Dear Auntie Ora,

"Come on in, the water's lovely", they say, but I can't swim. What should I do?


Field research report.
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Subject - Teaching Cassidy and Sibyl to swim.

The first stroke I wanted to teach Cassidy was the doggy paddle, though she thought we would start with the fish paddle, on the grounds that fish are better role-models when it comes to swimming. She went on to reason that we also try to swim like a butterfly, which is actually better known for flying.

When they seemed to have got the basic idea, I explained that they have a choice of real strokes. First, backstroke is where you lie on your back and then, just at the point of sinking, you throw your arms back and make like a paddle-steamer. Cassidy carried on like this until she did a full-power reverse karate chop on the concrete side of the pool and decided that swimming on her front might be more sensible. She figured that you won't ever find many fishes swimming past on their back, unless they're dead.

I noticed that Sibyl was pretending to swim by splashing around while all the time keeping one foot on the bottom. She might be able to get away with this in the local swimming pool but not with the surfing crowd at Malibu.

Predictably, Cassidy wanted to learn the breaststroke, and I said that she could do it with her head out of the water or with it dipping under. When she tried the dipping one and didn't come up after the third dip, I explained that technical name for what she was doing is "drowning".

I suggested to Sibyl that sidestroke is for people like her who, given a horse, would ride side-saddle. It's a very efficient stroke, but it put her off to think that it gave the impression that she was having a prolonged ogle at the young man swimming in the lane alongside her.

Unfortunately, they didn't seem to enjoy my demonstration of the front crawl. It was meant to be a controlled application of power, as Steve Irwin would have done it, but I have to admit it ended up as one length at maximum effort, beating the hell out of the water, creating more wake than a passing car-ferry and knocking unconscious another swimmer who happened to be in the way.

I eventually got Cassidy to combine the various strokes into an individual medley. She started impressively with the butterfly, swallowed half the pool in the process, and then did a few strokes of something I didn't recognize while fighting for air and trying to stop choking.

I should tell Sibyl to avoid wearing her rubber helmet with pastel flowers stuck on it, as it makes her look as if she's planning a covert operation in a lily pond. Alternatively, as she drifts aimlessly around the pool her hat could make her resemble a dormant Portuguese man-of-war. Except that Portuguese men-of-war generally don't have one foot on the bottom.

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Pythia DiStefano
Field Researcher
Delphic Research, Inc.
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