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A Boy in the Water By Tom Gregory

Release date: 01st September, 2018
Publisher: Particular Books

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £10.49
You Save: £8.5 (44%)
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A corrosive combination of questionable ‘elf and safety’ regulation, coupled with a preference for home-based, internet-facing ‘gaming’ has permeated national life to such a degree that it’s rare to see groups of children playing spontaneously in a park.

Instead, hi-viz jackets dominate. They’ve become the must-have accessory to accompany much outdoor activity, often worn by those for whom ‘risk’ is the most repulsive four-letter word, irrespective of how minimal any perceived risk might be.

Mindful of this – and the corresponding ‘obesity crisis’ caused by the lack of youthful activity – it was a joy to read Tom Gregory’s A Boy in the Water, a charming memoir of his successful attempt to swim the Channel.

Gregory recalls the unadulterated joy of piling into a ropey minibus with his south London pals as they headed off on swimming weekends on the south coast or in the Lake District, laughing and joking as they prepared to experience the joys of sleeping under canvas and eating cheap, stodgy food prior to embarking on prolonged cold water training.

Other people have swum the Channel, of course, but what makes Gregory unique is that he was only eleven years old when he completed his crossing from France to Dover, swimming 32 miles in 11 hours 54 minutes. No-one will ever challenge that immortal time, for in November 2000, the Channel Swimming Association ruled that no one under the age of 16 could attempt a solo Channel swim.

Gregory’s remarkable feat was completed on a diet of tomato soup (sucked through a straw) and biscuits as he battled his way through the world’s busiest shipping lane. En route, he suffered cramp, hallucinated and, when less two hours from the white cliffs, fell asleep.

You may think that he was a water baby who started his preparations at the age of two, but this was not the case. Four years’ earlier, Gregory couldn’t swim a width of the pool; he was only awarded his 25m swimming badge just two years before he swam the Channel.

What a pity that nothing similar could be done nowadays. Gregory was inspired by his coach, John Bullet, who transformed him from an ordinary club swimmer to a member of an elite group, turning his initial reluctance into a realisation that swimming the Channel was possible.

Gregory successfully conveys his fear and trepidation as he prepared for his unique achievement. This adds to his book’s charm, which is underpinned by a compelling story of dedication and commitment. It’ll make a great movie, but you should read the book first.

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