all the heavens...having some business, do entreat her eyes...to sparkle...no, you fool- not sparkle...to twinkle in their spheres till they return...would that they be her eyes...they in her head...I've got that wrong again...breathe...splash water in mouth...spray out, stay calm, breathe...just breathe...just breathe and... turn round again! Breathe... what was the last bit?
"See how her cheek rests upon her hand...Definitely missed a bit...sod it...would that I be a glove upon her hand...would that I could touch her cheek...okay, no-one tell Patrick Stuart or Jeremy Irons I just bolloxed up that one..."
And that's kind of how it went- not just once, but three times until I stole a look at the clock by raising my head and saw I had just three minutes to go. A fourth repetition followed and a gurgled voice cut through the waves mumbling something about "that's it" and Liam appeared beside me, guiding me back to the stand-up bit of the pool (like a true rescue diver- holding one of my arms to pull me even though I felt confident enough to do it on my own)
"That's it mate- eleven minutes" he said and I collapsed, exhausted. I'd done it- first test done, now the relaxing practice swim.
Actually, it was pretty relaxing.
Snorkelling is an acquired skill and I'd not been so much taught as 'picked it up' a few weeks earlier with Mick S. The snorkel pokes above the water line so you can breathe, and you grip the mouthpiece between your teeth and seal it with your gum's. Of course, if you relax, then water gets in and you have to clear your mouth by snorting the water up out of the top of the tube.
My arms went everywhere for the first ten meters till I settled on holding them in front of me- nope, not good enough- then switched to the small of my back. Very nonchalant, very relaxed, ambling along with leg kicks, trying to keep my head up and looking the way I was going instead of dipping down into the water. By doing this, I was able to keep the top of the snorkel well clear of the water's edge.
It didn't stop water coming into my mouth, though. But this time, unlike the disastrous episode on the surface having to take the BCD off and put it on again, i was able to clear the water straight away without panicking.
In short, I was becoming more comfortable in the water.
So the lengths progressed, and I passed eight...then ten.
Then I really relaxed into it, all pressure off, and did the next ten without any problems. I'd gone back to reciting the same Shakespearean soliloquy (try saying that quickly after ten pints- or two in my case)
Twenty turned to twenty five, and it wasn't long before I was signing to Liam that I was on number twenty seven.
Twenty seven? He signed back that he thought it was thirty two!
Either way, by my count I got tired and finished on thirty four (nearly forty by his count) and stopped. That was the practice, and I'd been back and forth over the deep end without much trepidation. A little nervous, but nothing major. Gripped by an insane bravery, I wanted to try something- so I had Liam swim down with me, and launched myself (unaided by fins, mask or snorkel, just one man against nature, a pair of goggles, speedo's, and a rib cage) into the deep end to swim the five meters distance to the wall.
Five meters, I hear you ask? Is that all?
Yes, that's all- but consider this- I had never, not once, ever in my life, swum on the surface out of my depth for mortal fear I would drown.
This was the very first time, and I didn't feel afraid.
Spurred on, I decided to do the swimming test for real! I would do this, I would conquer my fears, I would...
...do two and a half lengths and stop. I was tired, the voice in my head told me to stop, and I became afraid again.
Feeling pretty dejected, I climbed out of the water whilst listening to Liam tell Chris what happened.
"THIRTY FOUR????" her cheerful voice echoed across the pool, but I couldn't bring myself to look at her. I'd failed the actual swim test.
A few of the team came past and asked. One down, one to go I told them. Then after getting dressed I threw myself into helping to pack the van. What had started well ended in disaster. I had so very much wanted to beat that swim test, but couldn't. It was as if the wall of my fears rose up to defeat me, the demon in my own mind, the self doubt and fear overcame my drive to succeed.
Maybe I should be grateful I had gone this far. In all honesty, whilst I wasn't ready to give up, I was ready to walk away for the time being and work at this on my own, in my own pool, week after week. The swim test is supposed to be done as a "this week we'll get this out of the way" and the thought of coming back here week in week out to try and fail was more than I could bear. I couldn't face the other members of the club asking me on a weekly basis, "did you do it this time? Never mind. Maybe next week".
I could see it all. Maybe I was driving myself too hard, and I know Rome wasn't built in a day, but I let despair take hold and consigned myself to passing, sometime, maybe.
I also wanted to walk away because the club was about diving and having fun, and I didn't want them to have to put up with me for endless weeks trying and failing to do my swim test. I didn't want to get in their way. They're doing other stuff in the water and it wasn't fair to have a bloke try and swim above them, giving them another obstacle to contend with.
I know this sounds defeatist, and I'm not normally like this, but at that time, the world did indeed seem at its darkest.
We got back to the dive club / shop and Zoe collared me in the car park. Cheerful and supportive as ever.
"How did you do?" she asked, so I told her. Float passed, swim failed after two and a half lengths and a practice run of thirty four with mask / fins / snorkel. She looked confused.
"Thirty four with snorkel and fins? That means you've passed..."
...Hang on a minute- "no" I said slowly, "the swim test is eight lengths and I couldn't do it"
"Eight lengths normal" she said, "but twenty four with mask and fins..."
We got into the shop and Chris appeared. "That's a point, guys" she said, "what's the definition of a PADI swim test?"
"Eight lengths non stop" said Mick R, "or twenty four in mask, snorkel and fins"
"...and as Simon did thirty four?" Chris queried, trying (and failing) to keep the smile off her face.
"He's passed with flying colours" said Mick R, joining the grin.
Something dropped out of my stomach- shock, probably- and a strange contraction hit my facial muscles. I suddenly couldn't stop smiling.
"...what?" was about as much as I could muster. All three of them were grinning at me- they had set me up, good and proper, pulled the rug out from underneath me. I'd been tricked into doing a 'practice' swim and told to "keep going" by Chris, full in the knowledge that they intended me to pass.
Chris admitted later on she wasn't going to tell me because I was working myself up so much I wouldn't have done it if I'd known I was going to do the test that night.
More of them came in- I don't know how many were in on this, but they all seemed to know. Liam was grinning his head off- he was under instruction to 'not let me stop' and get me through this one way or the other, and all he did was swim to one side and let me do all the work.
Chris had found a way to trick me, to get me to do the test without realising I'd done it and all within the international rules set down by PADI. This was the last hurdle- I had maybe four more skills to do in the pool and certainly had more practice to come (mask changing skills for certain) but this, the swim test, was the last great challenge.
And I'd passed it with flying colours.