I was in the playground of my school, Meadowhead Junior School, in Blackburn, Lancashire. The playground was a concrete rectangle with three paths from it leading from it back up to the school building. We had to stay there during break times and were allowed onto the playing fields only on the two days of the year when the field was more grass than mud. I fucking hated it. I hated the school generally. The teachers were utterly cunty, openly bullying kids they didn't like - especially the Asian kids - and I hated the other pupils. I'd come from Scotland with a thick Fife accent, and I was a tiny, pale, shy scrap of a thing. That playground was the source of such torment. I was bullied relentlessly and I went home for lunch whenever I could to get away from it.
Despite this, I did something one day that I can only imagine must have terrified me at the time. I was watching a gang of these rotten kids play that game where they get in a circle around someone with no, or few friends, and push them between each other.
On this occasion they had picked Samina Hussein, an Asian girl who didn't have many allies mostly on the basis that the school was rotten with racism and there were only three Asian kids in total. No-one ever bothered to talk to them other than to abuse them in some way. Her brother didn't seem to be around, and she was (understandably) freaking out as they pushed her about. I walked over to the circle and gave the ring-leader a hard shove and pulled Samina away from them. Amazingly, this didn't result in both of us getting our heads kicked in. I think everyone was too taken aback.
It's tempting to think that I took the course of action that I did because of an innate sense of justice, and a stand against filthy attitudes that permeated those already ruined young brains. It wasn't though. It was about something much more personal to me. It was because Samina and I had a bond; we were the only two kids in our year who couldn't swim, and for one hour each week, we bobbed around in our local pool clutching at floats and trying to travel the 15 meters from one side of the shallow end to the other. It was woeful; we were pathetic. Both petrified, with one teacher for the two of us while the rest of the kids dived into the deep end to rescue bricks, and other feats of heroism. She and I never spoke - ever. If I was quiet, she was positively mute. I'm not sure I ever heard her speak even in class actually. But still we developed a bond through our miserable hour that we spent ever week, for two years. She was my only ally in a really weird silent way. It was because of swimming that I helped Samina Hussein that day. Or not swimming more like. So there. I intervened in a racist incident because of not swimming.
I did actually manage to complete those 15 meters once. It was hardly the stuff of elegance. I thrashed my way across the pool - the instructors seriously cheered. They were proper wow-ed. They were probably not surprised that I failed to manage it ever again. I didn't lose my fear and have it still. Age 31 I still can't swim and it remains the only thing I've ever put my mind to that I've failed at (except Maths, but you can't die by falling into Maths so I don't really care).
This year I'm going to change that. My local LGBT Centre for Health and Wellbeing has organised swimming sessions in the local pool; lessons in the shallow end and frollicks for those who've already earned their wings in the other bit that I don't like to think about too much. I've got me swimming outfit, me goggles and a posse of supportive friends who are all being very nice about the fact that I can't manage something that even babies can do.
I have six weeks. My target is to swim a length of the pool by the end of the six weeks. Ha! you're probably thinking. "Lol - one length?!" Seriously right - the length of a swimming pool is the longest distance in the world to me. I ran a marathon last year - that was hell. 26 miles of absolute fucking hell - but the length of a pool is more.
I'm gonna do it.