“Right here in River City” is a lyric from The Music Man and it is the first thing that comes to mind when I think of pool. The billiard kind, on a table, with balls rolling on a quality felt. My grandfather, a grand champion in his country, taught me the basics of banked shots and finesse with a chalk tipped cue. He snookered me many a time before I got the hang of the game. My mom however, agreed with the flim flammer character Harold Wilson, who felt that pool halls were places of sin. Here Mr.W. is played by Hugh Jackman singing a clip from ‘We’ve Got Trouble’.
Both my parents encouraged me to swim. I was enrolled in the Red Cross program and got badges up to Bronze level. I competed in local level swim meets, once getting a third place in Breast Stroke. I took SCUBA lessons in two different pools, then completed my open water certification near Tobermory, Ontario. Now in my seventh decade I tend to splash around when I enter a pool, yet I still feel confident that I won’t drown.
Bodies of water encourage me to enter. I love the feeling of buoyancy. I love holding my breath and sliding porpoise-like under the surface, frolicking in the two worlds of air and liquid. I prefer a hotel stay that gives me access to a pool. Even a half hour in the chlorine infused water gives me an emotional lift that is a combination of youthful exuberance and entitled bliss. The building where I’m staying in Mississauga has just opened its outdoor pool. I was there on the first day, waiting by the gate. Children were gathered, freshly freed from school, looking as excited as I was to have a swim. They hung back while I tested the waters and took the first dive. Sublime.
When I lived in Schumacher, I swam in the oldest indoor pool in Northern Ontario. The atmosphere in the vaulted room felt as confining as underground shafts built by the mining company that had made this recreational space for its employees and their families. I have found natural pools of water whenever I have travelled. Hot springs in New Zealand, frosty kettle lakes near Timmins, the ocean-like fresh water expanses of Lake Superior and the salty delight of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
When I first visited Victoria in British Columbia, my eldest son took me for a midnight New Year’s Eve swim held at a community pool. It was a tonic to celebrate time passages in that way. I remember the walk along the dark streets and a gin&tonic to cap the evening when we got back to his apartment. A friend of my wife asked her to cat sit her pets once and I went along because of the beautiful private pool located in her condo complex.
Where ever I go I pack a bathing suit. A chance to immerse myself in healing waters is not to be missed.
I was taught in grade school that if Practice was spelled with an ‘ice’ ending then it was a noun, otherwise it was okay to use the spelling Practise in any situation. For all spelling rules and forms I now count on my wife who has a phenomenal memory for such things. She is also practised in the healing arts so when I get a headache from too much wordplay I have access to a nurse and a quick soothing remedy.
Sometimes I need to go to a medical clinic. Nowadays I might be checked over by a Nurse Practitioner and she might tell me that my issue isn’t within her scope of practice so I’ll be referred to a specialist. The medical profession offers a wide variety of practices which have, in Canada at least, taken over the almost heritage realm of General Practitioners. Seems like everyone practises something these days, which is a good thing if viewed through the lens of life long learning. Meanwhile I continue to practise being patient.
One of my deficiencies is that I abhor repetition. I was one of those irritating students who picked up things quickly enough to be at a B level most of the time. I was content when one teacher referred to me as a Jack of All Trades. Never too good at anything, that way I could just blend in, go unnoticed, especially in high school. Practise is all about repeating the task until it becomes second nature yet I still can’t persevere. It’s an area in life where boredom wins out. I’ll try almost anything, but briefly; until I feel I’ve got the taste of it. My history is littered with “That’s enough” decisions: only two week’s of lifeguard training, one week of violin lessons, barbells that collect dust in my closet, a Polish dictionary with an uncracked spine and a forehead sweatband for jogging that was used once. Give me a New York Times crossword however, and I’ll bend over it until it’s filled.
Practise makes perfect is a cliché that never grows old. It’s one of the few expressions that I don’t yawn over because it is so relevant to anything that requires effort. I’m amazed at the amount of practise it takes to go beyond acceptable. Levels of human accomplishment in sport, art, science don’t happen overnight. I believe those folks we call genius types have raw talent for sure, but that gift is only fully realized through practise. All three of my sons practised piano. Neither wanted to be a concert pianist but their parents both thought that music experience was a good thing for general proficiency: We wanted our children to practise what we preached. Practically speaking it was an effort for all concerned; the student was often reluctant, the parent was sometimes annoyed, finances were definitely drained. However the practising resulted in a lifetime love and understanding of music. And the youngest son has been a member of several bands and is a practised song writer. I’m allowed to be proud.