Summer of the Butterfly

I was in the presence of a massive higher power yesterday, Doctor Pacific.

Drove an hour to get to Clovelly for a rendevous with a friend. Despite approaching low tide the water was clear and not so cold, except when we swam out to where the ocean crashed in over the underwater sea wall and surges of cold ocean threatens to take the breath away but not quite.

Once a member of the elite “Rammstein Wasserratten (Water Rats)” Swim Squad, my friend is a powerful swimmer, a US military child, she trained from age 6 to 24, at sub Olympic level, speciality the 200m butterfly.

What!?? The dreaded deathfly!!!!

I’ve been mesmerised by this stroke for years and the people who can effortless do it. Madam Butterfly apparently is one of these.

But her freestyle is just as impressive and by the time we swim the 100 meters out to the break, she is hitting her stride and leaving me for dead. Effortlessly. Not that we’re racing mind you.

My training has been desultory, down to 500 or 1000m in the local pool every couple of months. Must be at around 10% of where I once was at the height of my Vlad Squad days, training three of four times a week with a long swim on the saturday.

But the old competitive instincts are still there and as I lift and sight every five or six strokes I catch sight of her strong shoulders, even stoke and honey coloured hair pulling away and this acts as the sting to fight that little voice which whispers seductively “let it go, stop and catch your breath, relax, sure you can come back another time and start training.”

Get behind me, Satan!

I keep trailing the honey hair back down the length of the lagoon. She keeps going practically to the beach and pulls up. I have to sight more frequently now to avoid eejits snorkelling in the meter of water and after a minute or so pull up beside her.

“That was nice. Are you ready for the next circuit?”, she says.

No. But I nod yes, “nothing would give me more pleasure”.

She points out a flaw in the reach and catch of my technigue which she kindly suggests may be making my stroke inefficient. Very ladylike she ignores the fifty other flaws which are a hallmark of the surfmuppet freestyle machination.

“Fly my pretty”, she commands, “and I will watch more closely your stroke and maybe this will help.”

I just put the head down and go, stuff the technique, it’s survival and pride which are on the line here. No sign of her for a while and then she appears on the port stern side and glides by gracefully. We pause a few times on the way to the break and then start back again towards the beach.

Now it is time for my first butterfly lesson.

When I trained with Bondifit, Spot used butterfly as an instrument of torture. One learned quickly never to show up late for a pool or ocean session.

“If you’re late, keep driving!” was his catch cry.

For the late comers brave enough to ignore this admonition, Spot would dish out a mandatory sentence of 400 metres deathfly in the public lane adjacent to the fastie lane.

Plus a public dressing down to add a little spice, and the huddle of good, obedient, on-time swimmers would watch the malefactors slowly drag their sorry arses over to the lane of calvary to begin the torture.

And if we were all honest, there’d be a hint of schadenfreude that it was another wretch and not oneself being subjected to the Iron Maiden like embrace of this sadistic stroke.

For someone who can barely manage 5 metres of deathfly, arriving late was not an option.

Or, one had to be really, really sneaky and get under the Spot radar to pretend that you’d been there all along. Not easy, as the gimlet eye of the Spotster didn’t miss much.

On the occasions I did sneak in, my lily white skin, the Irish moontan, helped out as I would be camouflaged me against the white tiled walls of the Ian Thorpe pool in Ultimo where I served my time with the Spotted one.

Spot was a master of encourage. Once, when trying to do backstroke in the remedial lane, Spot shouts at me to stop after about 25 metres.

“Where did you learn to do backstroke”, says he.

“Ah, nowhere really. Just kinda picked it up along the way. Why, is it good?”, says I.

“Looks like it belongs in a circus, mate!”, comes the reply.


So, to begin our first lesson in butterfly, bobbing around in the lagoon in Clovelly, Madam Butterfly instructs that first off I have to get the shape of the stroke correct.

Like in, swim in a S shape. Like a dolphin.

She demonstrates and does indeed look very dolphin like as she dives to the rocky bottom and then flicks her joined together feet and the movement sweeps up her legs, past her hips and upper body in one graceful flowing movement.

All the Clovelly fish appear all of a sudden and follow her like in a scene from “Saving Nemo”, like as if they think the Queen of the Friendy Dolphins has deigned to make an appearance in their meagre abode. I think I hear the sound of under water church bells ringing, and crowds of happy fish folk come out for the celebration.

She surfaces and calls out that it’s time for my go.

Time to channel my inner dolphin.

I think of Patrick Duffy in the Man from Atlantis, the old TV show from the 70s, and try to channel him instead.

Duck dive to the bottom of the lagoon, that’s no problem. All the little fish folk turn in eager anticipation of perhaps the entry of the consort of the Queen of the Dolphins.

Alas, this Patrick Duffy wannabee looks like the result of the epilepsy medication wearing off and the fish folk flee in terror as something wicked this way comes, a gyration and discombobulation of movement reminescent of an Irish farmhand circa 1979 trying to disco dance like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever after 15 pints of Guinneas and half a bottle of whiskey.

Surfacing, half drowned, I spy a group of Japanese tourists on the concrete apron pointing excitedly, jabbering away in Jap and wildly taking photographs. When they realise that I’m not a mysterious sea creature from Ripley’s “Believe it or Not”, but human, they start roaring laughing and taking yet more photos and videos. Probably be uploaded to one of those Fail compilations on YouTube by the time I dry off.

Madam Butterfly shouts her encouragement over the sushi and five pints of saki laughter and I try again.

I would like to be able to report that there were some minor improvements, some small victories but alas there were none.

Never fear.

I am a pessimistic optimist, or optimistic pessimist by nature and as I do the walk of shame past the sniggering Japs to my towel, think, “I’ll show you bastards. This is going to be the summer of the butterfly. If Patrick Duffy can swim half a mile underwater chasing baddies without hardly breaking a sweat, what’s 50 metres of deathfly?”

It could be an interesting summer.

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1 Response to Summer of the Butterfly

  1. I really enjoyed this on a day that is almost blowing the dog off the chain, as the rain beats a uniquely Scottish tempo on the window. I would have loved to have seen you do the deathfly in that warm water. Went for a swim in Loch Lomond last weekend: water has dropped to 8c, though 9c warmer in than out.

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