Wymondham Magazine lettering

Nanna Will Do It

Short Story

Anne Bealing Published: 01 May 2024

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swimming pool with lane markers

Gwen was of the generation that hadn’t ever learned to swim unless they lived by a river, stream, pond or by the sea. But Gwen had lived inland well away from such places - so she was not a swimmer. Husband Jack had learned to swim in the army and always took charge of Anne, their only daughter, during their annual week’s holiday to a guest house near the beach at Bournemouth. It was he who taught Anne to brave the waves and it was he who played games with her on the beach and helped her construct the most amazing sandcastles. Gwen had always been an on-looker; a provider of sandwiches and orange squash; a washer of sandy clothes; a soother of sunburn. No one had ever coaxed her into the water. She didn’t even possess a swimsuit – shorts and a blouse were as summery as she would go.

Let sixty years pass from those beach holidays and Gwen was still a non swimmer. Jack had passed away three years ago and Anne had lived most of her adult life in Australia. Gwen had never been there to visit her or the grandchildren, now adults themselves with children of their own. Letters with photos enclosed had been her only contact, along with the occasional long distance phone call. But now the great grandchildren were on Skype and once Gwen had managed to use a computer she was amazed by the closeness of Sam and Olivia, the ten year old twins. They called her Nanna and told her she must come and visit them. ‘It’s not a long flight Nanna’ they said, ‘only twenty four hours. You could do it. Come and see us. We live right by the beach.’ And she could see them running in and out of the blue water, having great fun.

That’s when she decided to buy herself a swimsuit and book the swimming lessons. It had been a daunting experience in the fitting room at John Lewis squeezing into the green one-piece costume. But the purchase had been made along with a pink flowery swimming cap to protect her silvery shampoo and set. She had tried both items on again in the privacy of her own bedroom and thought she didn’t look too bad for an old girl of eighty.

But now, in the changing rooms at the local swimming pool her stomach was churning and the figure in the mirror was telling her she looked foolish and that she really should put her clothes back on and go home. But the lessons were booked so she made her way gingerly, without her glasses, through the footbath and out on to the pool side. The smell of chlorine intensified and the echoing noise wrapped round her. She clutched her towel.

‘Hello. You must be Gwen,’ a voice said above the noise. A track suited young man strode out of the blur, hand outstretched. She nodded and shook his hand.

‘I’m Geoff,’ he said. ‘Let’s go down the shallow end.’ She followed him, still clutching her towel as firmly as a toddler would clutch a security blanket.

‘Put your towel over there,’ he said. Reluctantly she obeyed. ‘Now if you climb down the ladder, we’ll make a start.’

The water was blue and as her toes hit the top step of the ladder, she found it was pleasantly warm. She lowered herself to the next step. The water reached her knees. She felt Geoff watching her and wondered if he had ever taught anyone as slow.

‘You’re doing fine, Gwen,’ he said reassuringly. ‘Just three more steps and you’re in. Hold on to the rail here when your feet are on the bottom.’ His smile was a patient one. ‘Take your time.’

Her new costume was now wet. She took the last step and made a grab for the rail. The water was shallow – just above her waist. She thought of the twins. They wouldn’t want a Nanna who was too scared to go in the sea with them. She managed a weak smile back at Geoff, ready to follow whatever he told her to do next. Ten lessons lay ahead of her and she was determined to become a swimmer at long last.

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