Archive for February, 2014

Swimming’s Worthwhile As Long As There’s A Laugh In It

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

By David

Last year I wrote a story about the Counties Summer Swimming Championships. It was a great meet last year and just as good this past weekend. It is a mystery how Counties are geographically and politically absolutely and completely part of Auckland and yet the atmosphere of a Counties’ swim meet compared to a meet in Auckland is as different as chalk and cheese. The two places could be half a world apart.

Auckland takes itself very seriously. When the Millennium Institute’s trinity of Renford, Lyles and Villanueva are present Auckland takes itself very seriously indeed. For nine years my daughter, Jane, was a student at one of New Zealand’s most expensive girls’ schools, Samual Marsden Collegiate. When Millennium Institute swimmers are present, Auckland swim meets remind me of a Marsden wine and cheese evening; all very proper of course but not a descent, or indecent for that matter, belly laugh in sight.

I’ve heard Auckland swimming people refer to Counties as the “boondocks”. Goodness knows what “it’s-only-an-Auckland-meet” David Lyles would make of the Counties country cousins. Well, we do know actually. As you can imagine, although the Counties Championships is big swim meet, involving several hundred swimmers from beginners to National Champions, there was not a representative of Swimming New Zealand or the Millennium Institute in sight; afraid perhaps that the new Mazda’s GPS might struggle to find the Papatoetoe Pool. I would imagine that Parnell’s Antoine’s Restaurant is as far south as their SUV’s will want to roam.

Counties on the other hand don’t take themselves seriously at all. They haven’t forgotten that it’s possible, maybe even preferable to swim fast and enjoy it at the same time. That’s a quality that seems to be common among the world’s best. Arch Jelley has a wickedly dry sense of humour. In my more serious younger days Arch was forever catching me out. I recall arriving at Warsaw Airport in Poland. As we taxied in to the terminal Arch noticed the sign “Warszawa” and said, “Goodness they can’t spell.” Only just in time did I realize he was having me on.

Anyway this weekend I heard two lovely stories. The first involved Geoff and Jeannie, two long term Counties swimming officials; two people deserted and ignored by Miskimmin’s plastic Millennium world. I’ve known the two Counties’ officials for several years. Their sporting world is not about expensive Masda SUVs, international junkets and six figure salaries. But their sporting world has founded and built New Zealand sport. Geoff was responsible for running the Meet Manager system at the Counties Championships. I had to go and see him about a problem with the West Auckland Aquatic’s entries. I had messed up the entry of one of our newest young members. I was in deep trouble. Her mother was about to string me up. I explained my problem to Geoff. He quietly sat at his computer and Gloria’s swimming future was secure. Problem solved.

Half an hour later Jeannie came over to our team and asked if everything was going well. I decided to tell her about Geoff’s kindness. I was pretty extravagant in my praise. After all I had just been rescued from a very angry mother. Jennie smiled and said, “Yes, I know. That’s why I married him.” Well, I’ll be damned. All these years and I never knew these two swimming stalwarts were husband and wife. Jennie, clearly thought it was a huge joke.

My other story was told to me by an official who shared a trip to an international event with New Zealand’s best swimming coach, Duncan Laing. The official agreed to bring an early morning cup of tea to Duncan’s room. He knocked and Duncan’s deep growl called, “Come in.”

I’m told my friend walked in to the room to discover Duncan sitting on the side of his bed without a stitch on. Searching to find a blank section of wall to look at the Counties official said, “I’ve brought you cup of tea, Mr Laing.”

“Thank you Peter,” said Duncan, “Just put it on the table.” In case you are wondering, Peter is a fictitious name.

“Can you explain something to me Peter?” asked Duncan.

“If I can, Mr Laing,” said a confused Peter.

“Well Peter,” said Duncan, “In all my life I have never smoked a cigarette. I have never smoked a cigar. I have never even tried those small Cherokee cigars. Peter, I’ve never puffed on a pipe. And I’ve never even rolled or smoked a joint. Did you know that Peter?”

“That’s very good Mr Laing,” said Peter.

“Well, how do you explain this, Peter? I’ve never done any of those things, so how come I’ve got nicotine stains on my underpants?”

Duncan Laing at his best. No wonder he was such a bloody good swimming coach. But my guess is that Miskimmin, Lyles, Villanueva, Renford and Layton would not approve. Certainly the Swimming New Zealand of Duncan’s era was less than generous. Remember the time they said they were concerned about Duncan’s poor man management skills. Although what they would know about that subject is a mystery. There wasn’t a “man” in the building.

Anyway Counties, to Geoff and Jeannie I apologize and say thank you. To my friend who told me the Duncan story I enjoyed the chance to remember a New Zealand swimming great. To Counties Swimming, for a weekend of enjoyable swimming, I say thank you. We will be back next year.