Dominic Lawson: If you're scared of Jaws, give up swimming. It worked for me

I am of the small, scorned minority who loathe swimming in the sea. You can drown in it, with effortless ease, in seconds

Share
Related Topics

Approximately 350 million years ago, our fishy ancestors grew limbs and began to leave the oceans for the safety of dry land. As far as I am concerned, that represented progress and not a cause for regret or reconsideration. Yet for some reason homo supposedly sapiens retains a visceral longing to return to the briny deep. Millions upon millions of our species spend much of their money and almost all of their holidays on this primordial pursuit.

I just don't understand it; but then I am of the small, scorned, minority who loathe swimming in the sea. Let me count the ways I don't love it. It is wet, without exception. It is undrinkable. It is monotonous, appallingly so. On beaches, you can see men standing up to their chests in it, with a certain half-focused look in their eyes. You know what they are doing. Yes, of course, the ratio of urine to water might only be detectable by a mass spectrometer, but it's the principle that offends.

Above all that, there is the point which we were all taught by our mothers, or grandmothers: it is dangerous. You can drown in it, with effortless ease, in seconds. Anyway, that's what they told me, and I did not want to disappoint them by proving them right. Then, I was sent to a school at which many boys rowed, and accordingly every pupil was required to learn how to swim the length of a pool – while dressed in shirt, shorts and plimsolls.

I told the teachers that I had no intention of ever rowing, that the idea of moving backwards through water accumulating nothing but blisters would never attract me, that I would sign a document to that effect, if necessary. No, they said, the school rules are the school rules, with no exception for clever dicks. So I learnt to swim in the most unpleasant way imaginable – I was eventually pulled out of the pool because I was too exhausted to get out on my own, weighed down by waterlogged shirt, shorts and shoes.

Nevertheless, I married a woman who loves swimming as passionately as I detest it, and is as powerful through the waves as I am incapable. Some years ago, when we went on a beach holiday with some friends, it suddenly became clear that the other husband, swimming far out on his own, was in difficulties. His wife let out a cry of alarm. I stood there, hoping that everything would be fine. My wife ran into the heaving seas, swam swiftly with her pulsing, purposeful crawl towards our friend – who had managed to clutch on to a buoy – and then returned him safely to shore. I will never forget the look on his wife's face: one of relief, but also (or so I imagined) reproach that I had not been the one to move smartly to the rescue.

Yet the one thing you can't say in such circumstances is: "Well, if he's not a very good swimmer, why doesn't he do the sensible thing and sit here with us in conversation, or read a book, or enjoy any one of the many fascinating pursuits which are not available when immersed in salt water".

Similarly, one must not say of the 70-year-old German woman who last weekend was mauled to death by a shark in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh: didn't it occur to her that if a few days earlier two tourists off the same beaches had lost significant parts of their anatomy (respectively, a hand and a leg) to two different sharks that it would not be very sensible to swim out in those waters?

In fact this entire episode had been peculiarly like the plot of Jaws, the Steven Spielberg film, starring – in the climactic scene – a somewhat comical prosthetic shark (special effects have come on a bit since 1975). You might recall the moment in which the Mayor of Amity Island, desperate that tourism in his fiefdom is not harmed by fears of a human-eating killer shark, tells a television reporter: "I'm pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have in fact caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it's a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time."

Similarly, after the incidents earlier last week in which various Russian tourists were mauled in the bays of Sharm el-Sheikh, the local authorities reassured holidaymakers that they had captured and killed the two sharks responsible – an oceanic white tip and a mako – and that their seas were now completely safe for swimming.

Everyone seems duly to have been reassured – including the unfortunate 70-year-old German, who, one holiday maker told Sky News, "was just swimming to stay in shape. Suddenly there was a scream of help and a lot of violence in the water. The lifeguard got her on the reef and he noticed that she was severely wounded". She was dead within minutes.

Yet when the BBC later interviewed a local British diving instructor and asked him how everyone felt about the tragic incident, he replied: "Everybody is very worried. Our lives and industry around Sharm el-Sheikh revolve around tourism." As I say, just like the screenplay of Jaws, only not fiction. In the same spirit, the manager of the Sinai Diver's Centre, Rolf Schmid, was reported as saying: "It is unusual to have four attacks in a week." Unusual, eh? Most reassuring.

The Independent's Senior Travel Editor, Simon Calder, argued yesterday that "perceptions of the risk among travellers are distorted. While shark attacks have happened in the waters of the Sinai Peninsula, statistically, terrorism [in the area] is a much bigger threat". Simon may well be right; but having dodged the terrorist threat by not being blown up, why tempt fate further by swimming in Shark Bay?

As matter of fact, a couple of months ago we spent a week at the nearby Red Sea resort of El-Gouna. The usual arrangements prevailed. Wife and daughters spent all day in the water, while I remained on dry land, ensuring we had a salubrious spot to call our own on the beach, and a good table in the shade at the restaurants. You see, it really is vital that every family has at least one non-swimmer.

d.lawson@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there