With swimming being one of the main features of the Olympics just now and following on from our piece on why athletes cannot rely on UK funding to help them, here’s a timely piece on swimming. It is an extract from a novel titled, “Drowning in Murder" by Thom Cross.

Life ain’t easy when yu ain’t winnin’

Life is lonesome without good women

Life ain’t sweet when they ain’t willin’

Life don’t smile, if yu ain’t sinnin’

Life turns sad if yu ain’t singin’

And Life is Death if yu ain’t swim

For swimmin’ is Life,

is better than a lovin’ wife

Swimmin, lord, I can’t get enough

Swimmin’ is sweeter than makin’ love.

The whole bar sang the chorus with all the gusto and irony that forty pairs of young swimmers’ lungs could muster. The song was led by Big Dennis, our sprint king, who had learned the song and others swimming for Arizona State University on a swimming-scholarship. He was chuffed, real proud for making the Scottish team to Jamaica, the land of his father. His mother, ironically, was from just across the Jamaica Bridge in the Gorbals.

We were not very far away either, singing to our success in a friendly wee pub next to the team’s hotel, tucked away in the centre of Glasgow.

The whole Scottish team was assembled for the Commonwealth Swimming Championship’s training camp. This was the ‘first night’, the icebreaker and the last night of the ‘nights-oot’. There were more pints of orange juice than beer as we all knew there was plenty pressure coming soon. Many of the faces gathered in this low-ceilinged, smoked-filled cellar of this howf were familiar from galas and training camps over the years. This was my first full Scottish cap and my eyes moistened at the ceremony of welcome, the camaraderie and the pride of representing Scotland.

It should have been my Granda sitting here, receiving praise and plaudits, sharing my pride. It was the wee man who should have been here feeling the warmth, basking in the overwhelming sense of victory and satisfaction of being part of a Scottish team. For it was ma Granda who taught me Scotland. Aye, Granda, it should have been you.

For it was the wee man in his bunnet who would wrap me up in the winter months and walk with me down the street, down the Peth along the lang Kirkcaldy prom and its biting, snell North Sea wind, tae the baths. It was the wee man with the broad miner’s shoulders, the ex-boxer, who talked with me about the great days of Wilkie and Black and McGregor. How as a laudie he had only the dirty, cork- filled water of the Kirkcaldy harbour to swim in, and how I have a chance he and his generation never had. If only I keep trying hard, keep trying hard and punch away.

He would sing the Lauder anthem, ‘Keep right on till the end of the road’, as we had to walk it up the long brae, for the busfare was no there.

The pits had closed and he hadnae found the jannie’s job yet. How, when I went to my first few galas at aged six or seven he would stan’ up in the stand and shout for me in his big boxer’s baritone until the coughing started and he couldnie shout any mare and his jannie’s pay packet had to stretch for my club fees and fins and kick-boards and track suit until he was able to talk tae a man he kent on the council, thro the union, who found a wee grant tae gi him tae help oot a bit, especially aifter he retired and it was me and him on the pension and me wantin’ brand name gear like the ither yins at the high shool where the auld toffs and the new professionals sent their children in their ain cars but I had ti run ma papers in the morning, then run up the hill through the den to school an run hame again at denner time and back again and hame again and then run doon tae the baths and then try and run hame again aifter trainin.

It wasnie until I was big-thirteen or fourteen before I could manage that bloody brae and he always had hot tasty food on the table, every meal, especially soup fur it was guid for me and even the night I qualified, right here in Glesgie, he was there up in the stands, no able to shout at awe noo, but a pal, who had gin ’im a lift thro, had leant him a horn to squeeze and make noise, like the noise in this pub, noo.

As I attempted to casually, secretly, flick at the tears of remembrance. I quickly blamed the smoke. For the truth, especially hard family truths in the Scotland I knew, were not for telling but for feeling

If you would like to read more, the e-book is available from Amazon at:

https://www.amazon.in/Drowning-Murder-Scottish-Crime-Fiction-ebook/dp/B015TOOH8C