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  • Philip Bryer

The Deep End

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

Ah, the whiff of chlorine and the stinging in your eyes. The unpleasant prospect of the accidental rubbing of bare flesh with a hairy stranger in trunks. The grubby sticking plaster which was soaked loose from a mystery bather's wound, and now lies in wait for your unsuspecting heel; and afterwards never quite managing to get comfortably dry all over.

Philip Bryer swimming

You may have gathered from these opening lines that I do not care for swimming pools. Although to be strictly accurate, what I care for the least are swimming pools which contain ‘other people’.

I understand that since the last time I splashed about in an indoor public swimming bath, chlorine has been refined somewhat and no longer feels like a dose of pepper spray delivered from close range into both eyes, but I imagine the hideous stray plaster remains a threat. As does the hairy horror noted above. And, of course, verrucas.

I swam at junior school because I had no choice. It was an outdoor pool built solely with the aid of charitable donations and fundraisers, and as you can imagine, we were reminded of how fortunate we ungrateful children were for such selflessness every time we shied away from diving into it when it was 5°C in March. Or as it was sold to us, ‘springtime’.

I haven’t swum much since. Didn’t mind a dip in the sea if we were holidaying somewhere particularly warm, but I have never been keen on pools. I have rules about pools. If it’s crowded I simply won’t go in. My definition of crowded? More than one person at each corner of the pool (regardless of pool size). Also, however many swimmers are in it, I won’t get in until at least one of them gets out.

Anyway, imagine I’ve managed to get into the pool without slipping on the approach, or tripping down the little steps and falling in face first, or stepping directly into the deep end, and then, when I’ve splashed about a bit and cooled off, I find it all becomes rather dull. I’m not the greatest swimmer (more of which in a moment) so I take the path of least embarrassment and do quite a lot of floating on my back, which is rather soothing until some brawny pest decides to demonstrate his powerful front crawl to an uninterested public and carves a trench through the water, his resultant wake destroying the delicate equilibrium of, well, me. Such herberts were once described by the brilliant Victoria Wood as 'hairy torpedoes'.

On holiday some years ago, we joined a dozen others on an organised speedboat trip. Bit of whizzing about, and then lunch to be taken on Robinson Crusoe beach. A place only accessible from the water, but here’s the kicker; the boat couldn’t get in too close, so we had to swim for it.

I had a quiet word with the captain.

“Is it deep right here by the boat?”

“Deep enough.”

“Will I be able to put my foot on the sea floor?”

“Not for about 20 feet.”

Oh, joy.

I tucked 20 cigarettes and a lighter (these were the bad old days) into the elastic cord which ran around my cap, lowered myself in, kicked away from the boat powerfully with both feet, and commenced to swim like Prince Andrew fleeing the FBI. Mrs Bryer swam around in front of me.

“Are you OK? Do you need any help?” she asked, let’s say ‘helpfully’.

“Out of the way!” I cried, “Coming through!”

If I hit her, I thought, I'll sink. Although, for fear of misunderstanding I didn't give voice to this concern at the time, or indeed at all, until now.

Come through I did, from amid a mass of whirling arms, sea foam, bicycling legs, and startled ocean creatures, I landed on the beach and reached for the smokes.

After lunch I lit up another one, and heard a voice.

“Er, excuse me..”


“I couldn’t buy one of those, could I?”

This person turned out to be the first of half-a-dozen or so, and I gave them all the same answer.

“Someday - and that day may never come - I'll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, please accept this cigarette as a gift.”

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