Claude Bobbin’s lucky break came, he realised looking back, on one gruesomely chilly June Thursday in year five. His class were on a field trip to Westwitheral and as part of the ‘fun’ the whole year group were to be taught bodyboarding.
Claude’s experiences of full body immersion in water to that point had been during the weekly humiliation of a swimming class when he and Repson St Mewl -a weedy boy with an already highly developed hypochondria – were bombarded with abuse as they cowered in the shallow end while the teacher, Miss Tansy checked her makeup and bellowed at them to behave. His parents were part of a small, some might say exclusive sect of hydrophobic Zoroastrians and discouraged any unnecessary contact with water – what passed for bath-time comprised a prayer for drought and a swift scouring with a dry flannel. Claude’s parents fought the requirement for him to undertake swimming lessons with a diminishing enthusiasm and finally decided to allow it when they were promised he would never be expected to actually swim but could stand in the knee deep water for the forty minutes of the class. Only once did that agreement falter, when Claude slipped on an abandoned sheet of dinosaur knee plasters that Repson had been using as a germ shield, but everyone agreed that no harm had been done and the incident was forgotten.
The parents and the school assumed the same arrangements would apply to the field trip when they noted the need for Clause to take his ‘swimming togs’, but, sadly, or as Claude later saw it, fortuitously Patrick Oldcolon, the master in charge, who had recently joined the school from teaching woodwork and Etruscan philosophy in a peripatetic young offenders institution, wasn’t informed of the agreement.
‘Get in the bloody water, boy,’ bellowed Mr Oldcolon with a voice that brooked neither warmth nor compromise.
Claude entered the freezing excuse for fun and stood, shivering as the waves lapped his knees, his body turning the sort of blue usually seen in carbon monoxide poisonings.
Individually those words would have had little impact on Patrick but in combination when articulated by a rather lumpen and malodorous youth, they triggered something base and bestial. Barely containing the rising anger the teacher strode into the water and to the astonishment of the class and the understandable terror of Claude, he picked up the boy and tossed him as far as his well-developed guns allowed.
The ensuing silence as Claude described a nearly perfect parabola was counterpointed by the crash and scream as the parabola ended and the plumb-lined plummet to the seabed began. Claude was out of his depth in circumstances where he and his depth were merely remotely acquainted. Mr Oldcolon had thrown Claude beyond the seabed’s natural shelf and he sank with the confidence of a granite boulder which, having been freed of the constraints of gravity is suddenly reacquainted with its powers of attraction.
Many heads turned to the spot where Claude had entered the water, a spot that now rippled with the thoughtless insouciance of a one year old that has just peed in his father’s eye while said parent changed his nappy. “Sir, where’s Claude?”
Indeed many turned their thoughts to that conundrum. Including Mr Oldcolon who belatedly bestrode the distance to the point of entry. However before he could reach the spot Claude bobbed to the surface, face up blinking the salt water out of his eyes.
Mr Oldcolon stared as did the class. The teacher stepped forward and with an expression similar to that of a naturist who has just found out where the missing cucumber had got to as he sat down for a salad lunch, he discovered the precipitous seabed shelf and disappeared from view. He, too, reappeared moments later, spluttering and floundering and swam to the shallower waters. Claude meanwhile remained afloat, watching the activity. He did nothing to remain afloat beyond merely being so.
“How are you doing that?”
“I don’t know. I just am.”
Indeed Claude was unsinkable. Many boys tried but coupled with an ability to hold his breath longer than most – a requisite skill he developed as a youngster given his whole family’s antipathy to washing – he would bob to the surface long before they had been able to cause him any distress.
Some tried to teach him swimming after that but they still had to deal with his parents’ beliefs and the fact that Claude was a shit swimmer.
And such a new found skill may have remained a curio of childhood but for an unexpectedly novel sport developed in the salty warm waters of Grand Cay – the International Buoyancy championships. Under encouragement of Mr Oldcolon, who had never forgotten the unsinkable Claude, Claude entered and won all categories. He wasn’t typical in terms of physique for a sporting superstar and that won him a small but loyal band of supporters keen to promote sporting success alongside an appalling body image.
When finally Claude the Unbeatable as well as Unsinkable brought the world championships back to Britain they were hosted in Westwitheral where Mr Oldcolon started the first mechanized sink. The whole event was sponsored by St Mewl’s Pharmaceuticals, though its CEO and founder, Repson, couldn’t attend to give out the prizes as he was halfway through a cycle of thrice daily kale and cardamom enemas that had been prescribed to cure a persistent and wholly imagined eczema caused by the over-application of dinosaur plasters.
This story was written in response to this week’s #writepoto prompt