The Submarine and other swimming tricks

periscopeI am always looking for ways to make my swimming lessons more fun so I try to include tricks and games. This is for several reasons:  it makes the experience more enjoyable for everyone involved, including me;  people learn more when they try new things; being a competent and confident swimmer involves more than just swimming from a to b.

So I was rather delighted to read that swimming star Annette Kellermann, aka the Diving Venus, was advocating swimming games one hundred years ago. In her 1918 book How to Swim she recommends various interesting activities including: The Steamboat, the Rolling Log, The Corkscrew, Mothers Old Charm, Spinning the Top, The Bicycle, The Wheel, Two Man Somersault, The Pendulum,  The Submarine and one which I have to admit I have not tried called ‘Bound Hand and Foot.

I am completely with Kellermann when she says

Swimming must not be taken too seriously.’  but that it should be a joyful experience.  although she does also warn that some of the tricks she describes are not for the ‘raw amateur‘.

Imagine my surprise when I looked closely at this photograph taken on Boxing Day and realised that there is someone executing what I imagine is a full blown ‘submarine‘ with leg as periscope.







I am honoured to have a short story included in this anthology. It is out on 8th May. Edited by Tanya Shadrick  and Rachel Playforth. Cover design by Neil Gower. Published by Pells Pool Lewes and Frogmore Press.

watermarks full

‘The water always tells me a new story’ – Annette Kellermann 1918

‘I have been asked a thousand times why I like to swim and I have given a different answer every time. You see the water always tells me a new story.’

‘Swimming cultivates imagination; the man with the most is he who can swim his solitary course night or day and forget a black Earth full of people who push.’

Annette Kellermann 1918

Not waving

Annette Kellermann Annette Kellerman was the first woman to attempt to swim the channel. She also invented the one piece bathing costume for women (the wearing of which she was arrested for on the beach in 1908 in Massachusetts; although the case was dismissed because Kellermann argued that cumbersome costumes prevented women from learning to swim).

She published a book ‘How to swim’ in 1918.

To master the art of swimming is a duty which you owe not only to yourself but to others. By being able to swim, you lessen the chance of losing your own life, and also cease to become a source of danger to others in case of accident. Now if you will add to your swimming the accomplishment of life saving, you will become a positive element of safety to others.


The best thing that a non-swimmer can do to decrease his risk of drowning in case the boat upsets is learn to swim. Having neglected this precaution, the next best thing will be to have the presence of mind not to lose his sanity while he is drowning.

She goes on to qualify this last remark by explaining that

The non-swimmer is usually drowned by his own efforts. What he should do is remain perfectly quiet and float.


This advice to the drowning man is good advice; the only drawback is that when one is drowning one is not in the mood to appreciate its value.

Pondlife by Al Alvarez

This book has now arrived and I am reading, and loving it. It is the story of his almost daily swims at the ponds on Hampstead Heath. It is also the story of his battle with the process of aging. It makes me want to do more outdoor swimming. I do swim in the lake in Sweden every day in the summer when we are there but I need to find somewhere here to swim outdoors, and not in a pool. As Alvarez says

‘Its good for the soul as well as the body and its cheaper than psychoanalyisis.’

Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton

Another swimming book. I have read this one and I loved it. It is part diary, part memoir, part notebook. Shapton includes her own paintings and photos of some of her collection of vintage swimming costumes. A Canadian she trained for the Olympic trials but gave up competetive swimming soon afterwards and became an author and an artist. Her stroke when she was competing was breaststroke.

Pondlife: A swimmers Journal by Al Alvarez

Writer Al Alvarez, perhaps best known for his study of suicied The Savage God, which I remember reading at age 19 or 20, has just published a book about his regular swims at Hampstead Heath Ponds. I haven’t read it yet but will.

The swimmer’s ponds at Hampstead Heath are beautiful oases of calm, surrounded by nature. I have been swimming at Hampstead Ladies Pond a few times, so far only in summer. I have found that trips there always add up to more than the sum of their parts. It is a magical place, recently saved from closure.

The last time I went I had a long conversation with a lady, well in her seventies who was sitting on the changing room, completley naked, apart from her pants which were neither up nor down, but were at sort of half mast, just above her ankles.  This (and the fact that she told me she swims there even in the cold weather) was the only sign that she was perhaps just a little bit eccentric.

Pondlife: A swimmer’s journal by Al Alvarez, is published by Bloomsbury £14.99