Tuesday 18 October 2016

la heroína de la piscina

We were the second blow-ins to The Valley. The first was a musician and handyman who bought a 2 acre field on a 25% slope and built a wooden house at the top of the plot and an enormous wooden boat at the bottom near the road . . . 40 km from the sea. At least our eccentricities were confined to home-education, Birkenstocks and tree-hugging.  Après nous, la deluge d'artistes: visual, conceptual and mental. Without them there would be no Blackstairs Film Society and we'd have to watch films without subtitles. But the only one we're on borrow-a-cup-of-sugar terms is La Torbellina de Tenerife TdT a multi-tasking, multi-talented woman from Spain who married into one of the local families. She was a rock for O'Manch' and Young Bolivar, our long-term visitors and English language students: bringing them eSpanish food and translating when mutual understanding was vital.

After a life-time lifting tureens in the catering trade her back is crook and she has regular therapeutic sessions in the 25m swimming pool of one of the local hotels. Last week her attention was drawn to a family: mother, father and two excited children: a boy and girl probably twins. TdT noted that the mother was focusing 85% of her attention on her smartphone. Something [precognition is quite possibly one of her many talents] made her think ' keep an eye on those kids' and she was thereby distracted from her normal length-swimming regime. Sure enough, a few minutes later the girl ran whooping straight out of the ladies changing room and disappeared beneath the surface of the pool. TdT swam furiously to the spot, dived down, grabbed the child's arm and heaved her like a drowned kitten onto the poolside tiles. She was no longer pink but a terrible blue. But small children have an imperative to live and the girl coughed up some water and sat up. Her father came quickly on hearing the hullabaloo but the mother was still changing . . . apps on her phone. TdT told the father that he might mark the day as his daughter's [re]birthday and he replied that the twins were indeed 4 and the swim was a birthday treat.  And the life-guard? Out behind the desk in the lobby sharing his attention between the CCTV view of the pool and his laptop. These goddamned devices will be the death of someone one of these days, why, I was almost killed by device-driven inattention.

The St Adjudor's Saving-from-Drowning club in The Valley is fairly select and the only other member I know about is me. When the girls were small, going swimming was part of the relentless round of off-site edutainment that gave them 12 hours a week in the car listening to audio-books and having roiling discussions about life, the universe, and the Eiffel Tower. Those trips, reading books, and the roiling discussion in the car and at the kitchen table was what constituted their education. Despite hating to get wet socks, sometimes I had to be the adult-in-charge at the pool. I loved being with the girls but I didn't like swimming because it was another of the things I was crap at when I was young. My brother and sister were like fish and passed successively their bronze, silver and gold swimming and life-saving exams and have the medals to prove it. I have a certificate for Swimming One Length of the Drake Baths in Plymouth. I could manage two lengths but my bottle gave out beyond that: it was like my anti-prowess at running. ANNyway, about ten years ago, I was standing up to my neck in the water watching the girls coursing up and down when my reveries were distracted by a commotion down at the deep end. A large woman was splashing about unable to make any progress to the edge of the pool. Without thinking, I swam towards her and by holding my breath and standing underneath her I was able to push the woman by her capacious bottom towards the pool side. And the life-guard? That spotty youth was running up and down the poolside shouting . . . and had also been off-site chatting to the girls at the check-in desk. Apparently, not getting into the water is part of the standard operating procedure. We still had 20 minutes left on the clock, so I went back to standing up to my neck in the water until the girls had finished their antics. The woman's husband cruised up at some point to say thank you, but the woman herself was quite oblivious to the drama she had caused. There is, of course, a certain irony that the only one of our sibship who is not qualified to save anyone is the one who has actually saved someone.

Because, in fairy-stories, things often come in threes, I have another life-saving tale. Maybe 20 years ago, shortly after we had left for Ireland, my late lamented pal Roy was walking along one of lone and level beaches that stretch from the outskirts of Newcastle upon Tyne to the Scottish borrrder. In the distance he could see two boys digging a cave into the face of the sand-dunes. As he got a little closer he realised that only boy was visible and he was jumping about in a peculiar manner. Quick as thought, Roy ran to the scene and saw two sneakers poking out of a heap of freshly fallen sand. With a super-human desperate heave, he hauled the other chap from the embrace of death and helped clean the sand from his nose and mouth. Within a couple of minutes, the boys were running off down the beach joshing and shouting towards the distant and invisible parents. Roy wondered afterwards, but didn't lose sleep about it, if the parents ever realised how close they came to a funeral.

These effin' qualifications are now the tail wagging the dog of all aspects of our lives. Train drivers who are 'qualified' without ever going out on their routes. I stopped using the chain-saw for about 5 years after I'd taken a chain-saw handling course which can hardly have been the intention. An elderly neighbour told us a few days ago that he'd been compelled to take a farm-spraying course after 20 years of spraying farms on contract. "Did you learn anything?", I asked. "A little bit about safety,", he replied, "but the paper-work and the exam were a struggle - I was never any good in school". He passed despite the exam, nobody has any interest in failing sprayers; The Man just need to get the optics right.

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