The Thing Is with Steve Canavan

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Having a splashing time with the water babies

I took my 10-week-old daughter Mary to a swimming class the other day and it was, let me tell you, quite an experience.

The group consisted of six mothers, their babies, and yours truly.

First there was the embarrassment of actually entering the pool.

I’ve always been a bit ashamed of my body, you see, mainly because my torso seemed to stop developing around the age of 11 (I’m so skinny you can count each of my ribs) and my arms resemble two small twigs that look as if they might snap should the wind pick up.

I remember at home, if my mum was struggling to get the lid off a jar of, say, pickled onions, she’d never ask me for assistance. Instead she’d get one of my sisters to unscrew it. Once, annoyed, I stepped in and, in my most butch voice, growled ‘give it here’, then spent the next 25 minutes grappling with it, even resorting at one point to the time-honoured if totally useless tactic of using a damp dishcloth to try and help budge it. With sweat pouring down my face and very little skin left on the palms of my hands, I eventually conceded defeat, handed it to my sister, who, with the first twist, pulled the lid clean off. I weakly muttered something along the lines of ‘I must’ve loosened it’ but in truth I’m just a bit of a pathetic, puny, muscle-free wimp (if I ever join a dating website, I’ll use that as my profile write-up - I’m sure I’ll be in a relationship in no time at all).

So, you get the gist, when you’ve a body like mine, clambering into a public swimming baths wearing only what is effectively a pair of waterproof undies and nothing else, in front of six other mothers, is a bit nerve-wracking.

However, as it turned out, that was the easy bit.

The session is designed to introduce babies to water, on the off-chance, I guess, they one day fall off a fast-moving Cross-Channel ferry.

I was hoping by the end of the half-hour, my Mary might be able to swim a length, or at the very least dive to the bottom of the pool and pick up a brick while wearing pyjamas. As it turned out, she was absolutely useless. I let go of her at one point and said, ‘Mary, try the back-stroke’ but she sank like a stone. I didn’t attempt to save her - it’s important she learns the hard way - but the quite panicked-looking woman in charge dived in, grabbed my child, and hauled her to the surface. ‘She’ll never learn if you molly-coddle her,’ I scolded, as the instructor breathed heavily into Mary’s mouth and began pumping her chest.

Ok, so that didn’t happen. But the following did.

‘Right,’ said the very nice dark-haired lady in charge of the session (in case Ms Canavan reads too much in that last line, I mean very nice as in nice person, although come to think of it she was incredibly attractive too). ‘I want you all to gather round in a circle putting your baby in the safety hold. I’ll show you how to do that on Deborah’.

She then whipped out a toy baby - obviously Deborah - and clamped it to her body in the kind of headlock the school bully puts you in just before flushing your head down the toilet.

We all tried to copy her while taking great care not to choke our babies to death.

‘The first thing we’ll do,’ said the teacher, ‘is swish baby around while singing a little song to them’.

“I beg your pardon,” I exclaimed. I hadn’t been expecting this. I thought we were hear to teach our babies how to do the butterfly, not to croon to them.

What happened next is something I will never, under any circumstances, tell any of my friends about.

I found myself swinging Mary in a circular motion while, along with six mums, and to the tune of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, singing “the baby in the pool goes splishy, splashy, sploshy”.

Rarely have I felt more self-conscious and embarrassed - and I say that as someone who once accidentally ended up in a naked male-only sauna in Latvia.

The next half hour involved a variety of little exercises and routines, that were, I’m pretty sure, part designed to stimulate the babies, part to humiliate us.

Mary did quite well, she only cried once when I accidentally dunked her head clean under the water while getting a little carried away during a verse of ‘Michael Row The Boat Ashore’.

And despite my discomfort, I must admit I actually ended up enjoying the session, not least because there is - one has to reluctantly admit - something quite endearing about seeing a baby in water (as long as it’s accompanied by an adult of course; if it isn’t, it is less endearing, more ‘oh sweet Jesus, there’s a baby in the water, somebody help’).

Class number two of six takes place next week. I’m already going through my vocal exercises - and working out a bit - in readiness.

Who nose how I injured my face so badly ?

Something happened this week that’s never happened before. I managed to give myself a serious injury while washing my face.

I was going through my morning routine … well, routine’s probably too strong a word; I brush my teeth then throw some water on my face. Unless it’s Friday when I have a shower and trim my nasal hair too.

But there I was, rubbing the water onto my face when, and I don’t know how, on the upwards motion I got my index finger caught in my left nostril.

So forcefully did this happen that I ripped the skin where the nose joins the face and it started bleeding.

I staggered into the bedroom and wailed to Mrs Canavan, ‘call 999, this is serious, I could die.’

To which she replied, with admirable calmness given the severity of the situation, “can you keep the noise down, I’ve got a headache”.

I spent the first two hours of the day with some Andrex toilet tissue shoved up my nose to stem the flow of blood (at a rough estimate I’d say I lost a good five pints worth).

I’m still in pain now two days later but have, fortunately for me, less so for readers of this column, lived to tell the tale.