I learned to swim at the Blue Baths in the odoriferous spa town of Rotorua one summer holiday back at the end of the 1950s or the beginning of the sixties - not sure, exactly. But the memory is precise, right down to the part of the pool we were in as I struck out and splashed across the few yards of water between where I was and where my father stood. One of those luminous moments that stay with you life-long.

Was never a very good swimmer, just adequate. When my sister discovered a real talent for it and became a record breaker and title holder, the rest of the family used to troop along to the Tuesday evening carnivals to watch her perform and even occasionally to enter a race. I recall flailing a few times from one end of the pool to the other in the Thirty-three and one third, an also-swam among also-swams. I didn't care about this at all, I was content with my level of competence. I just loved being in the water, especially the river swimming that was mostly what we did. We'd get on our our bikes and ride off into the country to a swimming hole we knew and spend the afternoon there, coming home smelling faintly weedy and with our hair and skin all soft.

It wasn't until I came to Sydney that I learned to swim properly. It was towards the end of my twenties and I'd just realised the physical costs of a lifestyle spent in clubs and pubs with actors and musicians, of incessant drug-taking, cigarette smoking and the almost unconscious drinking of alcohol on just about every occasion. A friend, though not a student, had somehow got a badge that gave him entry to the Sydney University pool and he suggested I might do the same. I had a casual job as a stagehand at the Seymour Centre on the edge of the campus in those days and I think it was this connection that allowed me a badge as well.

At that pool, which was indoors and heated and heavily chlorinated I gradually, very gradually, taught myself how to swim again ... to breath on alternate sides, to keep my feet horizontal and together, to brush my ear with my upper arm on the way into a stroke, to brush my thigh with my thumb as I came out of it, to cup my hands as they drove through the water ... and so on. Again this was not a competitive urge, just a desire to accomplish the activity as well as I was able.

During that period when I was re-learning freestyle, as we always called it, or Australian Crawl as it is sometimes known here, I was also re-teaching myself to type. I found a 1960s Secretary's Manual in a second hand shop, a big green hardback that was wider than it was tall - landscape format - and worked my way through it until I reached the point where the lessons on the pure mechanics of typing gave way to more sophisticated excercises designed to inculcate a budding secretary with the degree of servility proper to good business practice ... until then I had been a two finger peck-pecker, whereas now I actually use all ten digits.

However I was never quite disciplined enough - or perhaps I needed supervision - because although I can type without looking at the keys, mostly I don't. I glance constantly from keyboard to screen, checking my fingers are where they're meant to be, even though the results, if they are not, inevitably appear instantly on the screen. With the Secretary's Manual, of course, what you had to learn was to look neither at the page in the carriage of the typewriter, nor at the keyboard, but at whatever it was you were being asked to make a copy of ... a sure way to get a crick in your neck.

It's the back and shoulder and neck problems that may be consequent upon long periods of time spent at a keyboard which regular swimming so wonderfully corrects. I've suffered from these over the years but now seem to have broken through into a pain free zone ... when I look back to how I was then, confused, unhappy, full of inchoate ambition I had no means, no idea, of fulfilling, I am amazed I had the good sense to learn two skills which, unrelated as they seem, have probably been more useful to me over the years than anything else I can think of.

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