The Two O’Clock From Kings Cross

By David

Never believe a word they say. How many British comedians have made a living at the expense of British Rail? Reggie Peron was always late for work because of ice on the points at Clapham Junction. Les Dawson’s mother-in-law was said to be the cause of numerous rail misfortunes especially in the buffet car. I suppose, in the interests of honesty, there have been occasions when British Rail has caused me grief. When it was my last and only way home, they cancelled the last train to Sunningdale one night. On another occasion they didn’t stop at my station. As you can imagine, “British Rail apologize for any inconvenience” was hardly sufficient.

Only Swimming New Zealand is capable of matching the reputation of the British rail network. But there is a difference. British Rail may have the reputation of being a Monty Python Flying Circus. Swimming New Zealand is the real thing.

While Swimming New Zealand may more than merit their reputation, the stereotype of British Rail is most unfair. Normally things go according to plan. Today, for example, I arrived at Kings Cross and bought a return ticket on the 2.00pm service to Perth (that’s the original Scottish version of Perth). At 1.45pm, as promised, the train was ready to leave from Platform 2 and at 2.00pm exactly to the sound of whistles that would have done an Olympic swimming referee credit, our train pulled smoothly out of Kings Cross Station.

Right now it’s 2.43pm and our train is well on its way. It’s a warm, sunny day. On these occasions England truly is a green and pleasant land. What, you may ask, am I doing here? Well I’m going to Perth to have a look at the meat plant I built and managed for four years. I’m also having dinner with my secretary from those days, Audrey, and her husband. It should be fun. Audrey loves a good gossip as much as her old boss. I’m booked into the wonderfully Scottish Perth Station Hotel; the scene of many a wild and drunken Scottish Young Farmer’s Club Burn’s occasion. More than once I’ve booked a room for the night rather than risk the sixteen kilometre drive to our home at Gleneagles – that’s right, the town of golf course fame. Even from this distance, from the other side of the world, I’ve heard there is currently a prominent Swimming New Zealand employee, Philip Rush, who should have booked a room somewhere rather than drive himself anywhere.

What is Swimming New Zealand going to do about that? They call out the best sport’s administrator in New Zealand, Brian Palmer, in their Annual Meeting and demand his resignation. For years they have rubbished the author of Swimwatch. And all that time one of their own; one of their favoured sons, is accumulating four aces in a poker game called DIC. If it turns out that the NZ Fire Service consider him no longer safe to put out a house fire, Swimming New Zealand needs to explain to its members why he continues to have their confidence as an official caring for young swimmers. The recent history of Swimming New Zealand is littered with stories of drunken athletes; of swimmers throwing up in toilets, in bedrooms and on foreign streets. Swimming New Zealand may consider a call of, “Do what I say, not what I do” to be just fine. Personally I think it’s just another example of hypocrisy; of one rule for them and another for the rest of us.

After a week spent visiting my daughter Jane and indulging in a bit of Scottish nostalgia, next week I’m going to visit some swim programs around Europe. One of the problems of spending time in New Zealand is that you can quickly lose touch with what the rest of the world is doing. The Gods at Swimming New Zealand never do anything to address that pretty serious Antipodean problem. I’ve been back in New Zealand for three years and not once has a member of the SNZ high and mighty said hello or suggested areas where I could improve the tuition I provide at the West Wave Pool – not bloody once. So, as usual, I’ll have to go out and do it for myself. I’ll visit good European swim programs. I’ll discuss and watch their training. I’ll ask them to “teach me something”. And from it all I hope desperately that I will learn.

When Lydiard was alive I used him as a sounding board – Arthur this has gone wrong what do you think I should do? I used to call Duncan Laing in much the same way. In the United States Mark Schubert was available to provide similar guidance. His opinion was very valuable; often harsh, often embarrassingly direct, but always in the best interests of me and my swimmers. Today I bounce ideas off master track coach, Arch Jelley. He is a source of sound experience. Brian Palmer has also been a willing provider of intelligent criticism. All that is good but a coach needs more. And that’s why I’m here. Next week, when I’m done with my tour, I’ll let you know of the things I’ve learned.

And so it’s now 4.30pm and we’re pulling into Darlington. A four year old boy two seats in front of me, with a broad Scottish accent, has just asked, “Mummy is this going to take forever. Now that the train is moving can I go to the toilet?” The conductor tells me we’ve got Newcastle, Berwick upon Tweed and Edinburgh to go before reaching Perth. It’s getting close. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare asks, “Stands Scotland where it did?” Right now the signs are good. Outside there’s sheep and cows, green grass and stone walls for fences. Scotland is near. Just wait a few minutes and I’ll tell you exactly when this Scottish nationalist scales Hadrian’s Wall. “Oh Flower of Scotland. When will we see your likes again?” Well our train has passed a sign that says we are now in Scotland. So the answer is 5.45pm on Tuesday 9th October, 2013.