Friday, August 25, 2006

Mirth and Woe: Swimming Gala

Swimming Gala

"Dive into the pool, and swim like buggery."

Those were the words spoken to me by our coach, who also happened to be our commanding officer. The event was the Air Cadets Thames Valley Wing swimming gala, and like a fool, I'd put myself up for the 100m freestyle, along with about a hundred others.

So, as the whistle blew, I dived in and swum like buggery, three to a lane, not caring the fate of those around me. Performing an improvised kick-turn at the halfway mark, I struck out for home and surfacing at the other end, I found, to my surprise, I had actually won my heat.

There was no bloody way I would repeat that feat. And I was right. I came third in the final, and I went home well pleased. Doubly pleased, because a dour girls' breast-stroke final was livened up by the young lady in lane one unwittingly falling out of her costume, giving a couple of hundred testosterone fuelled teenagers the cheap thrill of a lifetime.

A couple of weeks later, I was called into the CO's office.

"Congratulations, Corporal Duck," he said, "You've been selected for the Wing swimming team. You and Cadet Palmer are going to the regional finals."


Palmer swum like a fish, and had been selected for the squad without even having to qualify at the Wing gala, and had been out, in his own words 'getting his fingers up that bird from Greasy Joe's chip shop'. Ah, the life of the professional athlete.

Come the big day, a big RAF coach came and picked us up, and spent the next three hours zig-zagging across Berkshire and Oxfordshire picking up the other participants before heading up to some RAF station in the Midlands, where the finals were to take place.

I wasn't the best traveller, but Palmer, it turned out, was worse. He'd get car sick on a trip to the corner shop, and by the time we hit Banbury, he was as looking dreadfully ill and begging for Death's icy cold hand to take him.

"Christ," he groaned, "I shouldn't have had that cider last night."

"How much did you drink?" I asked.

"All of it."


"And the doner."


Eventually, we arrived, and the colour soon returned to Palmer's cheeks as he legged it into the changing rooms and emptied himself out from both ends. Before long, we were in the presence of the Wing coach, Squadron Leader Sheppard, who had once seen some people swimming on TV.

"Dive into the pool, and swim like buggery," he told us.

I did. I came dead last, and that was my swimming career over and done with. In truth, some of the opposition looked like they were the type who got up at five in the morning to put in a couple of hours of practice before going to school, and then swimming home again. I had once seen some people swimming on TV, and was good at dive-bombing.

Palmer on the other hand, had swum like buggery and found himself, somewhat against the odds, in the final.

"How are you?" asked Squadron Leader Sheppard, concerned that his star swimmer had not been feeling his best.

"Dreck", but I'll swim."

"Good lad."

And so, the final of the Central Region Air Cadets100m Freestyle Final began.

He went off like a bullet, but the experience of his opponents was beginning to show. And so was the results of his cider and doner kebab cocktail. As he made the turn on the first length, a brown trail was emerging from his swimming trunks.

Then, with 10 metres to go, and the race long over, a wrecked Palmer stopped, and a huge brown cloud swirled around him, like an underwater nuclear explosion. Then, clinging onto the rope that separated his lane from the next, he puked rich, brown vomit all over the poor sap taking up the rear in lane six.

The watching crowd, previously shouting and cheering their local heroes to victory fell silent.

All eyes were on Palmer.

"Sorry!" was all he could manage before he bowked again, and another fountain of puke spread out like an oil slick.

"PALMER!" roared Sheppard determined that someone, somehow should be punished, "YOU'RE ON A CHARGE!"

As he was, too, right up to the point when he was called into the front office by a scowling Commanding Officer.

"On a charge, eh, Palmer?"


"What d'you do?"

"Puked inna swimming pool, sir."

"Who's charging you, Cadet?"

"Squadron Leader Sheppard."

"He's a prick. Case dismissed."

We understand it cost the RAF the best part of ten grand to drain the pool. Your taxes at work, people.

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