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Family Of Four: 22 - Swimming

...Doreen was the star! She dropped pennies on to the bottom and dived to recover them, she practised life-saving, and once swam twenty-four lengths of the long bath, a splendid effort we thought. Rex was competent, Bobby a trifle nervous and not too happy in the water.

As for me, although I loved to turn somersaults, to make the wheels of an imaginary water-mill go round with my legs, and to jump in at the deep end, I hated to dive or to have my face under water for more than a second...

Mrs Vivien Hirst recalls childhood fun and games at rhe swimming pool.

Mrs Hirst's memories were gathered into a book, Family Of Four, by her nephew, Raymond Prior, who heard them from her own lips when he was young.

After this, Doreen and Rex were taught how to swim, greatly against Daddy's wishes. He was a poor swimmer, I think because he never had lessons, and he was afraid for the children. Mummy firmly insisted that everyone should know how to swim and it was far better to learn properly, and so she herself took the children weekly to the swimming baths. As Bobby and I became a little older we joined the party, and for years we enjoyed these visits and all became proficient.

Doreen was the star! She dropped pennies on to the bottom and dived to recover them, she practised life-saving, and once swam twenty-four lengths of the long bath, a splendid effort we thought. Rex was competent, Bobby a trifle nervous and not too happy in the water.

As for me, although I loved to turn somersaults, to make the wheels of an imaginary water-mill go round with my legs, and to jump in at the deep end, I hated to dive or to have my face under water for more than a second.

We were all taught to dive, Doreen again being most graceful but I was never very good and had a great distaste for it, all because, I now believe, of the swallowing-the-halfpenny episode in babyhood. We grew very rash and jumped often and often from the balcony into the six feet of water.
Mrs. Beaumont, short, plump and elderly, who had taught us all to swim, found us now more than a handful, and most severely tried to check us, but I am afraid we forgot her warnings of danger and, on occasions, raced up the steps, through the rails, and holding our arms very straight against our sides were down, in and up through the water almost in a trice.

When we were small Mummy was kept busy calling each one of us out and rubbing us down with a rough towel, weary with the shrieking and the heat of the building, and we owe her a great deal for her perseverance in taking us so regularly.

One morning, Bobby was dressed ready for home, with his mackintosh hanging over one arm and carrying his cap in the other hand, standing at the edge of the bath watching the swimmers while Mummy coped with me. A little friend, Tommy, still in his bathing suit, stole up behind Bobby, quite unseen, gave him a sudden push and lo! he was in the water with all his clothes on, and in deep water, too.

Bobby's astonished scream had been quickly stifled by the inrush of water. Down, down he went, weighed down by his clothes, but he appeared again, the mackintosh and cap still unbelievably in his clasp! Mrs. Beaumont heard his startled cry, saw what had happened and quickly swam to the rescue, or it might have been a different story, for Bobby was at the early stages of learning to swim and had not yet been in deep water. He was helped out and poor Mummy had to begin her work all over again made more difficult this time by seeking dry clothing. Tommy was scolded and pulled away to be dressed at once, in disgrace.

When Tommy was ready to go home, his mother paused at the door to talk with friends and Tommy wandered to the edge of the bath, at the shallow end, to watch. Bobby had now been dressed, and coming down the steps from the balcony he espied Tommy on the edge. Very quietly and quickly, he moved towards him, and with a thrust of his arm he shot the unsuspecting boy into the water.

There was a commotion! Tommy was rescued, Bobby scolded, and the two mothers now confronted one another over the dripping small figure, flushed and angry with each other as well as with the boys, until, suddenly, one of them saw the funny side of it and all ended with laughter. The friendship continued, and we were sorry when, some time after this, the family left the town.

Once Rex had quite an adventure. He had a school friend, Frank Greenwood, who many years later was to have the honour of captaining Yorkshire at cricket. Both boys were very keen on swimming and they thought what fun it would be to have a dip, very early one morning, before school began. So they made a plan. Each boy was to rise at 6 a.m. Rex was to call for Frank, and together they would walk the mile and a half to the baths.

They parted that evening with a delicious sense of anticipation. Rex, fearing he might not waken so early, took Miss Walker into his confidence and asked her to be sure to rouse him at six o'clock precisely. Miss Walker had indicated, rather airily, that she might do so, which reply Rex felt too vague to be reliable, and so he determined to waken himself at all costs. He fell off to sleep, his last thoughts singing, "I must get up at six o'clock, I must get up at six o'clock."

Suddenly, half awake, he heard the old grandfather clock in the hall strike 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Now wide awake, Rex sprang out of bed, and groping for his clothes, quickly and silently dressed himself for he was aware that if Miss Walker did not intend waking him she might very well prevent this plan which was so exciting to him. Gathering his rolled towel and bathing suit under his arm he stole downstairs, slipped up the latch, eased the chain off the front door, and let himself out.

He was surprised to see how dark it was. He had not thought of this, but undaunted, he made his way to Frank's house. They had a preconceived signal that Rex should throw up small stones and soil against Frank's window. Rex, with some difficulty, accumulated a small pile from under the bushes, then threw them high, and had the satisfaction of hearing at least some of them rattle on the window.

This went on for a little while, but all remained quiet and dark, nothing stirred only the slight soughing of the wind wafting the leaves of the trees. Sensibly, Rex concluded at last that Frank had probably wakened early and gone out to meet him, that they must have missed one another in the darkness, and Frank, by now, was hurrying down the road to catch Rex up.

He set off quickly, as he thought following his friend, and had gone two-thirds of the way when a burly policeman loomed up and stood in his path. "And where do you think you are going at this time of night, my little man?" boomed the policeman. "It isn't night," Rex replied, "it's after six o'clock in the morning and I am on my way to the swimming baths." This quite astonished the policeman, who, with some seriousness, insisted that it was soon after twelve o'clock midnight, and that all small boys should be safely tucked up in bed.

Rex stood squarely before him, indicating his towel under his arm, and patiently explained "the plan". The policeman burst into a guffaw of laughter for he suddenly realised that the boy, being only half awake, had mistaken the last six strokes of midnight for the chimes of 6 a.m. He turned Rex about and together they walked home, Rex crestfallen at the turn of events and bitterly disappointed not to have his early swim.

Daddy was awakened from deep sleep, explanations were made to him, the officer thanked, and Rex packed off to bed - and that was the end of the swimming adventure. We all thought Rex had behaved in a manly way not to be afraid in the dark, but to persevere.

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