“Arrghh,” I groaned, as I tried to slap the alarm clock into
silence. ‘Oh great,’ I thought as I looked at my calendar.
Saturday: Swimming day.
“Come on, wake up,” my mum impatiently insisted. “We’ve
got to leave for your lesson in about an hour.” I scowled at her,
like I did every Saturday morning, and then reluctantly rose out
of bed and went downstairs for breakfast. I was an expert at
stalling, taking minutes between mouthfuls. But eventually, the
bowl was finished. Just before we got into our car, I attempted
the usual, ‘I’ve got a bad tummy ache’ routine however, my
embattled Mum did not fall for that nonsense. Slowly I got into
As my Mum started the engine, I had to kick a crisp packet
out of the way and move a mouldy banana skin off my seat,
before I could even secure my seatbelt. The car journey was
always horrible, not just because of the appalling state of
the car (definitely nothing to do with my car snack habit) but
because it allowed me time to dread. To dread meeting Karen.
My swimming tyrant of a teacher. Karen had a grotesque face
with skin that was a sickly, grey colour and hung in wrinkled
folds. She had false teeth (probably because of her ‘vending
machine Twix habit’) that clicked when she moved her lips.
Her eyes were flinty grey and like a hawk, never blinked -
constantly watching. Her mouth was in a permanent sneer, as
if she was waiting to cackle at your inevitable mistakes. I hated
my swimming teacher, she was hideous inside and out.
As we were driving my Mum switched the radio on: ‘A few
hours ago, in Florida, a menacing alligator was found in a
local swimming pool near the deep end and immediate help
was needed as –.’ Suddenly, the radio crackled and I couldn’t
make out the rest of the story. I gulped and my stomach
somersaulted. ‘Was that true?’ I wondered. ‘What happens
if there is an alligator in the deep end of my pool?’ I thought,
biting my nails.
As we approached the pool building, I glanced through the
steamed grubby windows, where I could see Karen was
having a row with one of the parents, whose child was in
tears. “Come on,” pleaded my Mum as she pointed to the
changing rooms. I rolled my eyes and then ventured, holding
my nose, into the world’s most disgusting set of changing
As I walked into the changing room, I saw two kids who had
snot running down their chins. I covered my eyes before I
saw any more, then slipped into the room. It smelt of sweat
and stained toilets. As I put my trunks on, I could see some
grubby toenail clippings scattered in the corner of the room
and clumps of brown hair lying on the benches.
I put my hand over my mouth, and retched slightly. I darted
out of the changing room. I saw Karen coming over to me
so I quickly slipped into the pool before she could remark on
how tiny I looked. I was only in the shallow end, but my ankles
were already freezing to death, my teeth were chattering
uncontrollably and the scent of the sickening chlorine made
my stomach churn. Karen saw me and gave me a half smile,
half ‘you’d better do what I tell you’ glare. I sweetly smiled
back and then she said, “Go get a woggle. We are practising
swimming in the deep end.” I nodded back nervously;
however, inside I was on the verge of a total breakdown, as
thoughts of the Florida alligator swirled round my mind.
When I got to the deep end Karen told me what to do, “Ok,
we’ve been practising front crawl in the shallow end for
long enough. So I’d like you to do me a whole width of front
crawl in the deep end.” She ended this with a thumbs up
and a winked eye like this was the easiest task ever. I was
dumbfounded and thought she was mad – I had practised
the stroke for barely a week, was terrible at it, and had never
swum in the deep end before.